March 29, 2017

Gale Cengage Strikes Smithsonian Digitization, Distribution Deal

Gale Cengage today announced a licensing agreement with the Smithsonian Institution to distribute Smithsonian assets into the library and academic space. Though it developed out of a public RFP issued by the Smithsonian to digitize its Smithsonian Magazine and Air and Space magazine resources, it has grown into something much more ambitious in scope.

Frank Menchaca, executive vice president, research solutions for Cengage Learning, told LJ that though the company is still in a discovery phase, “I think it is going to be a fairly extensive initiative. We’re targeting upwards of four or more [releases] a year,” he said, beginning with the magazines this May. Cengage plans to begin announcing the collections in the fall.

Gale plans to enhance and expand the platform it originally created for 19thCentury Online to host the Smithsonian collections, which will be cross-searchable, much as Gale handles its existing National Geographic collections. “We use our editorial capacity to really knit together individual collections into something much larger that really constitutes a research environment,” explained Menchaca. “This takes what’s behind the glass cases and brings them out and puts them in the pathway of students and faculty worldwide.”

The collections will be tied in to the Smithsonian’s Grand Challenges: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe, Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet, Valuing World Cultures, and Understanding the American Experience.

Menchaca said it is too early to say how the collections will be priced, but that both a purchase and a subscription model will be offered.

Gale will return copies of the digital images and metadata to Smithsonian, according to Menchaca, and is planning to make the metadata available on the Digital Public Library of America. Menchaca said the Smithsonian is also planning to continue its own digitization efforts.

Smithsonian spokesperson Linda St. Thomas told LJ that the Gale-digitized material would be made available to the public on the Smithsonian website as the rest of the Smithsonian’s collections are, under the Institution’s pioneering terms of service, which allow non-commercial use of its content, just not with the additional tools, platform, and cross-referencing that Gale is providing.

“We have a lot of material, but it’s not very searchable or usable,” St. Thomas said. “Not very useful for a researcher. What Gale does is make it cross-referenced to every other reference both within the Smithsonian material and Gale’s other collections.”

She continued, “We’re really happy to do it, because we haven’t been able to offer anything like this to libraries and universities, and that’s really a key audience for the Smithsonian.”

Ultimately, the Smithsonian and Gale hope to digitize some 14 million items, or about 10 percent of the Institution’s 137 million object collection. But, says St. Thomas, “It will be a long, slow process.”

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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