It’s a bird, it’s a satellite, it’s …

.. . . another high-flying digitization effort: Alouette Canada. The project, which officially launched in June 2006, recently gained a project director, the affable Mr. Brian Bell, former chair of the Canadian Initiative on Digital Libraries (CIDL). I had a long and rewarding conversation with Brian last week, in which he revealed the inner workings of the marvelous machine that will keep this distributed digital library aloft. Alouette will build on the success of the Our Ontario prototype, which provides cross-collection searching of digital content from libraries, archives and museums throughout the province. The Alouette prototype (still under wraps) includes some of the best-loved features of services like Flickr and— enabling user interaction with content — as well as dynamic subject-indexing in word clouds and even the increasingly popular Google map mash-up.

Billed as an “open digitization initiative,” Alouette shares some common features with the Open Content Alliance (OCA) — not altogether surprising, since founding members of the Canadian project (including the Universities of Toronto and Alberta) are also contributing content to the OCA’s open library. Both projects are heating up this month, right on the heels of announcements from Google Book Search and (separately) Cornell University. Members of the OCA met last Friday in San Francisco to discuss the initiative’s progress to date. Peter Brantley at CDL has helpfully posted presentations from the meeting, including one by my new OCLC colleague Bill Carney. Bill’s working on a nifty project to synchronize data-flows from the OCA with WorldCat to ensure that all that wonderful digitized content benefits from the discovery environment of I’d love to think that we could get the shimmering content from Alouette — also the name of a lovely river in BC — into the flow (a trope long-favored by my new boss, Lorcan Dempsey).

What really sets Alouette apart from other large-scale efforts in the mass digitization arena, I think, is its commitment to enabling smaller, specialized research collections (like historical societies and museums) to participate in the virtual land-rush and secure a little habitat of their own. I suspect this impulse is deeply rooted in the origins of the Ontario Digital Library, which has a good deal in common with community information and referral initiatives like 2-1-1.

Will Alouette Canada generate the same kind of excitement and national pride as its space-age namesake? Will it achieve its vision of “harness[ing] the will and energy of every library, archive, gallery, museum, historical society or institute of record to create a comprehensive collection of digital resources for the benefit of its citizens”? Only time will tell — in the meantime, I’ll be keeping my eyes trained on the night skies, hoping for ray of Northern light.

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