Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Kirtas-BookSurge book digitization program

There's a new book digitization project from Kirtas Technologies, maker of a book-scanning machine, and BookSurge, a subsidiary of Amazon specializing in print-on-demand (POD).  Two academic libraries and two public libraries (Emory University, the University of Maine, the Toronto Public Library, and the Cincinnati Public Library) will digitize some of their rare public-domain books and sell POD versions through Amazon.  More libraries will join the project over time.

I blogged the Emory project when it was announced in early June because Emory said it would provide online access to its copies of the digital books.  But I didn't initially blog the larger project when it launched two days ago because none of the public sources suggested an OA connection.  Apart from Emory, it looked like an all-POD project. 

However, I just learned from Joyce Rumery, Dean of Libraries at the University of Maine, that Maine will provide free online access to its copies of the books. 

(Emory didn't say it would provide free online access to the digital books.  But either that's what it meant by online access or at least the Maine policy shows that the Kirtas-BookSurge terms allow participating libraries to offer free online access.)

That changes everything.  Now that there's an OA connection, I can blog it.  Here's some of the press:

  • Press release from BookSurge, June 21, 2007
  • Article in Library Journal Academic Newswire, June 21, 2007
  • Article by Dan Carnevale in the Chronicle of Higher Education, June 22, 2007 (subscribers only)

From the BookSurge press release, the most detailed of the public sources to date:

BookSurge...and Kirtas announced a collaboration with universities and public libraries to preserve thousands of rare and inaccessible books from their collections and distribute them via BookSurge's Print-on-Demand service. This collaboration, which will greatly enhance the selection of rare and historic books for sale on and other retail channels, represents a breakthrough approach to digitization and preservation that will ensure the public will have access to these works indefinitely via Print on Demand. This initiative will also help these institutions fund their mission of preserving these vast literary collections by offering a revenue source from the sales of content these institutions own or that is in the public domain on

Emory University, University of Maine, Toronto Public Library, and Cincinnati Public Library are the first organizations to enter into agreements with Kirtas to make their rare-book collections available to a readership that extends far beyond their physical geographies to include an audience of millions of customers. This preservation effort is the only method that allows university and public libraries to preserve books and print them on demand as they are ordered. Participating institutions retain full control over what is digitized, so they now have an economical way to preserve, reproduce and distribute important works that may be disappearing from their shelves....

Kirtas is helping to fund this preservation effort by discounting the costs associated with this program for select research universities and public libraries....


  • Kudos to Maine for its commitment to free online access, and kudos to Emory for what appears to be the same commitment.  (I don't yet know the access policies at the Toronto and Cincinnati public libraries.)  Kudos to BookSurge/Amazon for not fearing that OA editions would preclude sales of the POD editions and demanding some contract terms to bar them.  And kudos to Kirtas for discounting its prices to make this program possible.
  • Why would Emory and Maine go with this new initiative rather than the Google Library Project or the Open Content Alliance?  They don't say but I can guess.  They prefer the Kirtas-BookSurge project to the Google project because they can keep their own copies of the files and provide OA to them.  They prefer it to the OCA because the sales of the POD editions will pay their digitization expenses.  
  • In April 2007, the Cornell University library launched a similar project:  digitizing its rare public-domain books, providing OA to the digital editions, and offering BookSurge POD editions for sale through Amazon.  I don't know why it's not mentioned as part of the same program.  Perhaps it doesn't use a Kirtas machine.
  • Note to libraries and news media:  free online access to full-text books, especially rare books, is at least as newsworthy as POD access to them.  When it's part of a new digitization program, please mention it!