In 1996, the Internet Archive was founded to offer "permanet access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format."
Since their early beginnings of just texts, they now also offer audio, moving images, software and archived web pages. Their collections are vast and their digital acquistions increase daily.
Google books was thought of also in 1996 by their co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, however it wasn't launched until 2002 with the thought of scanning every book in the world. By working with other groups like the Library of Congress's American Memory project, Project Gutenberg and others, they developed various methods to overcome a mutilplicity of hurdles to scan the worlds' books. Regardless of the lawsuits that have slowed their progress, the original plan to bring these resources to all is a marvelous one indeed as many of these books sat on a shelve and were never viewed or noticed and now these resources are being used by many from around the world.
FamilySearch has also been digitizing books out of copyright for a number of years and they are available on their website. There are over 40,000 books and this is being done in conjunction with partner institutions.
The list of groups making books, films, documents and a long list of resources digitally available continues to grow each day and yet there are still many locations where one has to be physically there to take advantage of their digital collections, these are known as proprietary collections and are usually protected by a long list of copyright laws.
For instance, a public library, an archive or any record repository will have various digital collections available for all who visit their facility. This encourages many to visit there and provides those individuals with the ability to locate information quickly through their in-house terminals, unfortunately this leaves all who are unable to get there without access to those digital records and perhaps totally unaware that those records even exist.
Many would argue that making such resources available would decrease the number of individuals who would visit their facility, however, statistics and past releases of digital collections by other groups has proven that just the opposite happens and the repository usually sees an increase in patronage. This is because most repositories have more than just digital collections and individuals become aware of the full scope of all their collections creating an even greater desire to visit.
Many public libraries do provide access from home for some of their online subscription resources through a library card, however, these resources are usually not directly from that library or their in-house collections. Additionally, students who attend universities and college will also have this type of access to aid in completing a number of assignments at that facilities library.
Enter remote access which is currently available for individuals who need to access their home computers from another location or tech support for those helping others with problems on their computers. Some of the companies who are providing this access are in the image below, however, there are likely many other companies that provide this service either for free or for a fee $. Security measures are a high priority for these companies with identity theft being upper most in their minds.
While there are a large number of hurdles, security measures, and reluctance by many, I look forward to the day when I can for a reasonable fee view digital collections that I would never see because I may not be able to visit that repository through some sort of remote access. With that additional knowledge I would most likely need to have someone in that location do physical research through their undigitized collections which would increase their patronage.