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Penn Libraries and Kirtas Make 200000 Public Domain Books Available for Research and Purchase

The University of Pennsylvania Libraries has begun working with Kirtas Technologies to make 200,000 titles available to the public in a unique arrangement. Using existing information drawn from Penn's catalog records, Kirtas will sell out-of-copyright books through its own online retail site. What makes this initiative unique is that the books can be offered for sale before they are ever digitized, eliminating up-front printing, production, or storage cost.

"This partnership allows us to gauge reader interest in on-demand digitization and printing services," said Carton Rogers, vice provost and director of libraries at UPenn. "That frees us from difficult selection decisions and lets the digital collection grow in response to user demand. The model is efficient and minimizes the risk as we develop new ways of addressing information needs."

Through the Kirtas retail site, customers will be able to search for a title, and when found, place a "digitize for me" request. The desired book will be pulled from Penn's shelves, digitized, processed by Kirtas for optimal reading and printing, and a newly-printed copy will be shipped to the initiator. Or, the customer can purchase access to an online-only version of the book. Once the book has been digitized, it will be returned to the library shelf.

"The Penn Libraries have been delivering digital content from their collections for over a decade," said David McKnight, director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. "We started with extremely rare material, and now we will have the capacity to digitize nearly any book in our collection that's in the public domain."

Public domain books are those that are out of copyright, essentially any title published before 1923. It is estimated that there are several million such titles in existence.

The Penn Libraries will also earn income on orders of its books. Distribution rights are non-exclusive, so the books can be made available through the Penn Libraries, as well as other distribution channels at the library's request.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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