Cool Toys pics of the day: PictureIt

University of Michigan Libraries: Picture It:
http://www.lib.umich.edu/pictureit

I have always been interested in the many different ways people share
online bits and pieces of rare or historic books. Personally, my
favorite way is just big image files, and I will browse thumbnails,
slog through and prowl around. I’m pretty hard core. However, most
people find that approach both inelegant and unsightly, perhaps not
the best way to engage a broader audience with these precious
artifacts. I think I’ve blogged before about the Flash book readers
and shown off some of the very lovely and wonderful materials
available this way. So far, it seems like each place that does this
uses a slightly different tool, the tools have similar but not
identical functionality, and worst of all – they cost money!

I heard rumors a while back about an opportunity coming up here at the
University of Michigan to put some of our rare books online in nice
ways. I didn’t hear very much, and didn’t realize that they were going
to SOLVE most of the problems with the Flash readers for rare books!
Wow!

I’ve been flat on my back sick most of the past week, so I am not sure
exactly when this appeared, but I discovered it today. PictureIt is
free, Creative Commons software that is similar to the commercial
Flash ebook readers. They have put up the first book here at UM, which
is a copy of the Audubon that was the first major purchase of these
libraries, ever. As in way back in the 1800s.

One concern about a free, Creative Commons ebook reader is the
possibility of hurting the commercial market for those companies
already working in this area. There are folks who worked very hard to
come up with this idea. I think that is why they are not just posting
the software somewhere as a free download, but are instead giving it
to people who ask and who will be using it for a similar project or
product. The idea is to enable the public good, and how to do that
responsibly.

I like this. I like the idea of the product – empowering museums and
libraries that are underfunded and lack resources to make their
collections available online both attractively and without hurting
themselves in the process. I like that they are protecting the
interests of the commercial products at the same time they are
empowering the little. This is a very tricky balance, and shows great
sensitivity and insight. I like the interface, for the most part,
although (being me) I want a way to click through to a big version of
the full image for download. Yeah, um, well, call me greedy. 🙂 I do
understand the reasons they aren’t doing this (especially since they
explain the copyright of the images on the website. Creative Commons
doesn’t mean they are giving away everything. In the case of the
Audubon book, while we do own the book, it made sense to use someone
else’s digitized version of the book, rather than handle the UM copy
unnecessarily.

I took a few screenshots to show the functionality. I show the initial
presentation, some of the page turning, and some of the different zoom
levels. I love this book, and couldn’t decide exactly which pictures
showed it off to the best advantage, so rather than decide, there are
a bunch of pics at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!

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