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ĎIt Ainít Over Till Itís Overí: Impact of the Microsoft Shutdown
by
Posted On June 5, 2008
Although the announcement and some press coverage of Microsoft’s decision to shut down its Live Search Books and Live Search Academic projects seemed to indicate that the program would cease digitizing immediately, conversations with participating libraries indicated otherwise. For example, according to an article in the May 29 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, librarians at Cornell University expect to see tens of thousands of more books to be digitized by Microsoft before the program ends later this summer. Cornell also has an agreement announced in August 2007 to digitize a half million books through Google Book Search.

According to Neil Fitzgerald, project manager for the Microsoft digitization project at The British Library (BL), Microsoft "has agreed to work until the completion of the target." This could involve at least 60,000 more books beyond the 40,000 already digitized. Fitzgerald expected it would take Microsoft another 6 months to finish. The agreement signed between the BL and Microsoft at the end of 2005 led to a pilot project in 2006 and then to full production since October 2007, according to Fitzgerald. The digitization is aimed at all the library’s 19th century books. The BL’s involvement ensures the protection of rare 19th century items still in copyright under U.K. copyright law. Fitzgerald thought that Google Book Search’s policy in dealing with U.K. copyright law was to set 1886 as the limit, similar to the 1923 limit on access they set for the U.S.

Library Reactions

Fitzgerald reported that BL staff was surprised and disappointed by the Microsoft announcement. "It has definitely closed down a possibility open to libraries." Nevertheless, he thought it was "important not to focus on the negatives. Remember that we have successfully delivered high quality digital content in a high profile relationship. In the wider context of digitization, Microsoft was just one string to our bow. We are working on a range of public and private partnership projects to deliver content." The BL intends to offer permanent access to digitized books from the project on its own site. Fitzgerald indicated that the library currently has a pilot project for accessing the books digitized so far available in the Reading Room. As for the future, Fitzgerald indicated they would "consider work with a range of partners."

More than even the large libraries with masses of books to digitize, the effect of Microsoft’s withdrawal could be felt by smaller more subject focused libraries, ones too small for Google Book Search. The Princeton Theological Seminary signed its agreement in January and had expected to go into full production in June, according to Don Vorp, collection development librarian. Ultimately, they hoped to scan some 300,000 books and 600,000 microforms total, 50,000 books in the first year at a pace of around 1,000 a week, according to Vorp. So far they have only scanned 300–400. The Internet Archive (IA) had 10 Scribe machines in place at the library with 15 employees hired.

Vorp expected the scanning to continue for at least the next 60 days, giving them a final count of 3,000–4,000 books. He hoped to continue working with the IA, but he held little hope of a Google Book Search affiliation. "We are a specialized subject collection," said Vorp. "We are not a large university library with millions of volumes in every subject of knowledge. We represent the subject of religion and theology. Google is not interested in our subject collection in one field. They want library partners who bring the total corpus of knowledge." Though the Princeton Theological Seminary’s relationship was direct with Microsoft, rather than through the Open Content Alliance (OCA), it seemed obvious that the OCA route—with its concentration on smaller collections, even within large library holdings—might be appropriate.

Other Microsoft Live Search Books libraries include the University of California, the University of Toronto, The New York Public Library, and the Allen County (IN) Public Library.

On Friday, May 30, a conference call was hosted by the IA. According to Brewster Kahle, head of IA and leader of OCA, representatives from all six of the Microsoft Live Search Books libraries participated in the call. Kahle reported that they were all interested in continuing with the digitization. The problem at hand was funding.

Publisher Partners

In mid-July 2007, Microsoft signed an agreement with Ingram Digital Group to outsource high-volume scanning and digital management to Ingram. Under the agreement, Ingram served as an outsource partner for content acquisition, scanning, metadata management, and account management for publishers participating in the program. The publisher program at Microsoft Live search included such publishers as those listed below:

Academic Resource Corp.; Amherst Media; Bearport Publishing; Cambridge University Press; Edward Elgar Publishing; Harrison House Publishers; Harvard University Press; Hazelden Publishing & Educational Services; Institute for International Economics; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; Lerner Publishing Group; MBI Publishing Co.; The McGraw-Hill Cos.; Microsoft Corp.; MIT Press; OECD; Osprey Publishing; Oxford University Press; Pearson Education; PREP Publishing; Rodale; Rutgers University Press; Simon & Schuster; Springer; SUNY Press; Taylor & Francis Group; The Perseus Books Group; The World Bank Group; University of Massachusetts Press; Wheatmark; Wilderness Press; World Health Organization; World Scientific Publishing Co.; World Wisdom; and Yale University Press.

Details on how Microsoft planned to handle future relations with publishers were somewhat unclear, as Microsoft staff was unavailable for interviews. However, there were some indications that they would continue to support the development of marketing and sales opportunities from the Live Search Books Publisher Program. According to Frank Daniels, chief operating officer of Ingram Digital, somewhat less than half of the books in Live Search Books come from publisher partners. Publisher partners will receive digital copies of the books scanned in the programs, which they could convert into ebooks for sale. Ingram works with a broad range of platforms and partners, including libraries. It also owns Lightning Source, which produces print-on-demand books.

The week after Microsoft’s announcement saw the Book Expo America held in Los Angeles. Taking advantage of a lemons-to-lemonade opportunity, LibreDigital (www.libredigital.com), a division of NewsStand, Inc., announced it would allow any Microsoft Live Search publisher to migrate online content into its online repositories. OverDrive (www.overdrive.com) offered to participate by delivering "rentable" books online through its distribution channel of more than 7,500 libraries, schools, and retailers, including the Los Angeles Public Library and Borders. John Wiley & Sons announced it would use LibreDigital’s Internet Digital Warehouse to provide ebook, custom content, and discovery tools to Wiley customers, partners, and users. Wiley has set a Content Technology Initiative, which includes plans for a single content store for all Wiley content, available "All Wiley All the Time." First applications will involve distribution of ebooks to resellers and improvements in creating customized college textbooks.

Stay tuned. It ain’t over yet.


Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.


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