The Google Book Project – Scanning The World’s Books

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2012 marks the 10 year anniversary of the official launch of the Google Book Project. In 2002 Google experts started to put together the plan of scanning the world’s books, making them available online and indexing their content.

Google Books

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So, 10 years on, what does the Google Book Project have to offer? Visiting books.google.com, I am presented with the option to search for books with millions available to preview or read. Alternatively I can browse if I’m not looking for a particular topic or shop for ebooks via Google Play. Books are only available in their entirety if they are out of copyright, or if the publisher or author has chosen to make them freely available. If they are not available in full you may get a limited preview, a snippet view or just basic catalogue information.

I think today I’d like to know more about retro fashion design. The results appear in seconds. A list of book titles, complete with cover shots, publishing dates and authors.

Selecting the first book (Retro: the culture of revival by Elizabeth E. Guffey, 2006), brings up it’s cover artwork. Scrolling through the book reveals Google has used a scanner to capture a preview of the book, with pages 32-193 not included. Each page is well presented, and my original search term is highlighted on the page, with an option to skip to the next page containing any of the words “retro fashion design”.

Along with the pages from the book, I have options to read and write reviews and to purchase a good old paper copy from online retailers. If I’d rather find it in a library or a local bookshop there are links for this too. Even more surprising is that these links work outside the USA, although the library search seems to be large university libraries, rather than my local lending library.

The Benefits

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The benefits to the public seem clear, free access to millions of publications and a search facility that researchers and genealogists could only dream of in years gone by. Publishers who have joined the Partner Program agree, with searches converting into book sales and Google effectively providing free advertising. Consumer confidence is at a high as it is not only easy to find appropriate books, but easy to check the preview and purchase. Some Authors are happy with the increased visibility of their material to a public who enter bookshops less and less, and expect everything to be available on the Internet. Last but not least, many old manuscripts, often of a delicate nature are being preserved for future generations

The Drawbacks

It seems not everyone is happy with Google scanning the world’s books. Both the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers brought lawsuits against Google, citing copyright legislation and unauthorised copying of their material. In May 2012 a federal judge agreed that a class action against Google could go ahead with thousands of authors and illustrators pursuing damages against the search giant.

Google obviously don’t agree and cite their goal of improving access to books and encourage further creative endeavours.

And The Future?

Google book search is now available in 35 languages, providing content from over 10,000 publishers, including books from authors of over 100 countries who participate in the Book Search Partner Program. The Library Project expands to 28 partners.

With further expansion in it’s sights it is clear that even the threat of federal lawsuits can stop the Google Book Project from scanning the world’s documents including the whole globe’s books.

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