To give a little bit of context, the Library of Congress is looking for contractors to digitize some of their collections, primarily public domain content. In exchange for digitizers scanning materials at zero cost to the Library, the contractors “may market and resell, for a limited period, access to the digitized collection to cover the costs of digitization.” Contractors must provide the Library with a digital copy of the materials, and they must “make materials widely available.” The Library agrees to not make the digitized materials available online for a certain period of time (this embargo will be no more than 3 years) so that the Contractor can recoup the scanning costs. The Contractor must meet certain quality parameters and provide some metadata to the Library. Finally, the Contractor “shall not claim copyright in the digitized copies of the original Library materials…[but] may assert copyright in independent, creative elements that it may add to the original materials.”
Communia applauds the Library of Congress for taking the initiative to increase public access to its collection. In its comments, Communia urged the Library to push for broad, unencumbered public access to its digitized materials as soon as possible.
We offer a few suggestions for strengthening the Library’s Request for Proposals (RFP). A few of these suggestions are outlined below:
- The Public Domain Manifesto says that digital reproductions of works in the public domain must also belong to the public domain. And since the Contractors may not claim copyright in the digitized copies, it would be beneficial for these copies to be marked as being in the public domain using a tool such as the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark.
- The Library should consider bids from Contractors that entertain a wide variety of access models. For example, some digitizers might be in the position to offer immediate, free ad-supported access (instead of selling access on demand).
- In general, the Library should prioritize bids that provide free public access sooner than those that have longer embargo periods.
- The Library should consider involving volunteers and other community organizations willing to assist in the digitization and quality control work. For example, Wikimedia France partnered with the Bibliothèque nationale de France to process high definition files of public domain texts.
- The Library requires the vendor to provide a set of core metadata. The Library should be authorized to release this metadata into the public domain using the CC0 Public Domain Dedication, thus aligning with an open metadata model used by several large libraries around the world, including The British Library, Harvard Library, and soon to be used by Europeana.
- The Library should develop a strategic access plan and secure the necessary funding so that the materials can be properly archived and made publicly available without delay once the period of exclusivity has come to an end.
- In future RFPs, the Library should consider how to leverage the expertise and capacity of digitizers to scan not only these small, interesting, and impactful collections, but also the vast (yet less visible) trove of public domain materials that comprise the bulk of the Library’s collection.