Imagine a user wants to read a public-domain book in electronic form. She’d be faced with the same situation as users before the advent of unified resource discovery systems – she has to go to various places on the web and do separate searches. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a meta catalog for digitized works that brings together data from the likes of the Internet Archive, HathiTrust, Project Gutenberg, Europeana or Google Books? It could show what books were digitized by whom, whether they are downloadable, in what format, on what devices they can be read etc. Such a directory could also enable users to compare the quality if the same work is available in different versions. Another benefit would be the reduction of duplications of effort. Having duplicate electronic versions is not necessarily bad, but are time and money not better spent on unique materials not digitized elsewhere? Local priorities could be determined on a more informed basis.
All of this occurred to me while reading an article about the eBooks-on-Demand (EOD) service discovery platform (from p. 229 here, in German). EOD is a joint initiative of over 30 libraries from 12 European countries that each run their own digitization activities. Together they offer the (paid) service that lets users order a public-domain book to be digitized and delivered as an ebook. Instead of relying on users discovering EOD books “by chance” in the respective libraries’ catalogs, a VuFind search interface was built that allows finding books for digitization from all participating libraries in one central place and gives direct access to already digitized items. Records are ingested via OAI or FTP batch upload. For the future the project team plans to enhance the search platform to include links (via API queries of players like those I mentioned above) to works already digitized elsewhere. And this is where the idea of a central overarching catalog for digitized public-domain works popped up. Existing portals such as the Zentrales Verzeichnis digitalisierter Drucke (ZVDD, central catalog of digitized printed works, which covers digital versions created in Germany) go into the right direction, but we definitely have to think more globally and on a larger scale.