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As someone trained in European, and particularly British, history rather than American history, I have used the National Archives (NA) of the UK on a number of occasions but never the Library of Congress (LoC) which is to some extent the equivalent, inasmuch as both institutions house various collections of original documents considered significant in the nation’s history, although in other respects the type of materials collected may differ quite a bit.

Both institutions have digitized some of their holdings, but their purposes and how they make these accessible can be quite different.

The Loc states, “The mission of the Library of Congress is to make its resources available and useful to Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations. The goal of the Library’s National Digital Library Program is to offer broad public access to a wide range of historical and cultural documents as a contribution to education and lifelong learning.

“The Library of Congress presents these documents as part of the record of the past. These primary historical documents reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times. The Library of Congress does not endorse the views expressed in these collections, which may contain materials offensive to some readers.”

This is part of their general boilerplate for each online collection; I found it at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/sfbmhtml/sfbmhome.html, the collection of Samuel F. B. Morse’s papers at the LoC.

The overall statement of purpose for the Loc (at http://www.loc.gov/library/about-digital.html) states:

“The Library of Congress has made digitized versions of collection materials available online since 1994, concentrating on its most rare collections and those unavailable anywhere else. The following services are your gateway to a growing treasury of digitized photographs, manuscripts, maps, sound recordings, motion pictures, and books, as well as “born digital” materials such as Web sites. In addition, the Library maintains and promotes the use of digital library standards and provides online research and reference services.

“The Library provides one of the largest bodies of noncommercial high-quality content on the Internet. By providing these materials online, those who may never come to Washington can gain access to the treasures of the nation’s library. Such online access also helps preserve rare materials that may be too fragile to handle.”

As far as I could tell, the digitized collections at LoC are all freely available via the web, regardless of the location or identity of the potential user.

This is not the case with the digitized collections at the NA. There it is stated (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/about.asp): “DocumentsOnline allows you online access to The National Archives’ collection of digitised public records, including both academic and family history sources. We are committed to providing online access to the records, and DocumentsOnline forms a key part of this strategy. DocumentsOnline can be used free of charge on public access PCs at The National Archives.”

Some of the online records can be downloaded for free from other computers, but by no means all. I happen to have used records (wills) from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, several hundred of which I looked at in the originals at the archive some years back. To download a single will costs £3.50 (about $5.40 at today’s exchange rates). It would be impossible to carry out the research that I did without either very substantial funding or going to the archive and looking at documents the old-fashioned way.

One drawback to digital collections from either institution is that in neither case are they comprehensive. This is completely understandable – the total collections held are enormous, and the sheer time needed to digitize the documents (not to mention adding metadata and other necessary steps, or the costs invlved) is prohibitive. Nevertheless having even some of this national-historical information available in digitized format, even for a fee, is potentially a tremendous benefit.

Dr. Martens pointed us at this article at LibraryJournal.com: At SPARC Digital Repository Meeting, Shulenberger Calls Out AAUP, ACS. Towards the end of the article the author (Andrew Albanese) notes, “Libraries, with stretched budgets, have bought fewer monographs, and the consolidation in the bookselling market has left university presses increasingly alone to fend for their survival. It’s time, Shulenberger, urged, for all campus units, to find ways to pull in the same direction, for everyone’s common benefit.”

This makes me think that academically-oriented online collections in general, and institutional repositories in particular, need to be reconceptualized in terms of what they do and how their functions interact with and/or replace those of earlier methods of sharing information.

There are many reasons why information is shared in an academic context, but two stand out. First, because that is in a sense the entire purpose of the academy: to create and disseminate knowledge. Second, because the way that higher education is structured, the professoriate is judged primarily on the basis of such creation and its dissemination through publication.

Publication in journals or monographs is not the only way in which information can be disseminated, however. The advantages of publication have traditionally been threefold. Publication enabled information to reach more people more quickly than did personal communication (before academic journals existed, the sharing of knowledge was largely informal, and carried out through direct communication until and unless the author published a book). This advantage is now far less relevant, since it is easy to put information on the internet. Publication also fixed the information in a standard, findable, permanent form; and that is an advantage not yet always extant in online formats, though the use of repositories should improve permanency and findability. Finally, publication involves a certain amount of gatekeeping; no publisher can publish everything submitted, since there are questions of cost and also of suitability. Thus the existence of peer review, which in theory ensures that published academic works are of high quality. This is something that repositories do not assist with at the present time, since their purpose is to archive rather than to review.

It would be entirely possible to add some sort of review function to a repository, however. It need not be required for all items, but could be an option. A university press could use the same group of reviewers now called upon to evaluate submitted manuscripts (books, articles, or both) to evaluate items deposited in an institutional repository. If of suitable quality, those items could be designated as “peer reviewed” and be considered the equivalent of a formal publication, with the imprimatur of the press; authors could also have the opportunity to revise the work if reviewers felt it was not up to standard.

Substituting peer-reviewed items in digital repositories for traditional university press-published journals and monographs seems to me to be a potential way to continue disseminating new knowledge, retain quality standards, and yet not continue to need to subsidize money-losing presses. If the digitized items in the repository could also be converted into printable formats, using the Espresso Book Machine or similar technology, then it’s hard to see what losses there would be in such a shift.

Greig, Morag. 2007. Repositories and copyright: Major hurdle or minor obstacle? ALISS Quarterly 3 (1): 16-9.

In doing some research on copyright I found this article, which looks at issues of copyright connected to the institutional repository at the University of Glasgow, specifically at that part of the repository which holds published materials (unpublished materials not usually being subject to copyright problems). Authors may either self-deposit or have repository staff make the deposit; the latter is generally preferred since authors do not feel they can accurately understand publishers’ copyright agreements, and are concerned lest they break the law.

Grieg discusses the methods by which staff can determine if an article may be deposited. Often a particular version is authorized by the publisher for deposit, but it may be difficult to obtain the correct version. She notes that it is usually relatively straightforward to find out if journal articles may be deposited, but more difficult for other items such as conference papers. Books and book chapters are also difficult as the contracts between publishers and authors rarely stipulate what is permissible with respect to repositories, but some books have been placed in this repository and have been very frequently used (over 22,000 downloads in one case).

The final comment in the article is of especial interest. Grieg points out that for all the problems that can exist in getting the appropriate permissions from publishers for deposit of materials in repositories, the greatest barrier remains the authors themselves, who must make the first effort to deposit, but who often still do not see this as part of what is expected of them.

This is a subject that will be ongoing for quite a long time, I think. I’m still trying to get my head around what the settlement does, and what the implications potentially are for both libraries and individuals.

The Disruptive Library Technology Jester so far has six posts dealing with the settlement, and I have found the comments and summaries there to be quite useful.

1. Google Book Search Settlement: Introduction, Public Announcements
2. Google Book Search Settlement: Reviewing the Notice of Settlement
3. Is OCLC’s Change of WorldCat Record Use/Transfer Policy Related to the Google Book Search Agreement?
4. Google Book Search Settlement: Public Access Service
5. Preliminary Court Approval of Google Book Settlement; Final Approval Hearing Set
6. Google Book Search Settlement and Library Consortia

What does seem clear to me so far is that any library that might wish to make use of the materials digitized by Google and its partners is going to have to read very carefully the settlement and the terms of use that Google is establishing. Libraries acting as part of consortiums may be able to get discounts in pricing.

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