Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is Technology the Way Forward for the Library of Michigan?

What's to become of the Library of Michigan? I don't have the answer to that but like many people I am concerned about it. I wish the State of Michigan hadn't fallen on hard times. I wish our unemployment wasn't the highest in the nation. I wish our state budget had money to fund the Library of Michigan and all it's wonderful collections. But recent actions by our Governor suggest that we don't.

Reality is hard to swallow sometimes. Like now. But you know what they say, "trying times are for trying". I'm thinking it's time for us to be trying something new. Even as I write this I am anticipating the groans from people who don't want to go beyond their comfort zones when it comes to technology. But groan if you will, I'm going to suggest that it's time to digitize he holdings of the Library of Michigan.

Google is in the process of digitizing the entire library system of the University of Michigan (et al) which is much larger than the Library of Michigan. They have the equipment and the know-how to scan massive quantities of printed books. Michigan should be the first state to have it's library holdings digitized, out of necessity, and Google is the perfect partner to take on the digitization of the printed books portion of the library's holdings. In the genealogy collection, many of the books are out of print and their copyright has run out. Having those items available online would be adding to the goldmine that already exists in GoogleBooks. Yes, many of the Library of Michigan's books would still be inaccessible due to copyright protection. But isn't it worth considering the idea for the many books that would be accessible?

And what of the all the reels of microfilm at the Library of Michigan? I would propose that Heritage Quest is in the perfect position to deal with those. I believe they already have the equipment to scan films and put them online and they already have an agreement with the State of Michigan (Michigan residents already get free access to Heritage Quest). What about the cost involved in indexing the microfilms? Don't do it. Don't index the microfilms any more than they already are. There's no database index of the microfilms now so it wouldn't be any different than if you were on site doing research. Heritage Quest would still have some costs involved but they could recoup the cost with the increase in subscribers from out of state who would love to have access to all of the Library of Michigan's microfilm holdings.

Is this plan a "no brainer"? No. Of course not. There are legal issues and financial issues to be taken into account. But if the idea were given serious consideration and all interested parties could sit down at a table together I'll bet they could come to some sort of agreement that would allow this to happen. The residents of Michigan would be the big winners here. Let's face it, it would be awfully convenient to have online access to the Library of Michigan's holdings.

It's likely that the Library funding will be cut and the holdings could well be dispersed. But if we could get some sort of agreement in place in short order, perhaps the funding could be found to keep the library open until it's holdings have been digitized. Like it or not, we may not be able to continue doing business (and our hobby) the way we've always done it here in Michigan. I think the time has come to take a digital step forward and let current technology help us out here.

What do you think?