Digitization and democracy

Scholars and researchers who once had to trek to Washington to get a look at a historic book or document now have another option. And so does everyone else.

The Library of Congress recently announced it was scanning its 25,000th public-domain book in its Digitizing American Imprints program. The book, “The Heroic Life of Abraham Lincoln: The Great Emancipator,” was written by Elbridge Streeter Brooks and published in 1902.

The program is funded by a $2 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, with scanning services provided by the Internet Archive. LOC is working with more than 100 libraries, universities and cultural institutions to digitize such books under what it calls an open-content movement.

LOC is digitizing books mostly from its local history and genealogy collections. In many cases, there are only a few copies in existence, and they are too fragile to withstand much handling. By digitally scanning the books, LOC not only preserves them but makes them widely available — as it does with many other artifacts, documents, exhibits, maps and recordings digitized under other programs.

The books can be accessed at, and No need to travel or present oneself as a bow-tied scholar. And no late fees.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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