Google gets online book competition from unlikely source: Library of Congress

The U.S. Library of Congress has announced that thousands of historic books are now available online through their website portal. Over 60,000 different books will be available. Access to the collection is free.

The U.S. Library of Congress has announced that thousands of historic books are now available online through their website portal.  Over 60,000 different books will be available. Access to the collection is free.

Many of these books are fragile and by publishing them online, it allows access while avoiding any further damage to occur. In addition to the books, over 7 million pictures are also being digitized.

It was not an easy process either and the costs associated with this project.

A $2 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation inaugurated the LOC book digitization project. One of the grant's objectives was "to address some of the issues that other book digitization projects had mainly avoided dealing with - for instance, the brittle book issue," Handy said. "We established some procedures and preservation treatments to be able to scan books that otherwise couldn't be scanned." The library also worked with Internet Archive - which provided the scanning equipment - to develop a special station for scanning fold-out materials such as maps.

Before and after scanning, a librarian inspects each book for damage - what Handy calls "preservation triage." Ten scanning specialists sit at "Scribe" scanning stations. In each Scribe, two digital cameras hover over the open book on a mechanized tabletop. The specialist positions the book for accurate scanning, snaps the digital photos with a foot pedal, then turns the page and scans the next pages. The teams can scan 1,000 volumes per week. Hours after scanning and inspection, the books are available on the Internet.

The Library of Congress is producing a report on best practices for dealing with brittle books and fold-out materials that it plans to post on its Web site and share with the Internet Archive and other members of the Open Content Alliance "so it's available to anybody," Handy added.

The scanned books are retired to an environmentally controlled storage facility at Fort Meade, Maryland, "where they will not be served again, they will be preserved," he said.

There is an interesting by-line to this release;

The Internet Archive is the second-largest book-scanning project after Google Books. A subset of this project is the Google Books Library Project, which has agreements to scan collections of numerous research libraries worldwide.

A subset project may raise a few eyebrows, suggesting that Google is influencing this project. Over 30 different organisations participated. It's not known (yet) if this collection will be indexed or stored on Google servers in tandem.

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