Prelinger Library Blog

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

An appropriation-friendly, image-rich, experimental research library. Independent and open to the public.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

How large-scale library book digitization works

Libraries, tech companies, archives and other organizations associated with the Open Content Alliance are organizing to scan library books and make them available according to open-access principles. Robin Chandler (California Digital Library), Merrilee Proffitt (Research Libraries Group) and I recently presented an update on OCA and its doings at the Digital Library Federation Spring Forum in Austin. Merrilee describes our panel and links to our presentations. --RP

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Books become art objects but not for keeps

The New York Times reports on the Portland (Maine) Public Library's program to invite artists to transform its discarded books into booklike pieces of art. They're in Portland's online catalog, and you can borrow them (by interlibrary loan, if you wish) too.

The Portland Public Library has been kind to us. We're indebted to them for our set of U.S. Department of Agriculture Technical Bulletins; the Treasury Department's Annual Reports of the U.S. Life-Saving Service (1876-1914), full of harrowing coastal rescue stories; and more.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Earth Day exhibit in the library

In observation of Earth Day, the library is featuring an installation of classic environmental texts. The selection and arrangement of the books in the display case illustrate some points about the historic trajectory of the environmental movement. The main library website has a larger picture of the installation, and a link to a page that explains what the books are and more of the thinking behind the design of the exhibit. --Megan

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A favorite map

From H.R. Hochmuth, Earl R. Franklin and Marion Clawson, Sheep Migration in the Intermountain Region, (U.S. Department of Agriculture Circular No. 624), Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1942. (For govdocs librarians, the SuDocs number is A1.42:624).

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Periodicals: a great lode of public domain material

Here at the DLF Forum in Austin, where this morning John Mark Ockerbloom of the University of Pennsylvania presented his research on the copyright situation surrounding American periodicals. He's mined Copyright Office renewal records for periodicals and proven something we'd been thinking about at the Prelinger Library, but for which we had no empirical data. Of the approximately 200,000 periodical titles that he estimates were published between 1923 and 1963, only 1,300 seem to have copyright renewals on file. This means that periodicals provide the most accessible and reusable body of material on mid-20th-century culture and society, and ought to be high priority for any mass digitization project.

He's compiled a useful checklist showing first copyright renewals for periodicals. It's pretty amazing: entertainment magazines and pulp fiction were heavily renewed, but scholarly and scientific journals were not. Popular Science appears to be public domain through 1963, but not Popular Mechanics. Most daily newspapers were never copyrighted or renewed. In New York, only the Times and Herald Tribune were renewed, and only after a certain date. We encourage using his list as a starting point for deciding what to digitize, and as a way of deciding where to hunt for that perfect block of text or image you may need. Don't forget to read his caveats, and commit them to memory. -- RP

Films of San Francisco Before and After the 1906 Quake

Here are 6 films showing San Francisco in 1905 (the famous film A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire) and in 1906, after the earthquake. All of these are available for free downloading and reuse from the Internet Archive.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Orphan Works in Washington

Yesterday I went to Washington to testify before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary's Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. The hearing concerned orphan works -- works whose copyright holder(s) cannot be located -- and the importance of resolving their status so that these works can be reproduced and reused. Present were Senators Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy, plus quite a number of interesting folks: Gigi Sohn from Public Knowledge, filmmaker June Cross, Prue Adler of the Association of Research Libraries, Allan Adler of the Association of American Publishers, to name but a few.

The witnesses' prepared statements mostly focused on the Copyright Office's recent study of the problems posed by orphan works. When the Office called for public comments last year, it received over 800, an unusually large response in a copyright proceeding. There's significant consensus around addressing the orphan works situation and opening these works to some sort of reuse, if means and procedures can be crafted to protect the rights of copyright holders.

What's it like testifying before a congressional committee? The room, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, seats about 60, and is mostly full. Witnesses sit at a long table covered in green felt, accessorized with a small bottle of water, a glass, two U.S. Senate coasters, a U.S. Senate notepad and pencil, and a live microphone that extends into their faces. Behind the witnesses, the first row of seats is reserved for their counsel, who can lean forward, pass notes to them and prompt them as needed. I have no counsel with me. In front of the witness table is a semicircular pit in which a lone photographer (this is not one of the hearings mobbed by a gaggle of photographers) sits on the floor and shoots pictures of witnesses. Also in the pit is a very large countdown timer that in our case counted down from five minutes, with a yellow light coming on when 30 seconds remain and a red light at zero. To the right sits a reporter with a recording machine. Occasionally she speaks into the recorder using a voice-muffling microphone in what looks remarkably like an oxygen mask, probably to make audible notes or identify who is speaking. In front of the pit is a semicircular podium on a dais, wrapping around long enough to accommodate a full committee. This time just two senators are in attendance, committee chair Hatch and ranking Democrat Leahy. Hatch enters the room and shakes hands with each witness before ascending to the podium. Leahy arrives a moment later with his own camera and shoots pictures of the witnesses and the room. In his remarks, he alludes to his photography several times and speaks about the difficulty of controlling the dissemination of images that make it onto the net.

In a friendly and welcoming manner, Hatch posed the problem and described the process by which it is being addressed (link to all remarks here). Each witness then spoke for five minutes, after which the Senators asked questions. I spoke about the Internet Archive's project to scan the contents of great libraries, our partnership with the Open Content Alliance, our interest in making orphaned books available online, Prelinger Archives and its work with orphan films, and the importance of clarifying the situation regarding orphan films so that films can be preserved before they decompose.

Quite an interesting experience. Thanks to the staffers who made it happen, especially Kathryn Hutchinson. -- RP