After digitizing this book, throw the paper copy away (Feature)
By Jean-Baptiste Piggin Oct 9, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Frankfurt - E-book technology, which set off wails of protest in the German media this week, is being eagerly taken up by scholars and libraries who cannot afford storage for large book collections.
Some of them are digitizing their existing collections and running up against a fateful question: do you then throw the paper book away?
The National Library in Florence, Italy, which has just digitized 3,000 of its oldest printed books in cooperation with US-based company ProQuest, certainly won't be dumping the originals, considered a part of the country's cultural heritage.
But the paper books, with their fragile pages and brittle bindings, are more likely to sit undisturbed on shelves in the future.
Many scholars will be satisfied to use the digital images instead, according to ProQuest executive Dan Burnstone, was attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, where the launch of the online archive, scheduled for November, was announced.
For private collections of 20th-century books, digitization may mean destruction, since the books have almost no market value.
A report in the US Chronicle of Higher Education last week described how a professor, Alexander Halavais, frees up space in his cramped Manhattan apartment: he slices the binding off each book and puts the loose stack of paper in a page-fed, automatic scanner.
The images are saved on his computer and undergo an optical character recognition process to make the files searchable. Halavais then bins the pages.
He plans to keep only 500 of his 3,000 paper books, and consult the rest in their digital format. He has so far processed 800 volumes.
The report triggered an outcry among readers, who responded using words such as 'abhorrent,' 'cannibalism' or 'like murdering friends.'
Halavais himself admitted in a blog post that he felt 'blasphemous' just describing the process.
Roger Pearse, who writes one of the internet's top ancient history blogs, said this week in an e-mail interview, 'I get rid of books all the time.
'If you don't, you end up surrounded by a vast array of books you know you will never read again and somewhere, in that mass of mental suet, are the few books that you really do want to keep.
'I can almost never bring myself to throw them in the bin. So I pile them up in corner, and every so often I give what is in the pile to charity shops,' said the British scholar, who digitizes old books.
A Hamburg illustrator-author with a large private library said he has tried selling surplus books on eBay, but it is hardly worth the trouble of answering bidders' questions and packing and posting the books sold.
Personal libraries loved during life often end up with second-hand dealers after the owners die.
Occasionally a modern second-hand book turns out valuable, but only if a special feature might attract buyers, as Gabriele Ceusters- Ditz of Austrian book dealer Liber-Antiqua explains.
She has a 1953 bound volume of the science journal Nature on sale at the Book Fair. It contains the article that announced the discovery of DNA. Asking price for the historic tome: 4,000 dollars.
Books may be pulled apart by dealers when it is possible to sell the illustrations individually for a higher total price than the intact book is worth. Ceusters-Ditz estimates this has been going on for 200 or 300 years.
'We never do it,' she insisted. 'I find it a pity to rip a book apart.'
Book reverence is especially widespread in Germany, where the Frankfurt Book Fair, which runs till Sunday, has prompted many an ode to the honest virtues of paper and a curse on the digital age.
'Who needs e-books? No one,' railed the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper in an editorial this week, calling digitization 'nonsense.' 'You can only read one book at a time. Who needs to carry their whole library round with them?'
One answer might be: anyone consulting books for research.
ProQuest is betting that universities and research bodies will pay for access online to a complete digital library of books published before 1700.
The Florence books are a pilot as the scanning project begins, expanding on the company's Early English Books Online, which already contains 110,000 titles, and will embrace all the nations of Europe.
'We don't know exactly how many works we are dealing with, but we think it is about 1 million,' Burnstone said.
Some of the same books have already been digitized by Google and are visible online for free. Burnstone said ProQuest's product would be worth purchasing because it would be much more complete than Google's and each book would be carefully described and catalogued.
Libraries which own the original books will receive the 'digital =surrogates' at no cost, giving the libraries an option of moving the books into longterm storage and using the images for regular needs.
'This is something they will appreciate,' said Burnstone, pointing out that public libraries also suffer from a shortage of shelf space.
Links: http://chronicle.com/blogPost/Digitizing-the- Personal/27222/?sid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/ http://www.bncf.firenze.sbn.it/ http://eebo.chadwyck.com/home
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