|Mark Turnbull, a scanner at Archive.org, is seen scanning pages for its website. A drop in donations has meant that 75 per cent of the staff will have to leave. CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR|
If they had a million dollars, they’d buy more time. But a vast online library doesn’t have that kind of cash, so it is drastically reducing its devoted workforce.
Internet Archive Canada, a small non-profit company, fired 35 of its 47 employees on Wednesday due to a massive drop in donations. Most will leave Aug. 12 unless a white knight appears soon.
“It was one of the worst days of my life,” said Gabe Juszel, director of the Canadian operation, one of 26 offices worldwide, who will stay on.
Internet Archive’s website Archive.org is the granddaddy of digitization. The San Francisco-based company has converted millions of books into bytes, and is now doing the same with audio, video and even microfiche.
In keeping with its open-source ethos, access is free and it only scans out-of-copyright material.
The Toronto chapter, the only one in Canada, resides in a gloomy office on the seventh floor of Robarts Library at the University of Toronto. Eighteen scanners, each manned by an operator, run 16 hours a day in two shifts.
Mark Turnbull, who will keep his job, scans books at an elaborate work station known as a scribe, a desk shrouded on three sides and above by black drapes to cut glare.
Turnbull places a book on a cradle. With his left foot, he releases a pedal that lowers the platen, a V-shaped piece of glass that keeps the book open. Two high-performance cameras above shoot the pages.
Then the race is on. Turnbull sets the cameras to automatically fire every six seconds, just enough time to mash the foot pedal which raises the platen, flip the page with his left hand, release the pedal and click away on the mouse with his right hand.
According to co-worker Andrea Mills, Turnbull is the “David Beckham of scanning.”
Over the course of a day, an operator like Turnbull will blaze through at least five books in one shift. The Toronto chapter digitizes about 1,500 books per week, which will drop to about 250 after the cuts.
The company relies chiefly on funding from Canadian universities, which just isn’t as available now. Its monthly operating budget is about $100,000, which will be reduced to $30,000.
The Toronto operation has converted 350,000 books since it started in 2006. Prior to that, it experimented with a robot, which couldn’t adapt to the varying sizes of books.
“You don’t turn pages like you flip burgers,” Juszel said. “There is plenty of care involved.”
So they switched to the current setup. Juszel worried that a non-robot would burn out due to the repetitive nature of the work, but that has never happened.
Patrick Stitt is losing his job after three years, but still loves the work.
“It was the first time I felt I contributed to society,” Stitt said in a soft voice. “I cleaned up and it gave me a purpose.”
But the loss will be felt by more than those who will be out of work.
Most employees believe they are making the world better by liberating billions of words that would otherwise be trapped in a library.
“If we had 10 more years, we could archive every single book in Canada,” Juszel said. “But not any more.”
from: The Star