Digitizing the Boston Public Library

Steve Tripoli Dec 28, 2007


Renita Jablonski: Boston’s public library has landed a grant to digitize its collection of government documents. There are millions of pages, including the famous 1950’s hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee. More now from Marketplace’s Steve Tripoli.

Steve Tripoli: These documents are rare, especially in complete sets.

Library curator Gail Fithian says the government could do this job, but that would take money from Congress.

Gail Fithian: And I’m not sure that this would be their first priority.

So nonprofit grantors and the library are teaming up. Transcripts of the 1950’s hearings are already among the library’s most-requested documents.

But Fithian says mass access is hard when they’re on paper:

Fithian: There are many more people who would use these if they were digitized.

The nonprofit Internet Archive in San Francisco is helping to fund the project. The archive’s Brewster Kahle says it probably won’t take much business from for-profit documents services like Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw.

Brewster Kahle: We think that the value added in those services will still command some amount of money. But let’s keep the public domain public domain, and let the competitors compete on added-value services.

Kahle says the project’s not competing with anybody. It’s just carrying the work of libraries to your laptop.

I’m Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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