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Google teams with the British Library to digitise 250,000 books

Preserving the past and creating greater access to important texts
Mon Jun 20 2011, 13:03

INTERNET GIANT Google has teamed up with the British Library to digitise a quarter of a million books from the library's collections.

The project is part of the British Library's 2020 Vision to bring important texts to as many people as possible and to preserve them in digital format for years to come.

It chose Google as its partner. The company will pay for the digitisation, so the British Library will not be out of pocket for this endeavour and the uploaded content will be available free through Google Books.

The planned collections span from 1700 to 1870 and will result in upwards of 40 million dusty pages being converted for readers to access on computers, tablets and ebook readers.

The first documents to be brought to the virtual world will be the feminist works of Queen Marie-Antoinette, the invention of the first combustion engine-drive submarine, and details of a stuffed hippopotamus owned by the Prince of Orange, which we imagine has taxidermy historians jumping for joy.

Other important texts will provide insight into the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the Battle of Trafalgar, the Crimean War, the invention of railroads and the telegraph, the launch of the UK's income tax rules, and the end of slavery.

The initial emphasis will be on digitising books and documents that are not currently available online, in order to speed up access for researchers and historians. The end product will be similar to Project Gutenberg, albeit with substantially more books.

This is the latest project in the British Library's plans to bring texts online. It previously partnered with Brightsolid to digitise 40 million newspaper pages, and with Microsoft to digitise 65,000 19th Century books. While browsing online won't be the same as going to a reading room, the added benefit of being able to search makes it potentially more useful.

Neither party revealed the estimated cost of the project, but it could potentially be in the millions, considering the estimated cost for the Brightsolid project was £1 per page. If a similar cost is involved in this latest effort, then Google could be paying up to £40 million, so it's not surprising that the British Library selected it as a partner.

The texts, which are in a variety of European languages, will be available through Google Books, from the British Library's website, and through Europeana, the European Digital Library.

Google has been hoping to expand Google Books for some time. It wanted to digitise all books, but ran into difficulty with copyright holders, including authors and publishers in a class action lawsuit in 2005. It reached a settlement in 2009, but that settlement was rejected by a court in March of this year, curtailing Google's book digitising plans.

The books from the British Library will be some token of comfort, but they are all out of copyright, so it's not quite the same as Google's original plans. µ


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