PW Reports on the MIT Press/IA Initiative

In "The Business of Making E-books Free," Alex Green of Publishers Weekly has reported on the ongoing progress of MIT Press's collaboration with the Internet Archive to release their backlist for free digital use. 

The project began in a phone conversation between Amy Brand, head of MIT Press, and Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive.   "Kahle wanted her permission to digitize an obscure 1965 MIT Press book entitled Libraries of the Future, authored by computing pioneer J.C.R. Licklider. Kahle recalls asking Brand, 'If I digitize this without your explicit permission, would you get mad?'”

The phone conversation has led to the ongoing digitization of MIT Press's impressive backlist  of titles.  The process has been difficult, not merely in finding the funding (thanks to the Arcadia Fund for stepping forward) and the massive digitization process.  Authorial permission also had to be asked, the needs of MIT Press to maintain sustainable publishing had to be balanced against the Internet Archive's commitment to open access, and older titles had to be evaluated to see which might have potential for ongoing sales, with some titles seeming so important that they are being re-released in print.

 The results of the ongoing digitization not only have the potential to reduce piracy but to improve access. "Through the project, participating libraries that hold MIT Press print books will have the opportunity to lend e-books of select backlist titles to patrons. These titles will also be made available for lending via the Internet Archive."

As exciting as this project is, it is, we hope, only the beginning.  "As he continues to work with Brand to digitize and upload MIT’s backlist, Kahle says, 'the next step is to see if this works for others.' In the near term, he hopes to partner with the Arcadia Fund to persuade other academic publishers to follow MIT’s lead. In the long term, he has his sights set on convincing a trade publisher to take the leap. 'I think we should not underestimate the value of the materials from the 20th century,' said Kahle. 'There’s demand. People want access'.”

ReadersFirst salutes this increase in access and the Internet Archive's desire to create OPDS feeds that will allow easy access to titles for libraries that adopt apps. Could this be another step towards a digital library that will ensure access to and preservation of titles for centuries?  Mr. Brewster and Ms. Brand are thinking big.  May the results of their vision thrive!