POST: Hosting the Digital Ramamala Library at Penn, or, Thinking About Open Licenses for Non-Western Digitized Manuscripts

Dot Porter (University of Pennsylvania) has posted on her blog the text of a talk she gave at the Global Digital Humanities Symposium, “Hosting the Digital Rāmamālā Library at Penn, or, thinking about open licenses for non-Western digitized manuscripts.” Porter’s post traces the history of the cataloging and digitization of the Ramamala Library, “one of the oldest still-active traditional libraries in Bangladesh,” as well as the development of OPenn: Primary Digital Resources Available for Everyone. Implicit in OPenn’s design was the desire for “users of OPenn to always be certain about what they could do with the data, so we decided that anything that goes into OPenn must follow those licenses that Creative Commons has approved for Free Cultural Works… Note that licenses with a non-commercial clause are not approved for Free Cultural Works, and thus OPenn, by policy, is not able to host them.”

However, when the Ramamala Library project team wanted to make the digitized manuscripts available in OPenn, this commitment to Free Cultural Works posed a problem, since the digitized material is under a CC-NC license:

  1. We could loosen the “Free Cultural Works” requirement and allow inclusion of the Ramamala data with the noncommercial license.

  2. We could build a parallel OPenn to contain data with a noncommercial license.

  3. We could use OPenn as a kind of carrot, to encourage the Ramamala library administration to loosen the noncommercial clause on the license and release the data as Free Cultural Works.

Porter goes on to explain the complications involved in each possible solution, as well as how the Ramamala Library materials are currently available:

We decided to take the path of least resistance and not do anything. The Ramamala manuscripts are available on Penn in Hand, and, since the license information was entered into the MARC record notes field, the license is obvious (unlike most other materials in Penn in Hand). The images are still not easily downloadable, although we are working on a new page for the project through which people can request free access to the high-resolution TIFF files. However, they aren’t available on OPenn. And I’m not sorry about that. I’m not sorry that OPenn’s policy is strictly for “Free Cultural Works,” because I think within our community, serving mainly institutions in Philadelphia and other US and Western European cities, the policy helps us leverage collections into Open Access that might otherwise be under more strict licenses. But I do think it’s important for us to keep talking and thinking about how we can serve other communities with respect.

dh+lib Review

​​This post was produced through a cooperation between Leigh Bonds, Theresa Burress, Jason Mickel, Jennifer Newman, Susan Powelson, Jordan Sly, Elizabeth Tegeler, and Dan Tracy (Editors-at-large for the week), Roxanne Shirazi (Editor for the week), and Caitlin Christian-Lamb, Caro Pinto and Patrick Williams (dh+lib Review Editors).

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