April 25, 2008

Google’s Book Search Offers 100 Million Texts

Courtney Mitchel, of the University of Michigan library's book-shelving department is among hundreds of librarians who spend hours of each day going through almost 600 pages of some of the world's oldest books.

Their work is part of Google's Book Search, a project that plans to offer its users access to digital versions of 50 million to 100 million ancient texts.

"It's monotonous," 24-year-old Mitchel said.

"But it's still something that I'm learning about - how to interact with really old materials and working with digital imaging, which is relevant to art history."

Among the books being scanned by librarians is one which they believe to be the oldest Bible in the world printed in Arabic.

Google says it has designed a more efficient way of book scanning, but will not add any more information on the process.

"It took us quite a while to develop it so we do keep that confidential," said a library manager for Book Search, Ben Bunnell, who declined even to say where Google does the scanning.

Book Search allows users to search books through a variety of topics. They are allowed to download the entire text as long as the book is not held under copyright. If it is, or if they just want to read an original, they can use Book Search to find copies to buy or borrow.

More than 1 million rare or fragile books have been digitized through the Google-Michigan partnership since it began in 2004, with an estimated 6 million to go.

Although many publishers, authors and librarians have supported Google's efforts, some have sued the Internet search leader, claiming that Book Search violates their copyrights.

Google insists that it is upholding any copyright by only allowing users to read portions of protected books.

Brewster Kahle, founder and digital librarian of the Internet Archive at the Open Content Alliance, said the process is valuable because it preserves material indefinitely. But he questioned whether Google will share the works it digitizes with other search engines.

"We believe there should be many libraries, many publishers, many search engines, many types of users from different points of view," Kahle said.

John Price Wilkin, Michigan's associate university librarian said: "Our volumes are entirely open in the sense that people can find them, read them, use them, do all the things that they would do in scholarship or pleasure."


On the Net:

Google Book Search

University of Michigan