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U. of I. joins group creating digital book archive accessible to public


Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
217-333-2177; andreal@illinois.edu

Betsy Kruger, right, and Tim Cole
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Betsy Kruger, right, is the coordinator for digital content creation at the U. of I. Library.Tim Cole, the mathematics librarian and interim head of digital services at the Library, has overseen the development of Illinois Harvest. 

Released 2/20/2007

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The University of Illinois has joined an alliance of educational institutions, Internet companies and other groups in the U.S. and abroad that is building a massive digital archive of public domain books for universal and free public access.

In addition to Illinois, other partners in the Open Content Alliance include Adobe Systems, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, the universities of California, Chicago and Texas, and Yahoo!

Formed less than two years ago, the non-profit organization – now some 60 partners strong – announced in December that it already had digitized and made available 100,000 electronic books in the public domain, all downloadable through its parent company, the Internet Archive.

Illinois’ Library, with more than 10 million volumes and nearly 24 million items, is the largest public university collection in the world, and thus, in a position to contribute significantly to this alliance.

“Our partnership with OCA represents a very significant milestone for our Library, positioning us to share our rich collections much more easily with people in Illinois and throughout the world,” said Karen Schmidt, acting university librarian at Illinois.

“We can take our reputation for strong collections and progressive sharing of these resources to the next level through this digital work.”

On its home page, the OCA features Illinois’ first contribution to the alliance: 32 digitized books about Abraham Lincoln.

Late last year the U. of I. received nearly $1 million to invigorate its mass digitization program.

The campus’s provost’s and comptroller’s offices each contributed $200,000, and the Illinois Legislature added $500,000 in an initiative led by Rep. Naomi D. Jakobsson.

The Legislature’s funding will support Illinois’ OCA projects, cover staffing costs and the purchase of a server to hold all the new digital content, said Betsy Kruger, who is the coordinator for digital content creation at the U. of I. Library.

The campus funding is supporting the development of the Illinois Harvest Portal, an innovative digital gateway for the Library, as well as funding multiple Illinois-related digital projects that will be done either in-house or by vendors.

According to Kruger, who is directing the Library’s large-scale digitization program, Illinois will focus on four areas of digitization for the OCA this year: Illinois history, culture and natural resources; U.S. railroad history; rural studies and agriculture; and “a limited amount of content in areas proposed by some of our faculty.”

By year’s end, Illinois will have digitized and uploaded to OCA about 6,000 volumes – all of them in the public domain.

The digital content that the Library creates as an OCA participant will not only be available through the Library’s online catalog and the Illinois Harvest Portal, but also will be “freely available to all for the purposes of viewing, reading and downloading from the Internet Archive’s Web site,” Kruger said. “This commitment to open access is the hallmark of the Open Content Alliance initiative.”

The digitization will be done at Illinois’ new OCA Scanning Center in the Library’s Oak Street High Density Shelving Facility. In late January, Internet Archive staff from San Francisco delivered and set up two giant “Scribe” scanners.

Scanner
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Draped with black canvas, the scanners look something like oversized beach cabanas. Books are perched in a V-shaped holder, while two digital cameras above them photograph the pages – at super-high resolution for about 10 cents per page. A technician turns the pages and maintains the cameras.

The scanners will be “devoted solely to our OCA projects for the year – and, we hope, longer,” Kruger said. “We are seeking funding to continue using them.”

Draped with black canvas, the scanners look something like oversized beach cabanas. Books are perched in a V-shaped holder, while two digital cameras above them photograph the pages – at super-high resolution for about 10 cents per page. A technician turns the pages and maintains the cameras.

Kruger said that the scanners are non-invasive, so books can be scanned without having to separate pages from bindings. Staff hired and trained by the Internet Archive will use “some very fancy software,” she said, to turn the scanning into digitized content.

Some Illinois faculty members will be early beneficiaries of the OCA partnership, having already requested digitization projects that will support their teaching and research:

Douglas Kibbee, a professor of French and of linguistics, has asked the Library to digitize works of literature in various languages, most published in the 19th century, which also have been translated into English during the same period. This will give him “several hundred matched sets of works, which ultimately will be used to support the translation studies program we are in the process of developing here on campus.”

Kruger estimates that 500 to 800 works in translation will be digitized in the first year as part of the OCA project.

Vernon Burton, a U.S. social historian, has requested that the library digitize a series of city directories from East St. Louis in the early 1900s, which will allow for direct analysis of how racial, marital and occupational status affected the composition of different neighborhoods in different years.

The directories “will allow us to explore how a specific event – whether it be the 1896 tornado or the 1917 race riot – affected population dynamics within the city.”

Peter Nardulli, a political scientist, has asked for several government publications, including the “CIA World Fact Book,” to be digitized for work he is doing at the campus’s Center for the Study of Democratic Governance.

Bryan Heidorn, a U. of I. professor of library and information science, has arranged for Illinois to digitize the zoology and botany sections of the Chicago Field Museum’s “Fieldiana” series as part of its OCA work.

The U. of I. has been involved in small-scale digitization of its collections since 1994. Among already digitized materials are its renowned 1,000-volume German “Emblem Books” Collection, its Vachel Lindsay Collection and its James B. Reston Papers. These and many other digitization projects eventually will be “housed” together, digitally speaking.

“Virtually all the content we digitize – whether through OCA, outsourcing to other vendors or done in-house – should eventually be findable via our Illinois Harvest Portal,” Kruger said. The IHP is “an important avenue through which all the digital content we are creating this year, as well as content about Illinois that has been created at other institutions, will be discoverable and searchable,” she said.

According to Schmidt, “the beauty of Illinois Harvest is that we can weave together all kinds of disparate collections in one search. The Illinois Harvest program represents our own intellectual work, providing access to everyone.”

Tim Cole, the mathematics librarian and interim head of digital services at the Library, has overseen the development of Illinois Harvest.

The IH Portal will provide “integrated access to a diverse range of scholarly digital resources, including books digitized this year as part of the large-scale digitization initiative and our collaboration with the OCA,” Cole said.

Other items headed for the IH Portal: materials digitized as part of Illinois’ brittle book preservation program; the content of the State Library’s Illinois Digital Archive; scholarly digital resources about Illinois from other universities in Illinois and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation; and journal articles by U. of I. faculty members.

“As of January of this year, the early prototype portal already indexes 45 collections composed of more than 13,000 individual items,” Cole said, adding that he hopes the portal will become publicly accessible in March.

Cole said that in organizing digital resources and providing context for the scholarly use of these resources, “The portal leverages the traditional cataloging and information-organizing strengths of the University Library to provide a stable foundation for digital-based scholarship and instruction. The work will enable Illinois to keep pace with peer institutions in other states as a leader in providing digital-based library service.”

To view some of Illinois’ digitized materials go to the Library’s prototype Illinois Harvest Portal.