Norway Digitizing Books, Making Them Free For Everyone (In Norway)

Norway is for book lovers: The oil-rich, fjord-fording country has revealed a loving literary plan to digitize all its media. And when Norway says all, it means all: whether copyright or un-copyrighted, from the Middle Ages to modern day, every Norwegian book and film in the National Library of Norway, published up until 2000 at least, will be accessible and downloadable for anyone with a Norwegian IP address. The rest of world can access the non-copyrighted stuff, too. Sign us up for We ♥ Norway shirts now, please.

The project actually began back in 2006, with the passage of a law requiring the "digitalized deposit" of all published content in the National Library. It's a "legal deposit" library, which means that it must retain a copy of every book published in Norway. With all this material to scan, the project's expected to continue for another 10-20 years.

But here's what they've done so far, according to the Scandinavian Library Quarterly: "The library has already digitized an estimated 235,000 books, 240,000 pages of handwritten manuscripts, 4,000 posters, 740,000 hours of radio, 310,000 hours of television, 7,000 films, 7,000 records, and 8,000 audiotapes."

The effort's pretty cool for another reason: By having centuries of published work archived forever online, Norway will have a stunning record of its language and native literature.

Other countries are on the digitization train too — the United Kingdom and Finland have similar projects going, though not nearly to the same scale — but Norway is the first country to work out a deal to get copyrighted books up there, too, which means a lot of people will likely be turning some free virtual pages.

America has a few half-hearted efforts going, but we're really making a poor showing of our varied and scene-changing literary traditions: "... Smaller countries with friendlier attitudes toward government and the humanities surely have an easier task than Americans in preserving our past," writes The Atlantic. "But we're hardly trying." Mostly because every time there's an attempt, the responsible parties get the pages sued out of them — geddit? — by authors and publishers. But because it's Norway and everyone's chill, the government's worked out an agreement with the rights-holders.

Then again, Congress would probably never be able to agree on how to organize the collections. Even Business Insider India agrees everyone needs to get on this Viking longship: "We think the rest of the world would do well to follow Norway's lead to preserve its culture and knowledge in a far more permanent way than ink on paper," they wrote, sagely.

Norway also has another collection going, because apparently when a country has either daylight all the time (summer) or no daylight at all (winter), the only thing people want to do is hide in light-controlled spaces and sort things. Just in case there's ever an apocalypse, Norway's got duplicates of pretty much every country's seedbank. And for the post-apocalyptic world, the Atlantic points out that they'll find this:

Imagine digital archaeologists coming across the remains of early 21st century civilization in an old data center on the warming tundra. They look around, find some scraps of Buzzfeed and The Atlantic, maybe some Encyclopaedia Britannicas, and then, gleaming in the data: a complete set of Norwegian literature.

Norway: Sorted.

(Image: Krystin Arneson)