Digital Library Digest: February 21, 2013

Posted by Vicky Zeamer on February 21, 2013 in Digital Library Digest.

When rebels invaded Timbuktu, a digital-archive project suddenly became a cultural lifeline.

“WHEN THE MALIAN city of Timbuktu fell to Islamist rebels last April, the destruction of its immense cultural treasures did not begin at once. It wasn’t even clear, at first, who exactly was in charge of the city, or what they might do.

“But by July, when a coalition of new leaders consolidated control and began tearing down some of the city’s most important burial shrines, the heads of Timbuktu’s libraries had already been working quietly for months to move and hide their collections—one of the most significant troves of unique med­ieval manuscripts in the world. And among the first materials that they smuggled out were something surprising: hard drives.

These hard drives were packed with digital backups of thousands of precious library documents. Though today Timbuktu is a remote and dusty city of “54,000 at the edge of the Sahara, 500 years ago it was a major commercial crossroads and a great center for scholarship. Copied onto those disks were scanned versions of some of the world’s most important surviving medieval manuscripts, texts on Islam, politics, math, and science that illuminate the city’s past as a center of learning.

“In the last decade, Timbuktu’s libraries have been working with partners in the United States, South Africa, and France to create digital archives of its crumbling documents. Expensive scanners and digital cameras have been ferried up the slow Niger River or along the long road to the isolated city to capture these texts electronically and in some cases to post them online, making them widely available to scholars for the first time.

“In the broad recent push to digitize libraries around the world, most of the rationale has been about such access. The team behind the Digital Public Library of America project, for example, which includes Harvard University and the Library of Congress, says its goal is to “make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all.” A similar project at Google Books aims to digitize all the world’s estimated 130 million books by 2020. But when Timbuktu became the target of jihadist rebels, the urgent efforts to document and save its manuscripts made it an important test case for a different role for digitization entirely: to make backup copies of unique, endangered collections that otherwise might be lost to us completely.

“Turning to digital copies as a tool for cultural preservation carries risks, and raises its own questions: What do you prioritize? How do you handle the expense and potential damage to priceless old documents? What about the fact that these digital files, too, are unstable?”

From Sarah Laskow’s article in the Boston Globe, The Smuggled Hard drives of Timbuktu

57 percent of Kentucky’s population registered to use library services, showing increase in demand for library services

“FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 21, 2013) — Kentucky’s public libraries are providing new digital services along with books and other items at an unprecedented level, according to statistics compiled by the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA) from annual reports submitted by Kentucky’s 119 public library systems.

“Kentucky public libraries offer books, ereaders and ebooks, and other digital services to millions of residents. Kentuckians checked out almost 20 million books from public libraries and bookmobiles in 2012, in addition to more than nine million audio visual items. (Photo courtesy of

“Kentuckians checked out almost 20 million books from public libraries and bookmobiles in addition to more than nine million audio visual items in 2012, while welcoming almost 20 million visitors and serving many more through websites offering a wide range of services.

“Children’s services were used more than ever, with 8,282,762 children’s items circulated.  Attendance at children’s programs set a record at 1,269,546, an increase of 3.5 percent in 2012.

“These numbers debunk the myth that libraries aren’t a necessity in the Internet age,” said Wayne Onkst, State Librarian and Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. “On the contrary, the data show that children are checking out books and other materials, as well as attending educational programs more than ever before.

“With continuing economic difficulties in the state, citizens are using the public computers and Internet access to seek employment and educational opportunities. Public libraries are a strong link in workforce development in Kentucky, Onkst said.

“Electronic services continued to increase rapidly last year. The libraries provided 4,497 computers free of charge for public use and trained more than 47,000 Kentuckians in using electronic resources. Kentuckians used library computers for creating resumes, searching and applying for jobs, accessing e-government resources, doing homework for school at all levels, obtaining information for small business applications and searching for information on a variety of topics. Collections of e-books increased dramatically so that more than three million e-books were available for checkout.

“More community groups met at the library with a total of 58,097 meetings held in library buildings in 2012.

“Almost 2.5 million Kentuckians, 57 percent of the state’s population, are registered to use library services.”

From The Lane Report, Public libraries offer digital services along with books, assist many Kentuckians in job searches

Video: World Digital Library: The world cultures under one link


Question and Answer with the Stanislaus County librarian on challenges in a digital age

“MODESTO — On a clear, crisp Monday morning early this month, a crowd easily of 30 to 40 people had gathered outside the entrance to the main Stanislaus County Library in downtown Modesto, awaiting its 10 a.m. opening.

“There were people returning books and, no doubt, checking out more. Parents holding toddlers by the hand, or pushing them in strollers, to go to the downstairs auditorium for WiggleWorms story and activity time. A man with a fistful of DVDs to return. And several folks ready to make a beeline to the Internet-connected computers.

“Inside, preparing along with her staff to meet the needs of the library’s diverse users, was Librarian Vanessa Czopek. Because even in the digital age, libraries continue to serve a variety of functions.

“Czopek began working for Stanislaus County Library in 1996 as branch coordinator and was appointed county librarian in December 2001. She took time to talk about library services and challenges in an e-mail interview with The Bee:

“Q: With rapid technological evolution and a difficult local economy, what are some of the biggest challenges you face?

“A: Keeping up with technology, and finding the funds for it, in a rapidly changing environment creates a special challenge. New technologies are costly, so it is always a balancing act between embracing the newest technological trend and doing so in the most cost-effective manner. The library always strives to stretch every dollar to provide the maximum benefit to the public.”

From Deke Farrow’s article in The Modesto Bee, Monday Q&A: Stanislaus County librarian on challenges in a digital age

The first digital-only library in the US raises key questions about the broader purpose of a library

“The city of San Antonio, Texas, recently announced that the first fully digital public library in the US will open in Bexar County later this year: a library that won’t contain a single book. The facility, part of a planned state-wide bookless system called BiblioTech, is modelled on an Apple store rather than a traditional library, but it will retain all the important features: more than 100 e-readers available to borrow, with more than 10,000 ebooks – and visitors can bring their own devices, too.

“Ebooks and libraries don’t always mix well. Many libraries still mark a borrowed ebook as “out” (and therefore unavailable to other readers) just like a paper book, despite the electronic copy’s infinite reproducibility. Others insist readers visit the actual building to download and “check out” ebooks. In 2011, HarperCollins tried to stipulate that its ebooks could only be borrowed 26 times. After this, the file would self-destruct, in accordance with the belief that this is the average lifespan of a worn-and-torn paper lending copy.

“There are obvious problems with applying the traditional library model to ebooks; but there are also very good reasons for retaining libraries. They are not just places to read books, they are public spaces providing a range of services. These are essential to people on lower incomes, beneficial to all, and they are adjusting to different roles. Amsterdam’s Central Library, a magnificent building, the largest of its kind in Europe, opened in 2007, and emphasises the library as a space to work, think and connect. Books, while plentiful, could be secondary here: as much work is done by visitors online – spread across floor after floor of well-lit and well-connected desks and comfortable chairs – as with the collection.

“But there is no equivalent of public space online, which is too susceptible to corporate and technocratic control, and so the physical institution remains essential. The bookless library is not a contradiction in terms, but a continuation of the library’s core purpose, providing access to knowledge and information, and a public statement of the value of that access.”

From James Bridle’s article for The Guardian, It’s not what a library stocks, it’s what it shares

Association of Research Libraries and Ithaka S+R Release Findings on Sustainability of Digitized Special Collections

“ARL and Ithaka S+R today released Appraising our Digital Investment: Sustainability of Digitized Special Collections in ARL Libraries (PDF), a report on findings from an ARL-Ithaka S+R survey of ARL libraries on the range of activities and expenses that libraries undertake to support their digitized special collections.

“Hundreds of special collections have been digitized by ARL libraries in the past two decades and the majority of our members view digitization of rare and unique materials as critical to their future,” said ARL Executive Director Elliott Shore. “This survey offers a close look at the practices, attitudes, costs, and revenues associated with post-digitization activity.”

“The research reveals that understanding the continuing costs for sustaining digital collections is a challenge across libraries. Responsibility is frequently dispersed among departments, and staff time and other costs are rarely allocated expressly to these activities or accounted for project-by-project. Almost universally, libraries are funding this activity out of their base budgets, suggesting that they will continue to need to shift funds from other things in order to support this as a priority.

“While libraries are supporting these collections within their operations, the study’s findings also reflect concern over sustainability, with librarians citing lack of funding and staff capacity as major challenges to sufficient investment in their digital collections.

“Librarians can now take advantage of technology that allows them to make their rare and unique collections available to the world,” noted Deanna Marcum, Ithaka S+R Managing Director. “Funding sources to sustain these collections and the range of activities involved in preserving and maintaining them, however, is clearly still a question that needs community attention.”

“The three-part survey, designed with input from the ARL community, was sent to all ARL member libraries in the US and Canada and completed by 89 library directors, a response rate of 70%. In addition to the institutional perspective provided by library directors, library staff responded to other sections to offer insight into activities and costs for all of their institution’s digitized collections, and questions about individual projects.

“The report’s lead author, Nancy Maron, Ithaka S+R program director for sustainability and scholarly communications, will present the study findings in a webcast scheduled for Thursday, March 7, 10:30–11:30 a.m., Eastern standard time. The webcast will also feature experts from the ARL special collections community, including Lisa Carter, Anne Kenney, and Ann Thornton. Register online.”

From the Association of Research Libraries’ press release, ARL and Ithaka S+R Release Findings on Sustainability of Digitized Special Collections

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