To me, there is nothing like having a book in my hands or an original record on the table in front of me. Sometimes seeing the original gives you that one piece of information that you need that you would not get from it online. At the same time, none of us have unlimited resources (time or money). The only things that do appear to be unlimited are the books and records that just might contain the information we are seeking.
Thank goodness for digitization. Although what is available online is still the tip of the iceberg, that tip keeps getting bigger thanks to grants for digitization projects and groups like the Internet Archive. We are able to quickly search an entire online book electronically for one piece of information or read it page by page for a more in depth study.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Internet Archive at its Northeast Regional Scanning Center, conveniently located at the Boston Public Library. The Archive digitizes books, yearbooks, city annual reports. Anything between covers could be a candidate for digitization. Our guide specifically discussed Boston’s annual reports. Now a city’s annual report may sound like boring reading. Don’t you believe it. There can be all sorts of information packed away there. They have great local history. One researcher was able to digitally search city annual reports to track the growth and decline of specific ethnic groups within specific neighborhoods of Boston. This was make possible by the work that had already been done by the Internet Archive.
Books used to be time consuming and difficult to digitize, but the Internet Archive now uses a specially designed V-shaped cradle to hold the books being copied. [No broken spines.] A 300 page book can now take just a few hours. The Internet Archive scans also include OCR (Optical Code Recognition). This creates data code for the content of books which, in turn, allows information and specific words within books to be tracked. It could have taken our friend mentioned above years to do the research that he was able to search digitally in a much shorter time.
Did you know that you can read any of the books scanned by the Internet Archive on your Kindle? They can also be listened to as audio books as well, but the voice does sound canned. Internet Archive owns the books that they copy and they give their digital copies away free to whoever wants to read or listen to them. The cost is 10 cents per page. It’s $30.00 for a 300 page book, but you get it for free. Money for the scanning often comes from grants. Google would have digitized all these books for free, but in the end Google would have owned the digitized version of all the books. If they wanted to charge for access in the future, they could.
The BPL has had all their genealogy books digitized. If a book is still under copyright and it is a book that cannot be lent in hard copy, they loan out digitally only that number that they have in hard copy. If they own three hard copy (paper) books, only three people can borrow the digital copies. Legally this seems to satisfy the copyrights. For a link to this treasure trove, just click BPL at the Internet Archive.