Dozens of university libraries have made vast book collections available online, and University of Michigan library officials have begun selling hard copies of out-of-print books they have digitized in recent years–charging students as little as $10 per book.
The university announced a deal with BookSurge, part of online retailer Amazon.com, in July. The pact will make more than 400,000 books available in soft-cover editions, including rare work such as Florence Nightingale’s "Notes on Nursing," a book first published in 1898. The books will be available in more than 200 languages, and prices will range from $10 to $45, depending on the book’s length.
"I think it’s a way of getting print copies pretty economically to students of works that have been pretty hard to find," said Maria Bonn, the University of Michigan’s director of scholarly publishing. "With some of these works, there are only … a few copies that exist anywhere, so obviously, they’re difficult to find."
Paul Courant, the university’s librarian and dean of libraries, said many of the reprinted works are from the 18th and 19th centuries.
"This agreement means titles that have been generally unavailable for a century or more will be able to go back into print, one copy at a time," Courant said.
Clifford Lynch, director of the Coalition for Networked Information, an organization that tracks the use of IT in education, said the University of Michigan’s program could streamline an otherwise arduous process for academics searching for rare literature.
"It makes it very easy for a professor to use older out-of-print and out-of-copyright materials as part of a set of class readings, and to do so at what sounds like a fairly reasonable price," said Lynch, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Information, who serves on the Library of Congress’s National Digital Strategy Advisory Board. "And while much of this material is going to be freely available over the net, for those who want a hard copy, this will be hugely better and cheaper than trying to print it on a local personal or workgroup laser printer and then bind it somehow."
The partnership with Amazon.com is the latest in the University of Michigan’s efforts to make books more available to students, professors, and the general public. Bonn said the school is digitizing every one of its 7.5 million books through Google Book Share, a program attracting attention from campus libraries worldwide despite skepticism and legal action taken by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers.
Selling hard copies of classic books that are currently available only on the internet, Bonn said, could appeal to professors who have wanted to incorporate out-of-print texts into their course work.
"We definitely see academic interest," said Bonn, adding that Michigan’s partnership with Amazon.com also has piqued the interests of book collectors. "Sometimes people just want hard copies" instead of reading books on the internet.
Partnering with Amazon.com is not the University of Michigan’s first foray into bolstering the accessibility of its library resources. The Ann Arbor-based school is a member of the Hathi Trust, an online digital repository launched in October and originally composed of campuses in the University of California system and the University of Virginia, among other institutions.
The Hathi Trust collection simplifies once-complex search processes for researchers and students. The site doesn’t require a user name or password, and works from as far back as the 1800s are available in the repository.
BookSurge, a company launched in 2000, was bought by Amazon.com in 2005. The site was built and managed by a group of writers to publish their works without giving up profit and content rights.
University of Michigan library