Friday, January 1, 2010

Digitize your own library: the Genesis of your information search

The internet has become such an integral part of our daily lives that it's hard to imagine life without it. In fact, some of the younger viewers out there may NOT remember a time without information available with a few quick keystrokes.

Myself, I can remember a frustrating time pre-WWW when research on obscure topics was nearly an impossibility. Hours, even days, could be spent at public libraries scouring over volumes only to find a little snippet of information. The problem with public libraries is that they are designed for everyone to use and therefore, their holdings had to be more mainstream. I can remember, in the early 1980's, trying to find some information on antique electric fans. After spending months trying to find information on different manufacturers, repair, and availability of antique fans and coming up with nothing, I finally gave up. Today, antique electric fans is a very popular collectible and a Google search quickly came up with 266,000 hits.

I am sure a lot of people can relate to that experience and I imagine a lot of you did exactly what I did: began collecting rare and out-of-print books on the obscure topics we loved. Personally, I let it get to the point that it is overwhelming. I have books everywhere in my home and a whole storage unit filled with tomes from the past.

The point is this: when beginning a research project, the ideal starting point is the home library, but where do you start from there? Wouldn't it be great if your home libray were digitzed and available online?

After doing some primary research on Google, I was immediately drawn to an Instructables article on building your own book scanner using reclaimed parts and cheap digital cameras. The creator of this particular Instructable is a devotee of digitizing knowledge and has expanded the Instructable to include a whole website. It was with great interest and enthusiasm that I have read and re-read every facet of these pages and, although I have yet to create one of my own, I am indebted to these people for giving me the ideas and plans necessary to do so.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Finding My "Voice" and my "Purpose"

Why does this blog exist? What is it's purpose? And finally, who am I?

Let me begin with the last question. "I" am a book lover/collector, a professional artist, a lover of knowledge and finally, a concerned human being. I am concerned over something new I learned of on PBS's News Hour about Google Books. The article can be viewed here.

Here's a quick synopsis of the story. Google is scanning millions of books - 40 million to be exact, and digitizing them to make them available online. Sounds great, right? Well, there's a little snafu.

A lot of the books are already in public domain, but an alarming number of these books are in gray area of copyright and are known as "orphan books". Essentially, there is a period between 1923 and 1963 where the author or other copyright holder had to renew their copyright after 28 years or the work would pass into public domain. Finding out whether or not these works had their copyright renewed properly and is still under the protection of copyright law is hard to do, at times almost impossible.

I have long held the belief that a majority of the works created within this period did not have their copyright renewed and are in public domain, but few are aware of it. I think Google has the same belief and is gambling that they can sell these "orphaned" books,at a profit, and retain the revenue from them. Google is a large enough entity that if a copyright holder for a book that GoogleBooks has been selling does come to light, they will be able to quickly settle and continue business-as-usual.

That is where I have a problem. If feel that orphaned works hold a vast amount of information and knowledge that belongs to the world, not to the corporation that scanned them to be held behind secure sites, only released after a fee (ransom) has been paid.

GoogleBooks is portraying themselves as a great philanthropical corporation that is saving these works from obscurity by scanning and digiting them, and in that respect, they are correct. And, in all fairness, they are also scanning works that are truly in public domain, and they are offering these works in their full form for free online. I commend them for this. I wish they would rethink their plans for these "orphaned" works and offer them to the public for free as well.

The bottom line purpose of this site is to bring to light those true philanthropic organizations, corporations and private citizens who are giving to the world, without charge, access to volumes and volumes of information. Obvious future posts will be about Project Gutenberg or the Library of Congress' digital collection and But there are many smaller sites that deserve to be recognized as well. I will scour the world wide web and search for these depositories of free knowledge and highlight them here.