Google in plan to scan and index some of the world’s top libraries

Search engine Google has teamed up with some of the world’s most prestigious libraries in a plan to put their entire contents – including their rarest books – online. Amongst the libraries included are Oxford University’s Bodleian Library of 19th Century works, Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan and New York’s Public Library. The project is likely to take several years to complete.

The Bodleian archive alone is huge. Opened in 1602, the library holds over eight million books on shelving measuring more than 120 miles and is second in size only to the British Library.

The project has grown out of Google’s Print feature that allows authors and publishers to send their books which Google scans and puts online for free. Google says that the scanning process has been specially adapted and will not damage the unique books in any way.

Google Print is a commercial enterprise. Although Google doesn’t make any money from the sale of any of the books on its site, it does sell contextual ads from companies like Amazon who will sell you a hard copy of the book.

Whilst the libraries here will more likely than not contain out of print editions rather than best sellers, the universities hope that their libraries will be open up a world wide audience and perhaps persuade publishers to reprint some forgotten works.

This is not the first time that the world’s biggest search engine has come to the aid of academia. Recently, Google launched Google Scholar to help students with their research. The service allows searches for enables you to search amongst academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities for peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports.

Having all these books online won’t hurt either in the battle with MSN and Yahoo! To be the world’s biggest source of information.

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