Proyectos de digitalización

Quod scripsi, scripsi!

Hablando de libros, toda noticia que implique el cierre de un proyecto cualquiera siempre será una mala noticia. Y si esta noticia conlleva que la Microsoft -nombre que por esta vez no escribiré con los fementidos signos de pesos ($$$) en lugar de la letra 's'- ha abandonado el proyecto gracias al cual, por decir algo, los tomos de la Patrologia Orientalis disponibles en están disponibles para nosotros los usuarios con calidad excelente, ganas de ponerse a llorar no faltan.

Ya había mencionado algo sobre proyectos de digitalización... en un post que hablaba no de la Microsoft, sino de su competidor directo en el campo: el Googlebooks project.

La noticia, al parecer, no trascendió tanto como debiera. Y menos en México, donde tan poco nos interesan los libros -si hacemos caso a las encuestas y el mítico 1.2 libros leídos anualmente por los mexicanos-.

El hecho de que esta decisión de la Microsoft deje sin soporte los proyectos de digitalización de varias bibliotecas de universidades, colecciones 'particulares' o de organizaciones civiles sin apoyo económico, es una verdadera catástrofe.

No quiero ni siquiera pensar lo que debió ser para los encargados de hacer las tomas de cada página, corregir los colores, darles un formato adecuado, ordenarlos, organizarlos, en fin, ponerlos al alcance del público, no quiero estar en los pantalones de cualquiera de ellos.

Personalmente, he escanneado tres o cuatro libros, y también 3 o 4 revistas y sé la chinga que eso significa. Y luego resulta que dicho libro está sin un ánima que lo lea, sin nadie que lo busque.

Terrible, una noticia que me llegó retardada, aunque con todo y su retardo no disminuye en un ápice su carácter de tragedia.

Una semblanza que transcribo tal cual de

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Today's News

Thursday, May 29, 2008
Microsoft's Book-Search Project Has a Surprise Ending


It is hard to imagine a Microsoft venture falling under the weight of a competitor. But that's the post-mortem offered by many academic librarians as they ponder the software giant's recent and sudden announcement that it is shutting down its book-digitization project. The librarians' conclusion: Google did it.

Microsoft quietly revealed this month that it would end the program and the accompanying search software, Live Search Books and Live Search Academic. The project made complete book texts available and searchable online at no charge. The announcement was posted on a company blog the Friday before Memorial Day as many people left work early for the holiday weekend.

The blog post said that Microsoft wanted to focus its digitization and search efforts on markets with a "high commercial intent," such as travel.

It made no mention of Google, but librarians say the search company undoubtedly affected Microsoft's decision. Microsoft entered the scholarly digitization arena in October 2005, 10 months after Google did, and has been playing catch-up ever since.

Microsoft was not as ambitious as Google in the volume of material it sought to digitize and was not willing to devote as much money to the endeavor, librarians say. (Microsoft has spent roughly $10-million; Google has never revealed its costs, but based on the scale of the project, experts estimate they are significantly more.)

"Microsoft was a little slower off the mark than Google," says Anne R. Kenney, university librarian at Cornell University. Her library has supplied both Microsoft and Google with books and articles for digitization. "It would have meant an awful lot of additional investment in this area for Microsoft to be a real competitor."

Still, she and other librarians say Microsoft's retreat from book digitization is a setback for the preservation of books. Many academic libraries will have to scramble to find other sources of money to make their books available online, they add. And Google, which restricts the public institutions that can use its scans and has also been accused of copyright infringement for some of its scanning activity, may not be a satisfactory alternative.

In all, Microsoft digitized 750,000 books and indexed 80 million journal articles. The company will allow the works to be reused without restriction and will give its scanning equipment to libraries and other groups it has worked with to continue digitization projects.

Microsoft is still scanning parts of Cornell's collection. Between 90,000 and 100,000 books will be digitized by the time Microsoft ends the program, probably this summer, says Ms. Kenney.

An additional half-million books and journals at Cornell will be digitized under a newer agreement the university has with Google. The digitization process is to begin in October, and the material will be made available via Google Book Search and Google Scholar.

Microsoft's Limited Reach

While Microsoft has been digitizing works that are out of copyright, Google has been including materials that are still under copyright. Many publishers and authors have criticized the search giant for this, and some groups representing them have sued Google for copyright infringement.

But Ms. Kenney says Google's strategy is one reason Cornell decided to form a partnership with the company. Cornell has a large agricultural-life-sciences collection that is under copyright but needs to be digitized, and Microsoft would not work on copyrighted material, she said. Another reason: Microsoft focused only on English-language materials, whereas Google is digitizing works in other languages. And Microsoft focused on books, while Google works on more journals.

Nonetheless, Ms. Kenney says Cornell was considering a second contract with Microsoft to digitize its books and is disappointed that the company is leaving the field.

"There's something good about lively, healthy competition," she says.

Paul N. Courant, university librarian and dean of libraries at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, echoed the comment.

"The more the merrier," he says of businesses that support digitizing scholarly works. "I don't like a monopoly, and I like it when there's lots of money behind an extremely important project."

Michigan has an agreement with Google—not with Microsoft—to scan and digitize its libraries' holdings and was among the first academic libraries to partner with the company.

Ivy L. Anderson, director of collections at the California Digital Library of the University of California, says she, too, is saddened by Microsoft's exit.

Microsoft digitized 150,000 items from various California university campuses, she says. The university also reached an agreement with Google in 2006 to scan as many as 3,000 of its books a day.

Google's Downside

For academic libraries that have deals only with Microsoft to digitize their collections, the path forward is not clear.

The University of Toronto, one Microsoft partner, is reluctant to sign on with Google. That company does not allow its scanned works to be shared freely among public libraries, and sharing with the public is one of the university's goals, says Carole R. Moore, the university's chief librarian.

Microsoft digitized about 120,000 volumes from Toronto's libraries.

"We hope to double that," she said. "We're looking for other funding sources."

Peter Brantley, executive director of the Digital Library Federation, says much of his group's membership will also be scurrying to find new partners to help pay for digitizing books. The group promotes electronic resources and is made up of about 37 academic libraries.

Mr. Brantley cited the online bookseller and vendors that support online publishing, such as Ingram Book Group Inc. and NewsStand Inc., as possible partners.

Others said government groups and foundations, like the National Endowment for the Humanities, might be willing to provide grants for digitizing books.

Indeed, some librarians say Microsoft's decision could come with a silver lining, forcing a larger and more diverse group of players to get involved in digitization.

"We've got to get help from many different angles," said Brewster Kahle, who recruited Microsoft and Yahoo to support the Open Content Alliance, the nonprofit book-digitization project he leads. "Microsoft has given us a great kick-start."

Copyright © 2008 by The Chronicle of Higher Education