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Digitization project breathes new life into UC Libraries’ collections

Illustration from Drinks of the World

The engraving “Tasting the Vintage,” appears in Drinks of the World (1892), one of the public-domain books from the UC Libraries that have been digitized as part of the California Digital Library’s ambitious project. See images from more of the books in the slide show below.

Don’t know what book to pick up next? You might spend an hour or two — or more, once you get started — exploring the University of California Reprints website.

Here are just of a few of the hidden gems you might find:

The UC Libraries are a treasure trove for scholars and bibliophiles. General and specialized collections across the campuses boast a total of 100 libraries, 2,400 staff and 38 million print volumes in their combined holdings.

Now the libraries are making their collections more widely available than ever before by digitizing millions of hard-to-find and out-of-print books in the public domain (published before 1923). These books are now leaping off library shelves and finding second lives in electronic form or as re-mastered reprints.

The ambitious project is creating new models for library collection and access, said Heather Christenson, manager of Digital Collection Development and Strategy at UC’s California Digital Library (CDL), which is coordinating the effort.

“Digitization is transforming the way we store, preserve and access books,” Christenson said. “It serves our users by making these books available to read anywhere and anytime on their laptops. And it helps the libraries by preserving collections and making them more widely available across locations and to scholars everywhere.”

CDL’s Mass Digitization team, in collaboration with staff throughout the UC Libraries, is working with Google Books and Internet Archive to digitize the UC collection. They have now digitized nearly 4 million volumes, about 200,000 of which are available for reading online free of charge and for purchase in print form through the reprints website.

The mass digitization trend has given birth to the HathiTrust Digital Library, a collaborative partnership of more than 80 U.S., Canadian and European research libraries and of which UC is a founding member and key contributor. Other partners — including the University of Michigan, Harvard, Oxford, Stanford and the New York Public Library — work with the trust to archive and preserve precious volumes that won’t live forever as well as share them with partner institutions.

Mass digitization has generated controversy, with author and publishing groups raising concerns about copyright infringement and filing a lawsuit against HathiTrust and its university partners.  While yet unsettled, the most recent ruling in the case defended digitization as an “invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts.” And HathiTrust remains committed to lawful uses of its digital library collection.

“HathiTrust is a huge collaboration, a digital library by libraries for libraries,” Christenson said. “Primary users are faculty and students of the partner libraries, but its archive of nearly 4 million public domain volumes can be accessed by anyone, and nearly 11 million volumes are searchable by metadata and full text.”

The California Digital Library (CDL) is located in downtown Oakland and is part of the UC Office of the President. It was founded in 1997 to use emerging technologies to transform the ways faculty, students and researchers discover and access information.

So check it out. Start with the top picks of UC librarians, or go to the UC Reprints website and search for titles, authors and subjects that make you want to read more.

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