America Playing Catch-Up in a Digital Library Race

Posted in: Internet Use/New Technologies at 09/01/2011 21:19

America stood at the forefront of the public library movement in 1731, when Benjamin Franklin founded the Library Company of Philadelphia, our first successful lending library.
Lending libraries may have been the newfangled democratizing factor of their day. Centuries later, though, the United States finds itself trailing Europe and Japan in creating the modern equivalent: a national digital library that would serve as an electronic repository for the nation's cultural heritage.

In other words, there's a real digital library divide.

In contrast to the United States, the National Library of Norway has been a global early adopter. In 2005, it announced a goal of digitizing its entire collection; by now it has scanned some 170,000 books, 250,000 newspapers, 610,000 hours of radio broadcasts, 200,000 hours of TV and 500,000 photographs. And, last year, the National Library of the Netherlandssaid it planned to scan all Dutch books, newspapers and periodicals from 1470 onward.

The libraries of the nearly 50 member states in the Council of Europe, meanwhile, have banded together in a single search engine, And the European Commission has sponsored Europeana, a portal for digital copies of art, music film and books held by the cultural institutions of member countries. It currently contains scans of about 15 million artifacts.

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