Google to digitise 250,000 British Library books

The British Library will select thousands of books from its collection of 18th- and 19th-century works for Google to scan and then put online for free access by all

The British Library has signed a deal for Google to scan and digitise 250,000 out-of-copyright books published between 1700 and 1870, and make them available free of charge online.

Hippopotamus book British Library

The British Library has signed a deal for Google to digitise 250,000 out-of-copyright books published between 1700 and 1870. Photo credit: British Library

The scanned material covers printed books, pamphlets and periodicals from the period, which 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. The works can be accessed by anyone via Google Books or via the British Library website.

There are also plans to make the works available from the European Digital Library, the British Library added. People will be able to view, search, copy and manipulate the text of the out-of-copyright works for non-commercial purposes.

"Our aim is to provide perpetual access to this historical material, and we hope that our collections coupled with Google's know-how will enable us to achieve this aim," Dame Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library, said in a joint statement.

No money is changing hands for the work, a spokesman for the British Library told ZDNet UK. "Google are doing the digitising and we are selecting the items," he said.

The choice will include works in a variety of European languages and will focus on publications that are hard to find online in a digital format.

Would-be readers will have a wait before the scanning is done and they can access the documents. "The process will take a few years. We don't have a specific end date," the library's spokesman said.

In 2005, the British Library struck a similar deal with Microsoft to scan 65,000 books from the 19th century. That work has been completed, the library spokesman said.

Among the first works to be digitised by Google will be feminist pamphlets about Queen Marie-Antoinette, the invention of the first combustion engine-driven submarine from 1858, and a 1775 account of a stuffed hippopotamus owned by the Prince of Orange.


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