Library Pairs With Google to Go Digital

UCSD this month became the only Southern
California
university to join the Google Book Search project, an
effort to digitally scan every book in the world.

According to Brian Schottlaender, UCSD’s Audrey Geisel
University Librarian, the campus expects to contribute tens of thousands of
volumes from its East Asia and International Relations
and Pacific Studies collections. However, this estimate may change over the
next few months as the total number of books to be digitalized has not yet been
settled upon.

Google co-Founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page got the idea
for the project during their days as graduate students researching for the
Stanford Digital Library Technologies Project.
Their goal was to create digital libraries in which books could be
searched and sorted according to their relevance to the subject.

Twelve years later, they are working on their own, grander
digitization scheme that includes UCSD.

“UCSD has been a leader in digital initiatives for many
years now,” Schottlaender said in an e-mail. “To be the only Southern
California
university participating in the Google Books project
reflects that leadership and the strength of our Pacific Rim
collections. In addition, this project will both help expand public access to
our collections and help the libraries to digitally preserve thousands of books
and other scholarly materials.”

Once the books are scanned, they will be made available in
digital form to UCSD students.

According to Schottlaender, the digital books are more
space-efficient and much more accessible.
Through the Internet, readers can access them in only a few seconds. In
addition, digitization provides one of the only means to access old books that
may have become too fragile for physical use.

While Schottlaender said that digitizing books offers many
advantages, he added that the process also poses some technical challenges.

“On the minus side, digital formats can become obsolete in a
matter of a few years so upgrades are required regularly,” Schottlaender said.
“Digitization also requires an ongoing financial commitment in order to be
sustainable.”

Page started the Google Search Project with the simple
question: How long would it take to digitally scan every book in the world? He
conducted an experiment in his office by systematically turning 300 pages of a
book and using a metronome to keep time. In total, it took 40 minutes to
finish.

From there, he went to the University
of Michigan
’s library, where he
learned that the current estimate for scanning its seven million volumes is
1,000 years. Page told the university president that he thought Google could
cut it down to six years.

Since then, Google has been actively researching methods to
quickly and carefully scan books. They believe they have hit upon a method that
is much gentler than the modern high-speed processes.

A team of software engineers is also hard at work developing
techniques to process the tricky typefaces and symbols found in older books and
over 430 different languages.

In total, over 16 publishers have partnered with Google,
including Cambridge University Press, Houghton Mifflin, Oxford University
Press, Pearson, Penguin and Warner Books. The universities donating books
include Harvard, the University of Michigan,
the New York Public Library, Oxford,
Stanford and UC Santa Cruz, for a total of more than 15 million volumes.