The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Here is a news item published earlier this month ' 'Software giant, Microsoft said that it had signed a deal to scan 100,00 books from the British Library and put them on-line. Readers will be able to search through around 25 million pages of material next year without having to visit the Library in London or pay any fee...Microsoft and the British Library have stressed that they would be choosing books from the older end of the Library's vast collection of 13 million titles, as they have fallen out of copyright.'

Some questions. Can 100,000 titles be posted on the net within a year and presumably the same number the next year' Is this a gift for the English-speaking world or could others also benefit from the information explosion' What kind of books would be chosen from the non-copyright titles and would this affect the mass market of the print editions'

With rapid advances in technology, it is perfectly feasible because of high-speed scanners that can scan and post a book on the net within a matter of hours. These scanners are widely available and a qualified computer expert can do the job within 12 months.

Second, in a globalized world, where ideas and information flow freely, the Anglo-American world would not be the only beneficiaries; we would benefit in much the same ways as others. Critics have carped about the 'digital divide' between the first world and the rest but this is to an extent bridged by the rapid growth of PCOs in virtually every part of the country. This may not be the same thing as a personal computer but access to a computer is just around the corner. Besides, all major libraries will soon have a computer section hooked on to broad band with continuous access to the net.

But the question is what kind of books will be selected and would amateur users be able to wend their way through the vast amount of information available. An editorial committee consisting of specialists in different disciplines would make the selection but it is a safe bet that the initial selection would be of standard classical texts.

But while the technology may be dazzling, it is necessary to ask what was the problem to which internet postings were a solution' Is there really a place for it because the books that would be digitized are available in their print editions' If they are not available now, it is because they have become dated and therefore not reprinted. If the answer is to have the information on tap and get it faster, then it is a waste of time.

Our problem is how to deal with the mass of information we've got already. To make sense, we need to connect to build a pattern; just downloading a lot of bumph doesn't really help. There is no substitute to the basic learning process of selection and arrangement of the appropriate facts. But there is one basic fact to be kept in mind: the books being posted are out of copyright which means they are of little relevance now. So, print editions will always be required. All the same if you are browsing, drop in at these sites and check out what could still be of use.

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