In a recent paper prepared for the Boston Library Consortium, Richard Johnson decries the fact that some mass digitization arrangements between libraries and corporations have been “less than perfect.”

The choices that we face are indeed less than perfect. We can choose purity and perfection, and not permit any restrictions on the use of scans of public domain material, with the result that the rate of scanning and consequent display will be pitifully slow. Or we can permit corporate entities, including dreaded Google, to scan our works, enabling millions of public domain works to be made available to readers on line, at no cost to the readers, in a relatively short period of time. I am on record by word and deed as preferring the second choice.

In his paper, Johnson notes that the original works are retained by the libraries and could be scanned again. He fails to note that libraries whose PD works are scanned by Google get to keep a copy of the scans and are free to display them on line, independent of Google Book Search. Over 300,000 public domain works can be found in the University of Michigan catalog and read on line. The number grows by thousands per week. Of course I would prefer it if the digital files could be used without restriction. Would someone please tell me the name of the entity that stands ready to digitize our collections, for free, without restriction on the use of the digital files? In the meantime, it seems to me that making the books available to readers online makes for a better world, albeit, sadly, not a perfect one.

And, this just in, an article by Kalev Leetaru in First Monday that compares Google Book Search and the Open Content Alliance and finds much that is both good and less than perfect in both.