MIT Press, Internet Archive Collaborate to Digitize Titles

MIT Press has joined forces with the Internet Archive (IA) to scan, preserve, and enable lending of hundreds of the press’s books that are currently unavailable in digital form. With support from British funding agency Arcadia, IA will scan a selection of MIT Press’s backlist titles, which will then be available for any library that owns a physical copy of each book to lend or make openly available, and will also be accessible through IA’s

MIT Press has joined forces with the Internet Archive (IA) to scan, preserve, and enable lending of hundreds of the press’s books that are currently unavailable in digital form. With support from British funding agency Arcadia, IA will scan a selection of MIT Press’s backlist titles, which will then be available for any library that owns a physical copy of each book to lend or make openly available, and will also be accessible through IA’s This is the first step in IA’s plans to digitize and offer public access to four million books through similar partnerships with university presses and other publishers. Some 1,500 titles from MIT Press, affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, have been chosen for the project. A range of professional and popular titles—some dating back to the early 20th century—include Cyril Stanley Smith’s From Art to Science: Seventy-Two Objects Illustrating the Nature of Discovery, published in 1980, and Frederick Law Olmsted and Theodora Kimball’s 1973 work Forty Years of Landscape Architecture: Central Park. The oldest title in the group is Arthur C. Hardy’s 1936 Handbook of Colorimetry.


The idea of forming a partnership first came up during a phone call between MIT Press director Amy Brand and IA founder Brewster Kahle, who studied at MIT and served on the MIT Press management board in the 1990s. IA’s Open Library project, created by Kahle and the late programmer and Internet activist Aaron Swartz, is an open, editable catalog that aspires to provide “one web page for every book ever published,” according to its website. To date, it holds over 20 million records. Users can also read books through the eBook Lending Library, which provides downloadable and searchable full texts of public domain books, as well as scanned books from IA’s print collection and selected titles from more than a thousand public library partners. Each is available on a one copy/one user model. Open Library, explained Kahle, proposes to provide electronic copies of physical books to all libraries—“basically trying to wave a wand over everyone's physical collections and saying, Blink! You now have an electronic version that you can use”—to lend or make OA, depending on the copyright, or to adapt for dyslexic or visually impaired users. A book digitized through the IA plan can be circulated by any library that owns a physical copy. Working with publishers as well as libraries is key to Kahle’s vision, however. Publishers have direct access to the works’ rights holders and often have deep backlists of titles worth reviving. Through IA’s digitization plan, he explained, “Publishers get the digital book [to do] whatever they want with it. And libraries get another round of life out of the books they've already paid for." Brand was enthusiastic from the beginning. Since her first days at MIT Press, she told LJ, "one of my top ambitions was to make sure that everything we had published in the past and had the rights to digitize could be accessible and searchable and discoverable, now and into the future." Collaborating with IA would provide MIT press with digital files of its own books for its own use, explained Brand. “That's a significant cost savings for us, considering that we were planning to digitize these works on our own.” And by digitizing older titles, she added, MIT Press will be able to take control of its own OA product. “I see it as a way to get out in front of widespread piracy and circulation of unauthorized files...which is a huge problem for publishers and libraries,” Brand said. In addition to providing the publisher metadata to IA, she said, MIT Press will be adding a digital “bookplate” page to each electronic edition stating that it is the authorized file and noting the author’s intended use of the book—"Taking the wind out of the pirate sails."


While funding has not yet been officially secured, Kahle told LJ, Arcadia is enthusiastic about the project and has asked for a proposal bringing in more publishers. Arcadia, a charitable fund helmed by Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing, has given more than $440 million since 2002 toward its mission of preserving endangered cultural heritage and ecosystems and promoting OA. Over the past ten years it has funded OA projects for New York Public Library, the Wikimedia Foundation, the Digital Public Library of America, and Creative Commons, among others. Recently it has been supporting efforts to digitize and make accessible key collections at several U.S. academic libraries, including those at Harvard, Yale, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of California at Berkeley. IA is also one of eight groups named as semifinalists in 100&Change, a global competition sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for a $100 million grant to fund a single proposal that promises “real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time,” according to the 100&Change website. Finalists will be selected in Summer, 2017, and will be given two months to prepare a live presentation for MacArthur’s Board of Directors and invited guests; the winner will be announced in the Fall. Whether or not Arcadia commits to this project, or IA receives the 100&Change grant, Kahle intends to continue digitizing MIT Press titles—possibly by tapping IA’s own Kahle/Austin Foundation, administered by Kahle and his wife, Mary Austin.


MIT Press digital products coordinator Kelly McDougall and director Amy Brand with one of the titles to be digitized by IA
Photograph courtesy of the Internet Archive

The partnership with IA doesn’t mean that MIT Press will no longer work with third party ebook sellers and partners such as Project Muse and JSTOR, cautioned Brand, nor will all the press’s offerings now be available as OA. MIT Press publishes a varied catalog of academic and trade books and textbooks, and models differ widely among different types of publications, often combining print runs of books with electronic versions. While the press will sometimes suggest an OA model for a specialized publication such as a monograph or a work of broad interest to the community that would benefit from digital access, for instance, said Brand, “typically we’re author-responsive.” But while MIT Press views itself as an experimental academic publisher, she added, “What we have not done and are only now starting to do is raise funding to support...OA publication." In addition to the IA partnership, this year, for the first time, it is participating in Knowledge Unlatched, a library OA platform for scholarly works, said Brand. The press is also building its own ebook platform to feature newer books, scheduled to go live in 2018. In addition, MIT Press is collaborating on a separate OA publication initiative with MIT Libraries, which has committed $120,000 over the next three years to produce four titles per year. The books will focus on the Internet and society, and will be published as OA with an open peer view component and then as print trade books as well. With this project MIT Libraries, which has traditionally been a strong partner of the press, is “pushing boundaries when it comes to rethinking…its collections in dollars, essentially,” Brand told LJ, “and has designated some of those funds to go toward supporting OA publication rather than putting everything toward paying for electronic resources from outside.”


An initial selection of books was delivered to IA’s scanning facility at the Boston Public Library’s main branch, across Boston’s Charles River from MIT Press headquarters, at the beginning of June. The partners hope to have the full selection digitized by the end of 2017. Brand hopes other universities will be inspired and informed by the project. "We're all in the knowledge dissemination business,” she noted, “so we should take every opportunity to make the content in our authors' books past and present as available as possible." And although the IA partnership does not directly involve the university’s libraries, MIT Libraries director Chris Bourg is enthusiastic about it as well. “I’m very excited about this project, as it provides the MIT Press with the opportunity to obtain digital copies of important backlist titles while also opening up availability of these titles to a broader readership through the IA lending library model,” she told LJ. “We will be watching it carefully to see if the libraries might want to partner with IA for digitizing parts of our collection as well.” Kahle also believes that, while IA’s digitization project is publisher-driven, by adding to libraries’ electronic holdings it will strengthen choices when it comes to collection development and lending practices. "I think it's a great step,” he told LJ. “The thing I love about this is that it's demonstrating publisher interest in getting their backlist digital and encouraging further use within the library system, where it's innately decentralized, where there's not a central point of control. It's trying to basically enable and empower our libraries to become electronic libraries." Kahle and IA director of partnerships Wendy Hanamura will be presenting at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual meeting in Chicago on “The Internet Archive: Making Your Library a Digital Library by 2020” on Saturday, June 24, and “The Library of 2020—Building a Collaborative Digital Collection of 4 Million Books” on Monday, June 26.

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