U, others partner with Google to digitize library collections

Other schools involved in the partnership include the other Big 10 schools and the University of Chicago.

Marni Ginther

What if every book in the world – from “Hamlet” to “Harry Potter” – existed in digital form on one database?

That idea may not be so far-fetched. The University announced June 6 that it will allow Google to digitize up to 1 million volumes from its library.

The deal is part of a larger agreement between Google and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a consortium of all Big Ten universities, plus the University of Chicago. The agreement allows up to 10 million volumes from the CIC to be scanned and cataloged in digital form.

“It’s like a super-index,” said English professor Michael Hancher. “It’s clearly going to change the ground on which scholarly investigation takes place.”

The CIC deal is just the latest in a line of well-known institutions that have signed on to the Google Books Library Project since 2004.

In December of that year, Harvard University, Stanford University, the New York Public Library and others made similar deals with Google. Universities in England, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium are also involved.

The project has been controversial, with trade organizations such as the Author’s Guild and the Association of American Publishers expressing concerns over copyright infringement.

University librarian Wendy Lougee said although Google scans copyrighted material into the database, users are only able to see the book’s key information. The book’s title, author and possibly table of contents would show up on a search, but to get the actual text, users would still need to buy it or check it out from a library, Lougee said.

Only books not protected by copyright would be available in full text, she said.

“I think oftentimes there’s a misunderstanding about how (the project) works,” Lougee said.

“People may be unaware that for in-copyright materials, search results give referrals to the publisher’s site. And if you’re leading people to a place to buy it and you’re helping them find things that they didn’t know existed, it certainly could have a very positive impact on the market.”

Lougee said the University has only gotten one e-mail expressing concerns over copyright issues.

Lougee and Hancher agreed Google’s project is revolutionizing possibilities for research.

For example, Hancher said he needed a certain book for his research, but only eight copies exist in libraries around the country. Since it was on Google Books, he was able to download and read it any time.

When Lougee worked at the University of Michigan, she said a researcher there was able to look at the concept of doctor-assisted suicide in the 1890s just by searching the occurrence of certain phrases in publications from that period. Google’s keyword search, which searches every word on every page, made that research possible, she said.

“That researcher couldn’t have sat down and gone through 25,000 volumes from that time period just looking for those phrases,” Lougee said.

Though it may be a great resource, Google Books is still relatively new, so a lot of students and researchers don’t know about it, Hancher said.

Nutrition junior Krystle Klosterman hadn’t heard of it. And though she said it sounded like a great resource, she wonders if it might be too much.

“I can see a broad search topic giving you way too many results, especially if it’s searching every word on every page,” she said. “That can be frustrating.”

If digitizing every book in the world sounds like a scary concept for librarians and bookstores, neither Lougee nor Hancher is worried.

“When people discover something that they wouldn’t have known about otherwise, it actually leads them to want to see the real thing,” Lougee said.

And when reading a book, “you turn the pages and put a bookmark in it; you carry it with you on the bus,” Hancher said. “That won’t change.”