U of A digitization project aims to make valuable research accessible to all
University teams up with Internet Archive to scan more than 14,000 thesis papers and make them available online.
By JORDAN MAE COOK
The University of Alberta Libraries is digitizing more than 14,000 master’s and PhD theses produced at the university since its establishment in 1908, part of a program that aims to digitize as much of the libraries’ print collection as possible and make it accessible to everyone.
So far, 102,759 of the libraries’ items have been digitized with Internet Archive, including more than 2,200 theses.
Created before the digital age, the theses contain valuable research that often hasn’t been duplicated elsewhere.
“Unlike lots of items in our collection—which are published works, so you could go to a bookstore or to another university library in Canada and probably find another copy—these are materials that are unique to our university,” explained Sonya Betz, head of library publishing and digital production services at the U of A.
While many libraries are doing some digitization, the Internet Archive scanning centre, housed in Libraries’ Research & Collections Resource Facility (RCRF), provides state-of-the-art equipment staffed by Internet Archive employees.
It is one of only two set up in Canada. The other is at the University of Toronto.
“We’re a regional hub for digitization activities, so we get inquiries from smaller regional libraries asking about the program and asking us to do some digitization. It would be great to expand that,” Betz said.
“Libraries are collaborative by nature. There are lots of other, smaller libraries in the province that would benefit from access to this kind of equipment, so I’m thinking a lot about ways that we could do that, that would make sense for both of us.”
For U of A Libraries, not having to hire their own staff and purchase equipment is a major benefit of the partnership.
“Internet Archive is working for us on a cost-recovery basis and has the equipment and expertise, so it makes a lot of sense for us to digitize this way. They can do it at scale, and they’re experts in this area,” said Betz.
The equipment includes a digitization Scribe, a portable system that enables books to be scanned in high resolution without damaging them, and renders them in PDF, full-text and accessible file formats.
One Scribe is in use full-time at the RCRF, and a second one is almost set up. There are plans to have a third Scribe in the future.
“It would be wonderful to have one located close to the Bruce Peel Special Collections, because those materials are valuable and fragile and we don’t want to ship them around,” said Betz about the special library located in the basement of the Rutherford South building.
Digitized U of A materials are uploaded into Internet Archive’s online collection and also stored in the university’s own Education Research Archive (ERA), a large digital repository of materials that has more sophisticated searching functions than the Internet Archive.
In addition to the partnership with Internet Archive, Libraries also has a substantial collection of titles digitized through other vendors available in the Peel’s Prairie Provinces collection.
“Digitizing is not just for people to look at these materials,” said Betz. “It’s also about the new kinds of research we can do that help us understand the world around us through these digital texts and this media.”