Google intends to scan every book ever published, and to make the full texts searchable, in the same way that Web sites can be searched on the company’s engine at google.com…
No one really knows how many books there are. The most volumes listed in any catalogue is thirty-two million, the number in WorldCat, a database of titles from more than twenty-five thousand libraries around the world. Google aims to scan at least that many. “We think that we can do it all inside of ten years,” Marissa Mayer, a vice-president who is in charge of the books project, said recently.
— “Google’s Moon Shot: The Quest for the Universal Library” by Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker, Feb. 5, 2007
When Digital Library Services debuted in January 2006, the library world was still reeling from Google’s announcement of plans to scan and make searchable the holdings of five of the world’s major research libraries. Like digital librarians everywhere, the staff of DLS was left with a serious case of existential angst. With a mission to create digital content while guarding against duplication of effort, what were we supposed to do now that every book ever published was being digitized?
The answer turned out to be pretty simple: digitize the nonbook and/or the unpublished. As more libraries sign up with Google and other collaborative mass digitization projects, those of us non-partners have refined our scope to focus on our institutions’ local and unique materials in a variety of formats. As such, most new projects in DLS fall into two categories: those that document the intellectual and creative output of the University, and those that increase access to the Libraries’ rare and valuable research collections.
In support of the former goal, we’ve been working with academic departments to acquire digitized writings and works of art created by University of Iowa faculty and students. Currently in production for Iowa Digital Library are the graduate art archives of the School of Art and Art History; electronic theses and dissertations from the Graduate College; and journal articles authored by faculty members of the Department of Political Science. Although some of these materials are already online elsewhere, inclusion in the Libraries’ digital asset management systems will allow greater visibility, navigability and cross-collection searching.
In support of the latter goal, we’ve been consulting the Libraries’ curators and archivists to prioritize those materials that best support research and scholarship at the University. As far as supplementing digitization projects at other institutions, the Iowa Women’s Archives may offer the lowest risk of duplication of effort. Its focus on women’s history, including that of minority groups, documents a point of view that can be absent in many published works. The digitized audio, correspondence, images and printed ephemera in such IDL collections as African American Women in Iowa, Birkby , Noble Photographs, and Mujeres Latinas can help scholars to achieve a fuller understanding of the past.
The holdings of the University Archives serve as a hybrid to promote both these goals. Digital image collections like Calvin Photographs and Iowa City Town and Campus Scenes will soon be joined by in-progress digital collections of The Daily Iowan and The Hawkeye. These works created by UI faculty and students help to document over 100 years of Iowa history.
By making these materials more readily available online, DLS seeks to enable new scholarship that builds both on primary documents held by and on secondary documents generated at the University. In this way, we hope to ensure the UI’s place in the digital “universal library” of the future.