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Some libraries close books to Google, Microsoft

Indexing on competitive search engines remains an obstacle

By Linda Rosencrance
October 29, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Some libraries are choosing to pay to have their content digitized by the Open Content Alliance rather than having it scanned for free by Google Inc. or Microsoft Corp., which refuse to allow access to the materials by rival search engines.

The Boston Library Consortium Inc. (BLC) is teaming with the Open Content Alliance (OCA) to build a library of digital materials that will be freely available via the Internet.

The BLC is composed of 19 academic and research libraries in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The consortium is digitizing all its content published before 1923. Content published before that date is considered in the public domain and not subject to copyright laws.

The cost for digitizing is 10 cents per page, and the BLC is funding the effort at a cost of $845,000 over two years. The work is also being supplemented by the OCA, which received a $2 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Part of that grant will be used to digitize the John Adams Collection at the Boston Public Library, a member of the consortium.

The OCA was developed by the Internet Archive and search company Yahoo Inc. in early 2005 as a way to preserve a variety of content, such as digitized collections and multimedia. Yahoo doesn't have a stand-alone book-search service.

The issue involves access to the digitized material. Search companies such as Google and Microsoft will scan the books for free, but want to restrict access for competitive reasons. The consortium wants access to its books available to anyone and in any search engine.

BLC Executive Director Barbara Preece said her organization selected the OCA because it kept the content search-engine neutral.

The OCA allows "you to hold onto your content and do whatever you want to do to your content, and it can be searched by any search engine whatsoever," Preece said. "OCA was the best way for us to go to keep our content open. Google pretty much decides who you can share your content with. With OCA, it doesn't matter what search engine you use to search the material. Google and Microsoft are interested in search, and the OCA is more interested in content and helping libraries handle their content the way they want to."

Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker said the company designed its Book Search to promote the sharing and use of the content the company is digitizing, where appropriate. He said for books in the public domain, Google provides full access to the material, including the ability to read a book in its entirety, download a PDF to a computer and print a work for free. He said there are restrictions for books still under copyright to ensure that copyright holders are protected.



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