13 December 2007

Building the Zotero Commons

One of the many insights that have come out of open source is what might be called the "pebble on the cairn" effect - the idea that by combining the small, even negligible, individual efforts we can create something large and durable.

Here's a perfect example that builds on the fact that scholars very often scan books in the public domain during the course of their research, but then don't do anything with those scans. What if they were all brought together, and then fed into an OCR system?

If many researchers have had to scan rare documents or books for their own perusal, there’s a potential treasure trove of material that exists among their combined efforts. Rather than let all that scholarship rot, or waste away in data files, the university’s Center for History and New Media sees an opportunity to create an open archive of scholarly resources in the public domain.


In partnership with the Internet Archive, and with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the center is creating a way for scholars to upload existing data files to be optically scanned (to make them text-searchable) and stored in a database available to the public.

Even better is that fact that open source software can be used to make realise this idea:

The vehicle for the new environment will be the Zotero plug-in for the Firebox browser, also developed by the center. The software stores Web pages, collects citations and lets scholars annotate and organize online documents. A new feature of the plug-in will allow people to collaborate and share materials through a dedicated server. Building on that functionality, according to Cohen, the system will allow scholars to drag and drop documents onto an icon in Zotero that essentially sends it to the Internet Archive for storage and free optical character recognition.

The eventual result of the project, called Zotero Commons, could be reduced need need for research trips, Cohen suggested.

(Via Open Access News.)

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