A Long Road Ahead for Digitization

The New York Times published an article today ("History, Digitized (and Abridged)") that examines the progress that has been made in digitization in the US. It doesn’t hold many surprises for those in the know, but it might be useful in orienting non-specialists to some of the challenges involved, especially those who think that everything is online on the Internet.

It also has some interesting tidbits, including a chart that shows the holdings of different types of materials in the National Archives and how many items have been digitized for each type.

It has some current cost data from the Library of Congress quoted below:

At the Library of Congress, for example, despite continuing and ambitious digitization efforts, perhaps only 10 percent of the 132 million objects held will be digitized in the foreseeable future. For one thing, costs are prohibitive. Scanning alone on smaller items ranges from $6 to $9 for a 35-millimeter slide, to $7 to $11 a page for presidential papers, to $12 to $25 for poster-size pieces.

It also discusses the copyright laws that apply to sound materials and their impact on digitization efforts:

When it comes to sound recordings, copyright law can introduce additional complications. Recordings made before 1972 are protected under state rather than federal laws, and under a provision of the 1976 Copyright Act, may be entitled to protection under state law until 2067. Also, an additional copyright restriction often applies to the underlying musical composition.

A study published in 2005 by the Library of Congress and the Council on Library and Information Resources found that some 84 percent of historical sound recordings spanning jazz, blues, gospel, country and classical music in the United States, and made from 1890 to 1964, have become virtually inaccessible.

An interesting, well-written article that’s worth a read.

Source: Hafner, Katie. "History, Digitized (and Abridged)." The New York Times, 11 March 2007, BU YT 1, 8-9.

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