Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, April 10, 2008

More on the Open Library

David Tebbutt, Two-way web pushes door to information wide open, Information World Review, April 7, 2008.

... It’s interesting, isn’t it, how appealing “free” is? Start any discussion with “XYZ should be free” and everyone has to agree: “Food should be free.” “Hear, hear!” But then the niggling doubts creep in, such as how will farmers be paid?

And that’s the status of the Open Library. Its dream is to make information on books available to all and sundry. It’s even putting full texts online when it can. It’s close to defining APIs (application programming interfaces) so that developers can grab information from the database.

The model is similar to Wikipedia with a page per book, but the Open Library wiki will allow for structured entries. The world at large will provide information to the database, the development of which is funded through donations and grants.

Once the system goes live, it should not be expensive to run, and can be financed through a combination of donations and commercial activities, such as printing on demand and commissions from Amazon referrals.

The servers are being run by the Internet Archive, the people who came up with the Open Library idea in the first place. You may already have encountered them as the Wayback Machine, which is a great way to check on earlier versions of websites. It also has a book scanning project which has been scooping up out-of-copyright books to make them available to the project.

Records can be gleaned from anywhere: the Library of Congress Catalogue, people’s own notes, library systems generally, Amazon, anywhere in fact where book information lives. And that’s going to create tensions, not to put too fine a point on things.

The end-result should become a widely referenced and accessed hub for book communities, both professionals and the general public.

With so much data available free of charge, some organisations are bound to be concerned about the threat to their own business models. No doubt we’re going to see a rerun of the Encyclopedia Britannica versus Wikipedia shenanigans. ...

See also past OAN posts on the Open Library.