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At Your Fingertips: A Big, Free Mathematics Archive (Maybe)

August 4, 2008

The world's biggest free digital library of mathematics may be more than a dream. A small group of researchers, meeting in July in Birmingham, England, are looking to make available all the mathematical literature ever published.

Digitization projects are already in the works in Poland, Russia, Serbia, and the Czech Republic. In a few years, the mathematicians hope to link these repositories with their counterparts in Western Europe in an archive to be hosted by the European Union, said Petr Sojka of Masaryk University, in Brno, in the Czech Republic.

To make this material more easily searchable, the researchers have found ways to identify the subject matter of papers based on the frequency of mathematical symbols in them.

The past decade has seen several attempts to make the world's huge body of mathematics accessible in a single source. "A few years ago, this model had the potential to change the mathematics journal literature in profound ways," American Mathematical Society Executive Director John Ewing told Nature.

However, most publishers have already established their own digital editions and sell access to these copyrighted archives to libraries and other interested parties. The AMS maintains a list of more than 1,500 digitized journals.

The researchers meeting in Birmingham have yet to secure funding to scan millions of old papers and must still negotiate with publishers to acquire the rights to do so. All the mathematical literature ever published runs to about 50 million pages, with 75,000 new articles added each year.

"While the effort to digitize the smaller collections is admirable, and it's certainly worthwhile, it's unlikely to effect a larger change," Ewing said.

The Seventh International Conference on Mathematical Knowledge Management took place July 28-30, 2008, at the University of Birmingham.

Source: Nature, July 16, 2008.

Start Date: 
Monday, August 4, 2008