I was listening to Morning Edition
on my local NPR station this morning and heard an interesting piece
about the newly released, 8 DVD archive of The New Yorker
magazine. The set contains all the issues from 1925 to February of 2005. The DVDs have over 4,000 individual magazines in their entirety. This treasure trove sells for only $100 per set, an amazing value for the money. For a closer look visit The New Yorker website
At the end of the story, the reporter discussed the copyright problems faced in producing this set. Recent Supreme Court decisions allow the archival digitization of the entire magazine where articles appear in their original context under its collective work copyright. Individual articles would have to have permission from the author to be reproduced so collections of J.D. Salanger or John Updike pieces or even partial archives present major difficulties to publishers. By producing a cover to cover copy, not only the significant but the mundane is preserved. You will find the great writers and the cartoons The New Yorker
is famous for and you will find the ads, some quite odd after 80 years, and out-of-date announcement magazines include.
Technological advancements over the past 10 years, since the National Geographic
produced a similar archive, is also a part of the picture in making this set available to the public. While building on the past, the magazine had to “invent the wheel” in working out the details of the project. From finding two copies of each magazine in good condition to transporting the collection in a truck driven you their own staff to the company who digitized it in Kansas City, the story of the creation of the DVDs is interesting on its own. More publications will undoubtedly follow and The New Yorker
will be the first of many.
An interesting sidelight was that The New Yorker
maintains a card catalog dating back to 1925 that numbered some 1.2 million cards. It was considered too valuable to transport as there is only one copy of the catalog. The technicians came to the card catalog to digitize this resource. The librarian in charge is spending his time searching the digital product these days and the card catalog is “gathering dust.”
The success of this project must make us wonder what other venerable library fixtures may soon be gathering dust. This may well be a significant step toward the digital library college administrators long for and library staffs feel great ambivalence toward. I think there are four issues in this news release that bear further thought: the copyright implications, the involvement of the publisher in the release of this product, the technological advancements to allow such a massive project to be completed in a timely manner, and the low cost making it affordable to a wide range of consumers. I think we are still some way from a truly digital library but this, and other efforts to offer us an affordable product, are important steps toward that end.