Digital Kielhorn

Birgit Kellner birgit.kellner at UNIVIE.AC.AT
Fri Feb 15 19:18:56 UTC 2008

Dominik Wujastyk wrote:
> It's a very good idea, Christophe.  I have a growing private collection 
> of indological books in digital form that I would gladly donate to 
> someone to start off such a library.  But libraries need librarians, and 
> to be successful, such an initiative would need a proper institutional 
> base.
> I suspect that we are living in a time of transition, and that in a few 
> years it will be the norm that when looking up a book in our university 
> library catalogues, there will be a button that automatically takes us 
> to a digital edition, if one exists.  Something like this is already in 
> place in some of the library catalogues I use (UCL, UTexas).  Maybe we 
> should just encourage our librarians to push ahead with this kind of 
> facility.
> Another way forward would be to tie the digital books and articles that 
> we are accumulating to the entries in one of the South Asia research 
> databases such as SARDS, ABC, Potter's BIP, Nat. Bib. Ind. Lit., Bibl. 
> Asian Studs., etc.
> Best,
> Dominik

I agree that a proper institutional base is required for an Indological 
digital collection on a larger scale; the technical challenges are, as 
Daniel Stender pointed out, considerable.

What is more, anything that is undertaken here requires far greater 
collaboration and cooperation among the individual resource suppliers 
than has so far been the case. Wheels continue to be reinvented, and in 
a field with such meagre resources on the whole, this is not a situation 
one should wish to perpetuate.

There are essentially two approaches to such digital collections:

- actual collections of digital material, accompanied by a basic 
bibliographical database that provides search functions at least for 
author and title: that's very hard to do in public, or to make 
accessible to a large public, if one takes copyright issues seriously 
(and with fully public resources, one is well-advised to do so).

- collections of links to digital material that has been made available 
by Google, etc.: easier to achieve, but also far less stable. Links 
change, and Google does for some or another reason take books offline 
that had been online for a while. In addition, here, too, access 
permissions vary, for, as others have already pointed out, many books 
that Google makes available as full PDF in the US are not available as 
such in Europe (restrictions that can be circumvented by using a US 
proxy in the browser). They do so also in cases where this is not 
legally required; it's not an entirely comforting prospect to be at the 
mercy of Google here, which operates in a rather intransparent manner.

I am far less optimistic than Dominik as far as the future "norm" and 
the increasing availability of digital books is concerned. As least as 
far as journal articles are concerned, access to digital versions is in 
the European Union experiencing a serious backlash due to the 
introduction of more restrictive copyright laws.

It used to be possible, for instance, to order (for 5 Euros a piece for 
university staff) article or book chapter PDFs from almost any German 
University library via the SUBITO document ordering service. This was an 
incredibly convenient and efficient service - alas, this is now no 
longer possible - we're back to receiving paper copies and faxes, which 
we can then happily feed to our scanners :-)

To what extent the digital availability of books or journals damages or 
influences the whole economy of publishing remains to be seen - some 
publishers believe that the spread of digital copies will harm their 
prospects, while others encourage it and try to find new business 
models. This is, indeed, a transition period, but as the example of the 
music industry shows, the big players in the field (and they set the 
tone) are rather on the restrictive side. The same goes for publishers, 
as far as I see.

For the time being, with a few glorious exceptions, access to full books 
PDFs is for the most part limited to works whose copyright has expired. 
If this continues to be the case (and there are always, and will always 
be, initiatives to extend copyright terms, which in my opinion works 
against scholars rather than for them), then we'll have the bizarre 
situation that the state of knowledge which is the easiest to get access 
to will be that of roughly 80 years ago. That may not be bad in all 
cases, but it's certainly not desirable on the whole.


Birgit Kellner
(currently UC Berkeley)

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list