Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Digitized Books Online

This week in my digital history class, my professor, Bill Turkel, charged us with a very interesting task. He asked that we select eight books as found in the 1913-1914 Eaton’s Catalogue and find full digitized copies of them online. The following is explanation of the books I selected and my results.

Going through the hundreds of books listed in the catalogue, I tried to select a wide range of titles and genres, and attempted to pick obscure titles, although to be honest, I know so little about turn-of-the-century literature, that most of the titles were totally lost on me.

One of the first books I chose was Gospel Hymns Nos. 1-6, a hymnal that I have seen in the archives of my church, and I was therefore naturally curious as to whether or not it had been digitized and made available online. I was not disappointed, and quickly found the resource on the Internet Archive. It was part of the Americana Collection, and had been digitized by the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois. Formats available include a page view digitization available for view or download in a PDF format as well as a text only version in HTML markup, though I am not certain if the text had undergone additional SGML markup. It was interesting to see the work in text only, with no sheet music, because it provided a very good example of how a textual representation of a work can result in the loss of meaning.

Another book I chose to search for was Radford’s Practical Barn Plans. My experiences documenting farm buildings in Alberta have led me to realize how little information is available on barns and outbuildings in the province, and I am therefore always interested in broadening the scope of my knowledge. Again, I was not disappointed by the Internet Archive, through which one can search Google Books, the project under which this book had been digitized in 2007. Again, both page view and HTML were available, and it was another example of how meaning can be lost, as anyone trying to build a Radford-designed barn would struggle with the lack of graphics provided in the text only HTML version.

I also searched for several novels, including The Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum, a sequel to The Wizard of Oz; With Wolfe in Canada by C.A. Henty; A Very Naughty Girl by Mrs. L.T. Meade, advertised as a “Well-known and immensely popular novel”; and the boys’ adventure novel The Boy Scouts in the Philippines, which turned out to be a fascinating look into American imperialism at the beginning of the 20th century. I was able to find all of the above titles with little trouble. The Land of Oz was included in the Americana Collection, With Wolfe in Canada was digitized by the Gutenberg Project, and the Boy Scouts in the Philippines had been digitized by Google, and all were accessible through the Internet Archive. L.T. Meade had a number of books available through the Internet Archive, but A Very Naughty Girl was not among them. I ended up locating it through both Google Books, and the Electronic Text Center of the University of Virginia. Meade’s book was presented in text only, though with proper formatting, page breaks and page numbers. This seems to me a very suitable medium for the digitized copy, as the textual content is of primary significance, and the loss of information seemed negligible.

The final two books in my search proved surprising. Neither The Mystic Dream Book (because dream interpretation from the 1910s sounded really cool) nor The Galt Cook Book (because I love to cook) were available through the Internet Archive, but I did discover that they are both currently in print. The Mystic Dream Book is listed through Google Books, leading me to believe it has been digitized, however it has been republished 1937, 1992 and 1998, and new copies are currently available through Amazon, which is likely which Google has not made the text available. The Galt Cook Book was re-released in 2001 as The Early Canadian Galt Cook Book. When I discovered this, I thought it was a lost cause, but I tried a quick Google search and discovered it has been digitized and made available through Library and Archives Canada, as part of their online exhibit Bon Appetite: A Celebration of Canadian Cookbooks.

Through the process of these searches, I came to the following conclusions:

  • The staggering number of digitized texts available through the Internet Archive, Google Books and other similar initiatives are an excellent source of information.
  • Aggregator sites such as the Internet Archives are great tools, but are not perfect. Searching within individual project databases may provide titles the Internet Archive missed. Also, Google’s algorithmic search is a very powerful tool for finding digitized material.
  • This process has reinvigorated my interest in copyright and its inherent limitations on the reader. If we could deal with the copyright issues on out-of-print books, particularly those for which the copyright holder can no longer be found, the possibilities for Google Books, the Gutenberg Project and the Internet Archive, among others, is astounding.

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