Landmark Google Partnership

In June 2011 the British Library announced a significant partnership with Google. Google’s interest is to add as much new material to Google Book Search as possible, a mission which dovetails with the BL’s goal of digitizing as much of its collection as possible. Some 250,000 books, totalling around 40 million pages, will be digitized. This represents a small but significant part of BL’s historic printed books collection.

The actual digitization is scheduled to begin in the autumn of 2012, and the project is expected to last four years. By working with Google, the Library will benefit from their enormous presence and experience in the digital universe. Additionally, Google will bear the estimated £6 million costs of digitizing the material.

In undertaking this project, the BL furthers the aspirations of its nineteenth-century predecessors, so eloquently put forth by Antonio Panizzi, an Italian refugee who became head of the BL: “I want a poor student to have the same means of indulging his learned curiosity, of following his rational pursuits, of consulting the same authorities, of fathoming the most intricate inquiry as the richest man in the kingdom, as far as books go.” The BL is now using the latest digital technology to continue the mission for a new generation in the 21st century.

The Library has selected a range of materials dating from 1700 to 1870, for digitization. All selections will be out of copyright, and will be offered free at the point of use through both Google Book Search and the BL’s website. Because there already is so much English language material available on Google Book Search, the BL anticipates that a high proportion of the material will be in languages other than English. One of the early candidates will be its collection of works produced during the French Revolution. But there will also be Anglophone books. One example is An address to the people, on the present relative situations of England and France, written in 1799 by Robert Fellowes. This work comments from a decidedly non-revolutionary position on political reform in both England and France.

The Google partnership is a landmark in the BL’s digitization program. Wherever they are, researchers, students and other Library users, will be able to read these historical items with the freedom to share and re-purpose material for non-commercial use. This flexibility is going to be particularly important in exploring new types of research questions and computer-assisted methods. This partnership is an important chapter in the efforts to achieve the BL’s 2020 vision.
Adapted from an article by Kristian Jensen, Head of Arts and Humanities at the British Library.

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