Sunday, 8 May 2011

Arcadia seminar: Digitisation and Print on Demand

Ed Chamberlain gave a really interesting Arcadia seminar the other night on the topic of his Arcadia fellowship: digitisation and print on demand technologies.

For his fellowship, Ed investigated ways to better automate the digitisation process of Cambridge library collections, which would in turn give the collections more exposure, and better meet the reader's expectation that "everything is online nowadays". (Digitisation is also used as a preservation technique, but that wasn't the focus of this seminar.)

Ed identified three main barriers to digitisation projects - and it's interesting to note that the barriers mostly have little to do with the technology and software being used:
  1. Complexity of copyright legislation
  2. Cost/time
  3. Users mostly prefer to read printed materials rather than reading from a screen.
The technology to solve these problems exists, but the question is, is an efficient use of money to invest in these technologies?

1. Complexity of copyright legislation
Solution = speed up copyright analysis
Tool = Copyright calculator

'On demand' has become a feature of our society whether we like it or not, but wrangling with copyright law can take a lot of time and slows down digitisation projects. Luckily there are several copyright calculation tools around, Ed mentioned those developed by the Open Knowledge Foundation and Europeana Digital Library, and showed us how a calculator such as this could be integrated into the library catalogue, so that users could tell straightaway what they could and couldn't do with any given work (well, most of the time - unless there's no author death date in the record) . 

2. Cost/time
Solution = explore automated scanning
Tool = Kirtas book scanner

Automated scanning is quicker than manual scanning, and apart from the thousands of pounds it would cost upfront to buy one of these machines, it would then save money in staffing costs etc. Interestingly 66% of academics would be prepared to pay up to £15 to get a full e-copy of a work. However the quality of the end result may not be as good as it needs to be - students want clean, searchable text when they're reading on their Kindle or iPad - and Cambridge University Press who have 2 Kirtas machines do a post-scanning cleanup job on their scanned books, adding 2 weeks to the processing time. So still very expensive and perhaps not quite good quality enough scans to run an on-demand scanning service.

3. Preference of printed forms
Solution = Print on demand services
Tool = Espresso book printing machine

Blackwells has had one of these machines in their Charing Cross shop for 2 years now, which can print paperback copies of digitised books, in 5 minutes apparently! In a library context, it would mean that public domain works could be printed off for students and we perhaps could do things which publishers might not do, for example include lecturer's notes at the back, insert blank pages for students to scribble notes in etc. However like the Kirtas scanner, this is a very expensive bit of technology, and if we were to charge students and staff for their newly printed copy, aren't we turning into bookseller rather than book lender? One of the worries with this is that we'd risk going into competition with some of our key supporters, for example CUP and Blackwells.

It was fairly clear that there are still problems with these new technologies, but it is also fairly obvious that obeying copyright law isn't a massive priority for a lot of students if they can get around it and avoid paying £50 for a new textbook. There's maybe not a lot we can do to change that, but it would be great if we could make it really easy for those that do want to use the library instead of downloading an illegally digitised copy from a torrent site. It would be really cool if when they went to the library catalogue and saw "All of our copies are out on loan at the moment" it would also say "Would you like to download the work as a pdf instead? Or visit our printing department to get your own copy hot off the press!"

The Future of Books by Emilie Ogez on Flickr

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