Mass Digitization and the Collective Collection

Barrie Howard, over at DLF, recently did us a good turn by helping to distribute a short survey that we compiled as part of our session on “Mass Digitization and the Collective Collection” at the upcoming Fall Forum in Boston. From the start, we felt this session should take the form of a moderated “Q & A”, rather than a panel discussion, chiefly because there are (still) so many unanswered questions about library partnerships in mass digitization swirling around — almost two years after the Google Book Search project got started — but also because there is never enough time for audience participation at these events.

Most of the current Google Library partners and many of the contributors to the Open Content Alliance have strong ties to RLG, so we’ve benefited from lots of interactions with institutions that have jumped headlong into these projects. It wasn’t hard to come up with a starter set of questions for our panelists (esteemed colleagues from the California Digital Library, University of Toronto, New York Public Library and JISC) — indeed, most of the really important questions (are we building a universal library?) have been framed repeatedly, if only as rhetorical sallies. What has been difficult is prioritizing the questions for a 90 minute session; suddenly, our “starter set” of 10 tough questions was far too long, and the criteria for selecting the really critical ones, far too subjective. In the end, we decided to let the vox populi have the last word. In this embattled election season, we put our questions out for a vote.

The responses have just started to come in, but already a distinct pattern has emerged. Of the twelve questions our short-list, four keep rising to the top. One concerns network coordination of mass digitization — is it possible? should it be regional? national? multi-national? Another concerns responsibility for preserving the outputs of mass digitization as an aggregate collection. The question that interests me most right now focuses on the rights and privileges that inhere in library-contributed content — have we collectively secured the rights necessary to ensuring that scholarly use of these collections will be possible? A recent posting by Dan Hazen suggests that a collective effort to track and manage the aggregate outputs of mass digitization would serve us well. (What ho, RDM?) Dan’s posting and our early survey results simply confirm what Lorcan has been saying about the collective collection for a year or more: collaboration is the name of the game.

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