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D-Lib Magazine
December 2004

Volume 10 Number 12

ISSN 1082-9873

The Growth of Digital Content

The year 2004 is coming to an end. It has been an eventful and interesting year regarding efforts to make more digital content searchable and conveniently accessible on the Web. As I write this, the hot topic in the news is that Google—started (like this magazine) within the first NSF/DARPA/NASA Digital Library Initiative (DLI) project—has now reached agreement with five research libraries (Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Oxford, and the New York Public Library) to digitize millions of books from their collections and make the books full text searchable using Google. Those books that are in the public domain will then be available for users to view in full text, while for copyright-protected books, selected excerpts only will be viewable.

The news about Google followed by one day an announcement by the Internet Archive and several international libraries, including the U.S. Library of Congress, regarding a Million Book Project in which the participants will digitize and provide open access to a million books that are in the public domain or are appropriately licensed for free access.

Last month, Congress approved a National Institutes of Health (NIH) plan whereby investigators who receive NIH-funding will be requested to voluntarily submit electronic copies of their final, peer reviewed scientific manuscripts to NIH. Then, six months after the publisher's date of publication, NIH would make these copies publicly available through PubMed Central. (A similar move to provide open access to UK government funded scientific research has not been as successful.) Meanwhile, HighWire Press now provides nearly 800,000 peer-reviewed, full text articles at no cost to the user after from six months to one year or longer depending on the journal.

For some digital content that is not available free of charge because of copyright or other restrictions, users may at least be able to find copies that they can either purchase or borrow. For example, Yahoo! and Google searchers can now link to the OCLC WorldCat database to find the closest library that holds the resource they want.

The future of libraries and librarians has been discussed for years within the digital library community. Increasing amounts of digital content available anywhere and anytime makes that discussion more relevant than ever. Most technologies and technological revolutions have unintended consequences. What might be the unintended consequences of the growth of digital content and the potential for increasingly universal access to it? And because information is never really "free," what kind of economic models will be needed to sustain the creation, organization, maintenance, access and preservation of digital information over the long term? Over the next years, the answers to these questions will surely become clear.

Bonita Wilson

Copyright© 2004 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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