Scanning on demand by libraries

I would like to broach the subject of scanning-on-demand of rare scores by libraries. These scans tend to be very good raw material to process into playing copies for IMSLP. In my experience they are full-colour or greyscale images at anywhere from 300 to 600 dpi and delivered (mostly on CD-ROM) as .TIFF, .JPG or single-page .PDFs. Often the whereabouts of the originals can be found through OCLC WorldCat which is rapidly improving, though there are important information gaps where catalogues have not been digitised yet or simply not linked into WorldCat.

But. In most cases it is expensive for members of the general public to have these scans made. I recently paid a university in Germany 75 Euro to scan a 75-page score, and similar charges are levied all over the world. The Library of Congress goes so far as to charge 14 US dollars up-front just to go and inspect the document, and give you an estimate of the reproduction charges. Again, there are important exceptions, such as the Sibley at Rochester University that let the general public request entries for their scanning queue, and not only do they then scan the document for free, they put a copy into IMSLP. But more often the charges are hefty. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford 75 Euro extravaganzas more than once or twice a year.

In the United States, there is a way around these charges. If you have ascertained that the work is in the holdings of one library, you then find a friend who uses another library and ask him/her to request an Inter-Library Loan (ILL) for the item. The library that holds the item will not let a rare document out of the house, so they scan it and send the CD-ROM. But since it is an ILL, it’s free. The procedure works smoothly between university libraries, but will conceivably also apply to public libraries and to the Library of Congress as the lender of last resort.

In Europe the situation is less clear, at least to me from where I sit (New Zealand.) Even as I write this I am looking at the Bibliothèque Nationale Française who have a piece of music that I crave, but for which I would have to pay approximately 60 Euros in scanning charges. However, it would seem that BnF interlibrary loans incur the same charges as dealing with them straight. (Note: I think there potentially are rich pickings at the BnF. Their catalogue has almost a million items of sheet music, including scads of delightful forgotten 19th century French chamber works. The digitisation of a million handwritten tags will take them until 2013 and you have to correspond with a librarian to find any holdings.)

Now to cut my rambling short, I would like to propose two things both adjunct to the wish list:

  • 1. A bit of a knowledge base about how scan-on-demand works in different parts of the world, and about how to minimise reproduction charges.
  • 2. A network of people with the right affiliations who are willing to relay ILL requests at least in the US. Hopefully there would also be some people who can do things at European libraries. I am sure IMSLP can find a corner of the site to deposit the raw scans for download by the wish list requester.

I am looking forward to seeing your comments.

Dekock 21:26, 13 September 2008 (EDT)