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Norway's entire National Library will soon be be stored online

Once the library is digitized, the books in the National Library will all be available for searching and reading online, though copyrighted works will only be available to Norwegian residents.

By Husna Haq / December 12, 2013

One building of Norway's National Library is located in Oslo.

Joran Waerdah/Oslo Visitors and Convention Bureau

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Imagine being able to search, access, and read the country’s entire collection of books online.

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In Norway, that will soon be a reality.

That country’s National Library is in the process of digitizing all the books it holds and making them free, searchable, and available to read online, to all Norwegians.

Because Norway’s National Library is a “legal deposit library” and holds a copy of all books published in the country, the project will digitize the entirety of Norwegian literature – which reaches into the Middle Ages – into an electronic archive, eventually accessible on the cloud, as the UK’s Independent pointed out.

“This means that large part of Norwegian culture and knowledge dating back as far as the Middle Ages…will be made available in the Digital National Library,” the National Library of Norway’s website announced.  

It’s an ambitious and massive project. The library has estimated it will take 20 to 30 years to complete the digitization. The project, which launched in 2006, has so far digitized 350,000 newspaper editions, 235,000 books, and 240,000 pages of handwritten manuscripts as well as some radio broadcasts and TV programs, according to the Huffington Post.

There is some controversy here: the project will digitize both copyrighted and non-copyrighted material; the former will be available only to Norwegians (recognized by their Norwegian IP address), while the latter will be free and available to all Internet users. 

In the US, some groups are struggling to digitize English-language works while battling publisher and author groups regarding copyright and fair use. It was just one month ago that Google Books, Google’s massive digitization project, was declared legal by a US circuit judge after nearly a decade of legal battles and project setbacks.

As the Verge pointed out, Norway is not alone in its digitization efforts. Similar projects are underway in the UK and Finland, though these won’t be as accessible as Norway’s digitized works.

(Norway has also begun another very cool project highlighting its forward-thinking approach: the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which contains more than 10,000 seed samples in a chamber built inside a mountain on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen. It’s designed to preserve Norway’s biological diversity as well as act as a safety net in the event of a global catastrophe. Talk about progressive. And prepared.)

By creating a “national memory bank” of sorts, Norway is setting the gold standard for other countries and their literature collections. Its project will preserve its national works in a far more permanent – and searchable and accessible – way than ink on paper.

Which, as The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal points out, might, in future, put other countries at a disadvantage.

What might future digital archeologists find among the ruins of 21st-century civilization?

“…some scraps of Buzzfeed and The Atlantic, maybe some Encyclopedia Britannicas, and then, gleaming in the data: a complete set of Norwegian literature.” 

Time to get digitizing, America.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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