A digital library is a library in which collections are stored in digital formats and accessible by computers. To be considered a digital library, an online collection of information must be accessible to a community of users.Digital libraries allow an easy and rapid access to books archives and images and this is now recognized by commercial interests and public bodies. It is true that traditional libraries lack space and digital libraries can contain very much more information. When a library has no space for extension digitisation is a solution.
We have to make a distinction between digital information which is created in a digital format (so it is born digital) and information that has been converted from a physical medium by digitising. Some libraries have both physical collections and digital collections.
We don’t need to go to the library physically. All around the world you can get informations. The same resources can be used at the same time by a lot of users. You can see an exact copy of the original many times without any degradation in quality.
The cost of a digital library is much lower than that of a traditional library. Traditional libraries spend a lot of money paying for staff and additional books. But the conversion of print materials into digital format is not cheap. Digital libraries need staff with technical skills to maintain online access.
Project Gutenberg, Google Book Search, Windows Live Search Books, Internet Archive, Cornell University, The Library of Congress World Digital Library and The Digital Library at the University of Michigan are considered leaders in the field of digital archive creation and management.
I will talk about Gallica, Google Book Search and the European digital library’s project.
Gallica is the digital library of the French National Library. It references a part of the BNF’s collections. Gallica proposes 90000 documents and 80000 images free. The documents were chosen to create a patrimonial and encyclopaedic library.
Google Book Search
Google’s project, which is called “Google Book Search”, started in 2004 with the idea of digitising 15 million books in ten years. Mr. Bellington who is the librarian of Congress, said that “the whole point is to get a world digital library that will bring, free of charge to anyone with Internet access, a series of Web sites that will seamlessly integrate materials of different cultures as much as possible.”
Google wanted to scan all or portions of libraries’ collections to make the texts searchable on the Internet for users around the world.
But the problem of copyright violation appeared very quickly and the Association of American University Presses believed that this program would bring a systematic copyright violation because authors had not first given permission to use their works. So this association asked Google to suspend its project to solve copyright problems. So Google digitalised books on which copyrights have expired.
Google and the French reaction of a European Digital Library (BNE) Google’s project chocked Europeans and French people reacted with the project of a European Digital Library. The fact is that the European Digital Library wants to give a European vision of European culture, whereas Google is giving an American vision of universal culture. The President of the French National Library, Jean-Joël Jeanneney, warned European cultural institutions of the damage that could be caused by Google’s hegemony in the “knowledge digitisation” market. At the time, the majority of the works of Google’s library were in English.
Now Google has signed contracts with European libraries. “What Google is doing is illegal,” says the head of the Federation of European Publishers (FEE). “Not only have they scanned hundreds of protected works belonging to the French group, but it is a flagrant violation of European law to own a digital copy of a work for commercial use before seventy years have passed since the death of its author.”
The European Digital Library which is called BNE is a tiny project in front of Google’s witch has gathered today many libraries in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. And the great guide of Google’s enormous project is the prestigious Library of Congress. While Google is digitising 15 million books, the BNE will propose 2 million books in November 2008. And according to the European Commission, 6 million books will be digitised in 2010. The European Digital Library will offer access to the resources of 47 national libraries of Europe.
There are other projects like Microsoft and Yahoo’s Open Content Alliance, or Project Gutenberg. For example, Microsoft and the British Library work together to digitize around 100,000 out-of-copyright books and deliver search results through the new MSN Book Search service witch helps people to find precisely what they are looking for on the web.
There is also the World Digital Library created by UNESCO and the Library of Congress with Egyptian partners. This project will be born at the end of 2008. The idea is that all over the world you can search documents in any language.
With digital libraries, we are near some vision of “Universal Access to Human Knowledge”, said the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee in 2001. Today, we talk about some “googlization” of digital libraries and information in general. That is to say that even if Europe makes efforts, the American Google is still the biggest group.
To conclude I would like to put a question: can digital libraries take the place of traditional libraries? We cannot forget that while digital libraries are just a possibility to search and to access, traditional libraries are places where a community of readers meets to access and to share knowledge.