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After Microsoft Pullout, What's Next for Cornell?

As I reported in today's Inside Higher Ed, Microsoft announced last week that it was ending its book-scanning project, which partnered with major research libraries to digitize hundreds of thousands of books and journals. After Google announced its project in late 2004 with high-profile partners including the New York Public Library and the University of Michigan, Microsoft stepped in with Cornell, Johns Hopkins and a few others. What distinguished that project, which was otherwise quite similar to Google's, was the agreement with the Open Content Alliance to keep all scanned materials (in theory permanently) at the nonprofit Internet Archive.

Where does that leave Cornell? As it turns out, the University announced a complementary partnership last year with Google, slated to begin with Mann Library's holdings in the life and biological sciences. That seems to have been a stroke of luck -- Cornell hedging its bets to work with both major corporate competitors.

For now, Cornell's most likely option is to ramp up its partnership with Google. Otherwise, it could consider a direct relationship with OCA, although that alliance will be looking for new sources of funding -- a disadvantage the corporate efforts didn't have.

Anne R. Kenney, the Carl A. Kroch University Librarian at Cornell, said she appreciated Microsoft’s partnership with OCA, which furthered the university’s goals of offering “multiple access points” for works online as well as keeping digitized materials preserved in a secure repository. But the advantage with Google, she said, was the ability to scan copyrighted works as well as those in the public domain. The university signed with Microsoft in 2006 but more recently announced a separate partnership with Google.

The initial Microsoft contract was already set to conclude in two months, Kenney said, and the university likely would have pursued a renewal had the project not ended. So far, between 90,000 and 100,000 volumes have been scanned through the program, she said, mainly pre-1923 monographs, in English, “across the subject spectrum.” To get a sense of the scale, the partners scanned more books in the first four months than in the previous 15 years, before Microsoft signed on.

“We felt very positively about our relationship with Microsoft,” Kenney said, adding that “the scanning was of extremely high caliber ... they were very responsive to our needs.”

But she noted that Microsoft’s announcement has sharpened considerations among research libraries of “ongoing preservation” efforts, the “long-term interest in preserving cultural heritage materials respective of their commercial value” — for centuries, as opposed to decades or years in the life span of the typical company.

Andy Guess | Posted on May 30, 2008 (#)

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