Digitization project derailed

Four months after Microsoft abruptly terminated its multi-million dollar book digitization deal with the University, Yale officials said they will have to wait for donations or grants to come in before they start another major book scanning project.

The University still has some plans to continue digitizing materials held in its libraries and museums that are unique to Yale. Whether those materials will end up on the Internet, however, remains unclear.

“We have a strategy to focus on material no one else can get,” University Librarian Alice Prochaska said. “I think it’s the most important contribution we can make to research and scholarship.”

That contribution would have been much larger, of course, had all of the 100,000 volumes that were originally part of the Microsoft deal — which the technology giant called off when it decided to focus its search efforts more narrowly — been digitized. Instead, just about 30,000 books from the agreement have been scanned, and Yale does not yet know how it will disseminate those materials online.

Associate University Librarian Ann Okerson said Yale is currently negotiating hosting agreements with Google and the Open Content Alliance, a collection of organizations adding to a public digital archive, but nothing has been finalized yet. Those deals, however, would only put the already-scanned volumes online.

Prochaska said the University would be interested in a “future contract with Google about digitizing material,” but added that Google is not looking to enter into such agreements right now.

Until then, Yale will continue to focus its digitization efforts on materials that only Yale owns and has received funding to scan. Such materials include Arabic-Islamic manuscripts and Palestine/Syrian government gazettes for which Yale has recently received funding, as well as a series of Arabic journals that is being digitized with money provided by a Department of Education grant.

Ironically, future digitization efforts may be easier for Yale because of a donation it received from Kirtas Technologies, the firm that was contracted by Microsoft to digitize the books.

After Kirtas closed its scanning facility in Wallingford, CT, the company donated three high-end scanning machines to the planned, shared digitization facility at the University’s West Campus in West Haven, CT. Kirtas will continue to maintain those machines, Belkhir said, though the company also has its own facility in New York that can be of use to Yale for larger projects in the future.

Paul Needham contributed reporting.

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