Tamil Wikipedia volunteers offer to help State’s top universities digitise scholarly works

A group of volunteers who contribute regularly to the free online Tamil Wikipedia are lobbying with the State’s top universities to digitise volumes of Tamil encyclopaedia to make accessible valuable content under open knowledge networks.

“There are various Tamil development agencies and universities that get funded to produce scholarly works in encyclopaedias,” says A. Ravishankar, an active volunteer of Chennai’s network of contributors to Tamil Wikipedia.

“These were initiatives started in the 1960s. So mostly they don’t have digital versions and are not accessible unless you buy the book. There are also many works that are out of print. We are looking to digitise these under open knowledge networks,” he says.

Unlike in Western languages, there are few free online resources for users in Tamil. The biggest free resource is the online encyclopaedia Tamil Wikipedia that recently celebrated its 10 anniversary in the city. It has over 55,000 articles written and edited by over 900 contributors, in an age group ranging from 11 to 77 years.

The transferring of such scholarly works online, under licences such as ‘creative commons’ or other ‘copyleft’ (opposite of copyright) agreements have already started around the world and in India. Recently, the University of Goa released its encyclopaedia in Konkani under the creative commons licence that allows for everyone to share information with proper crediting.

In 2008, Malayalam encyclopaedia ‘Sarvavijnjakosam’ was released under GFDL (GNU Free Documentation Licence) on the website mal.sarva.gov.in.

The task of digitising Tamil encyclopaedias would be labour-intensive even more than cost-intensive, and is an area where the Tamil Wikipedia network can pitch in, volunteers say. “There are no good OCR (optical character readers) for Tamil. So the work will have to be manual, and each of the articles will have to be physically typed. If we take up the work, we can save the universities a lot of money and also open up vast reams of knowledge for the common good,” Ravishankar adds.

The Tamil Wikipedia network has asked its volunteers to spread the message at all possible venues to free up knowledge. “You cannot lock up knowledge in books any more,” Ravishankar says. “It is time to free it for the world to read.”

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