The British Library and Google Books

 

The British Library and Google have just announced a partnership to digitise and make available over 40 million pages from out-of-copyright (ie: public domain) books in the BL’s collection.  According to the press release, the materials will include

…books, pamphlets and periodicals dated 1700 to 1870, the period that saw the French and Industrial Revolutions, The Battle of Trafalgar and the Crimean War, the invention of rail travel and of the telegraph, the beginning of UK income tax, and the end of slavery. It will include material in a variety of major European languages, and will focus on books that are not yet freely available in digital form online.
This is pretty exciting – not just becuase of the level of access to previously unavailable work, but also becuase of how they’re doing the digitisation:
Once digitised, these unique items will be available for full text search, download and reading through Google Books, as well as being searchable through the Library’s website and stored in perpetuity within the Library’s digital archive.
Not being able to search text has always been one of the major criticisms of Google Books and it seems like they and the BL have listened.
Now, I am as suspicious of Google Books as most people in the digital humanities are – their motives are often seen as murky, and the half-baked nature of the digitisations in Google Books has always been problematic for me; more problematic, in fact, than the copyright stuff, which doesn’t really interest me that much (thanks to my indoctrination in the free culture world, I think copyright, as we know it at least, will cease to exist sooner rather than later). But fully-searchable text of public domain works available for perpetuity seems like a step in the right direction. I’m looking forward to the discussions that this move sparks.

Image: Toussaint Louverture, Extract from the Report addressed to the Executive Directory by Citizen, 1797, British Library Board Courtesy of the BL