All Icelandic literature to go online?

Þorsteinn Hallgrímsson, formerly of the National Library of Iceland, had a big idea:  digitize all Icelandic literature all the way to the current day and make it available to everyone interested in reading it. The Internet Archive was eager to be a part of this bold vision. I am in Iceland now, and because the financial crisis and Icelandic reaction to the US Department of Justice’s subpoenaing the tweets and Facebook account of a sitting member of the Icelandic Parliament, this project may have the momentum it needs to happen.

Ingibjörg Steinunn Sverrisdóttir, the National Librarian, and Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Minister of Culture, met to discuss this possibility this week. I have met with several other ministers and parliamentarians in the last few days to discuss how this could be done.

The total literature of Iceland is under 50,000 books, which is easily scannable in 2 years by 12 people using the scribe scanners of the Internet Archive. David Lesperance, a lawyer from Canada who has helped support the Room to Read project, has offered to fundraise for this project; the Internet Archive has offered scanning technology, training, and backend software; and the Library has offered to administer the project. A digital lending system could be a way that they decide to limit access to a book to one person at a time in order to balance the interests of the writers and publishers while still having some access to everything from anywhere forever for free. Egill Helgason, of the Icelandic TV network, interviewed Brewster about this (photo below, video on the Archive).

If they decide to go ahead, Iceland could be the first country to have its complete literature go online. Fingers crossed.

The next step beyond this that is interesting to many here is to have Iceland become a “Switzerland of Bits,” where the laws will help protect the historical record from foreign or corporate danger. This is being promoted by Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of parliament. The Internet Archive works with many libraries around the world, and everyone wants to make sure that the digital copies are safe for the long term. Iceland is taking steps to be a good place for this.

As an aside, with all their inexpensive “green” electricity from their hydro electric and geothermal plants, I found it interesting that they are growing some vegetables under lights in the long winters as a way to become more self sufficient. With LED lights that can be tuned to produce specific wavelengths at different parts of the growth cycle, this approach could be a fairly energy efficient way to grow food for their people.

-Brewster Kahle

15 thoughts on “All Icelandic literature to go online?

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  2. JBirch

    I would hope that they would include at least some of their popular, folk, and historical music as well. I remember being enchanted by some of the folk songs I listened to in the ’70s & ’80s, and have had very rare opportunity to hear in the US.

  3. Eric R. Weisner

    what is next from tiny Iceland he he – i love this country. Been there once and would love to go there again:) – go go Iceland and lead the digital world. Recent development in USA, Egypt and so forth is telling us that we need some serious leader here. At least our UK government isn’t doing a shit.

  4. dartigen

    I hope it stands as an example to all libraries. Many libraries hold extremely rare or old (sometimes completely unique) books which are at risk of damage or loss in the event of a natural disaster, or even just being handled the wrong way. Digitizing them means that even if the original copy is lost, there is an infinite number of copies that can be made.
    PDF files won’t rot away, or be eaten by insects, or crumble if handled the wrong way. eBooks are vastly more robust than their paper cousins – and can be copied and printed as many times as is needed.

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  11. George Robinson

    A lovely idea. Now if they could just offer translations for those of us who don’t read Icelandic. . . .

    And I’m not being Anglophone-centric; I read several foreign languages but — surprise — Icelandic isn’t one of them.

  12. Brian Garfield

    All the arguments are cogent but they leave out one little thing. How are writers expected to make a living if their work is given away for nothing? How many writers will continue to write if they know they can’t earn anything from their labors?
    Provide a secure means of providing creators with royalties from their work, and I’ll join the enthusiasm. In the meantime, thanks anyway.
    — Brian Garfield

  13. Bill L. Burr

    Any update on how far the Icelanders have gotten along in this great project? I discovered this through a search for libraries in Iceland and didn’t realize until after reading that it is from a little over two years ago. Given that the article mentioned it could take as little as 2 years to scan everything with a team of only 12 people, I wondered if it was nearing completion (or has been completed?).

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