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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Google Is Adding Major Libraries to Its Database

(Via New York Times).Google, the operator of the world's most popular Internet search service, plans to announce an agreement today with some of the nation's leading research libraries and Oxford University to begin converting their holdings into digital files that would be freely searchable over the Web. It may be only a step on a long road toward the long-predicted global virtual library. But the collaboration of Google and research institutions that also include Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford and the New York Public Library is a major stride in an ambitious Internet effort by various parties. The goal is to expand the Web beyond its current valuable, if eclectic, body of material and create a digital card catalog and searchable library for the world's books, scholarly papers and special collections.
Because the Google agreements are not exclusive, the pacts are almost certain to touch off a race with other major Internet search providers like Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo. Like Google, they might seek the right to offer online access to library materials in return for selling advertising, while libraries would receive corporate help in digitizing their collections for their own institutional uses. "Within two decades, most of the world's knowledge will be digitized and available, one hopes for free reading on the Internet, just as there is free reading in libraries today," said Michael A. Keller, Stanford University's head librarian.Each agreement with a library is slightly different. Google plans to digitize nearly all the eight million books in Stanford's collection and the seven million at Michigan. The Harvard project will initially be limited to only about 40,000 volumes. The scanning at Bodleian Library at Oxford will be limited to an unspecified number of books published before 1900, while the New York Public Library project will involve fragile material not under copyright that library officials said would be of interest primarily to scholars. The trend toward online libraries and virtual card catalogs is one that already has book publishers scrambling to respond. At least a dozen major publishing companies, including some of the country's biggest producers of nonfiction books - the primary target for the online text-search efforts - have already entered ventures with Google and Amazon that allow users to search the text of copyrighted books online and read excerpts. The challenge for publishers in coming years will be to continue to have libraries serve as major influential buyers of their books, without letting the newly vast digital public reading rooms undermine the companies' ability to make money commissioning and publishing authors' work. From the earliest days of the printing press, book publishers were wary of the development of libraries at all. In many instances, they opposed the idea of a central facility offering free access to books that people would otherwise be compelled to buy. But as libraries developed and publishers became aware that they could be among their best customers, that opposition faded. Now publishers aggressively court librarians with advance copies of books, seeking positive reviews of books in library journals and otherwise trying to influence the opinion of the people who influence the reading habits of millions. Some of that promotional impulse may translate to the online world, publishing executives say.
Google's founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have long vowed to make all of the world's information accessible to anyone with a Web browser. The agreements to be announced today will put them a few steps closer to that goal - at least in terms of the English-language portion of the world's information. Mr. Page said yesterday that the project traced to the roots of Google, which he and Mr. Brin founded in 1998 after taking a leave from a graduate computer science program at Stanford where they worked on a "digital libraries" project. "What we first discussed at Stanford is now becoming practical," Mr. Page said.At Stanford, Google hopes to be able to scan 50,000 pages a day within the month, eventually doubling that rate, according to a person involved in the project. The Google plan calls for making the library materials available as part of Google's regular Web service, which currently has an estimated eight billion Web pages in its database and tens of millions of users a day. As with the other information on its service, Google will sell advertising to generate revenue from its library material. (In it existing Google Print program, the company shares advertising revenue with the participating book publishers.) Each library, meanwhile, will receive its own copy of the digital database created from that institution's holdings, which the library can make available through its own Web site if it chooses.
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