With the turn of the new century, the digital libraries have started to focus on the ways the libraries can be made more and more user-oriented. Given the nature of access, the corporate giants like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon have descended on the scene sometimes with commercial intent, sometimes with egalitarian motive and sometimes with the purpose of outsmarting others in competition. For the reader’s convenience, I will look upon certain recent developments that surfaced on the web.
Google Book Search (Google Books Library Project)
Google Books Library Project is an ambitious venture of Google, through which it plans to provide its global users access to out-of-copyright books from the best libraries in the world. It all started in October 2004 when Google announced a service named “Google Print” under Google Print Library Project at the Frankfurt Book Fair and in December of the same year it announced “scanning book collections belonging to the University of Michigan, Harvard. Stanford, Oxford, and the New York Public Library, so that they become more searchable” (O’Sullivan, 2004). Sources indicate that the Project aims at digitising 15 million titles within a decade. According to New York Times, as of March, 2007, it has digitised one million volumes at the ‘outside’ experts’ estimated cost of $ 5 million (New York Times 2007).
In 2005 Google changed the name of this service from Google Print to Google Book Search and the project was accordingly renamed Google Books Library Project. Since 2006 more than 15 institutional libraries with huge resources have joined the project allowing Google to scan books from the libraries. But this massive project has met with quite contrary reactions; while the general readers and some librarians have hailed the project as one of the benevolent efforts, some critics and especially some publishers—at home and abroad—have lashed out at the project and filed lawsuits against the company for copyright violations. However, Google Book Search is still in beta stage, and that is why we will have to wait to see what evolves out of all those controversies and conflicts.
Using Google Book Search: Using the Book search is similar to Google web search with the difference that it crawls up and displays retrieved results (for both author and title searches) in the forms various titles/editions in any of the four options:
1. Full View: A full-text if it is for public domain titles and if the publisher has allowed it to be so.
2. Snippet View: A small keyword in context display for books for which it does not have copyright permission.
3. No Preview: Showing only a citation.
4. Limited Preview: A three-page window containing the search query in the case of being authorized by the publisher.
It has also “Advanced Search” option, which is very elaborate and can be used to restrict search or make it accurate.
MSN Book Search (Live Search Books Publisher Program)
In October 25, 2005, just one year after Google’s announcement Microsoft announced its plans to join the online book-search movement with a new service called MSN Book Search. For this, it joined the Open Content Alliance and made “the largest contribution to the alliance to date – $5 million…enough to scan about 150,000 books” and began working with Internet Archieve and other libraries.
The MSN Book Search became operational in December, 2006 under the Live Search Books Publisher Program, offering online book-search services of both copyrighted and out-of-copyright books. The MSN Book Search interface was divided into two panes: on the left side the option to download the whole book, see snippets of text on pages; whereas on the right side of the screen was devoted to fixed reading. Microsoft did not offer zoom in or full screen options for the reading panel.
Overall MSN Book Search provided users with fewer details about the book. But since it was in beta, many people thought that in the course of time, it would change. But then May 23, 2008 came a sudden announcement from the company: “…we are ending the Live Search Books Publisher Program, including our digitization initiatives, and closing the Live Search Books site,” Satya Nadella Microsoft, senior vice president of search, announced on a company blog (Nadella, 2008). “Microsoft appears to have decided”, Nancy Gohring in New York Times wrote, “that it doesn’t want to be in the business of creating digital content, instead hoping that others will take on that task. The company will give its scanning equipment to its library and digitization partners and encourage them to continue to scan books.” (Gohring, 2008) As per Microsoft’s report, it digitized 750,000 books and indexed 80 million journal articles, and it intends “to make the scan files we created from your print book submissions available to you for free.” The new process or arrangement will be soon published.
In fine, it can be said that Microsoft has learnt the lesson that instead of jumping into competition with other giants, some things—at least books, should be left to proper organisations to look after. Competition for competition’s sake is not at all a healthy venture, a lesson which Yahoo! understood before hand and instead of starting a service like this, it has formed a separate platform, Open Content Alliance in collaboration with the Internet Archive for providing book-search service to users.
Open Content Alliance
The Open Content Alliance was formed by the Internet Archive and Yahoo! in 2005 as a broad platform to offer “broad, public access to a rich panorama of world culture”. As the FAQ declares, it has well-set aims:
“The Open Content Alliance (OCA) represents the collaborative efforts of a group of cultural, technology, nonprofit, and governmental organizations from around the world that will help build a permanent archive of multilingual digitized text and multimedia content.” (Open Content Alliance)
As of 24 May, 2008, more than a hundred organisations, universities, libraries and corporate companies have joined the alliance. As per the declaration in the site, initially it will contain collections from the following organisations: European Archive, Internet Archive, National Archives (UK), O’Reilly Media, Prelinger Archives, University of California, University of Toronto. However, any organisation can join the Alliance and contribute and donate in all possible ways. The resources collected by OCA archive will be available through the website, and Yahoo! will index them “to make it available to the broadest set of Internet users. (Open Content Alliance).
Open Library Project
“One web page for every book ever published.” Thus goes the opening sentence of the description of another ambitious project conceived by Kahle of Internet Archive and headed by Aaron Swartz, the talented writer, web programmer and entrepreneur, now aged only 22. The Project was announced in October, 2005 and the beta site (www.demo.openlibrary.org) went online in July, 2007. Swartz wrote passionately in his blog: “I’m extraordinarily proud to announce the Open Library project. Our goal is to build the world’s greatest library, then put it up on the Internet free for all to use and edit. Books are the place you go when you have something you want to share with the world — our planet’s cultural legacy” (Swartz, 2007).
As of April, 2008, the site claims to “have gathered about 30 million records (13.4 million are available through the site now)” along with “the full text of 230,000 scanned books”. And now it invites users from all over the world “to add records of digitized books to her local catalog”.