Google Is Adding Major Libraries to Its Database
December 14, 2004
By JOHN MARKOFF and EDWARD WYATT
Google, the operator of the world's most popular
Internet search service, plans to announce an
agreement today with some of the nation's leading
research libraries and Oxford University to begin
converting their holdings into digital files that
would be freely searchable over the Web.
It may be only a step on a long road toward the
long-predicted global virtual library. But the
collaboration of Google and research institutions that
also include Harvard, the University of Michigan,
Stanford and the New York Public Library is a major
stride in an ambitious Internet effort by various
parties. The goal is to expand the Web beyond its
current valuable, if eclectic, body of material and
create a digital card catalog and searchable library
for the world's books, scholarly papers
and special collections.
Google - newly wealthy from its stock offering last
summer - has agreed to underwrite the projects being
announced today while also adding its own technical
abilities to the task of scanning and digitizing tens
of thousands of pages a day at each library.
Although Google executives declined to comment on its
technology or the cost of the undertaking, others
involved estimate the figure at $10 for each of the
more than 15 million books and other documents covered
in the agreements. Librarians involved predict the
take at least a decade.
Because the Google agreements are not exclusive, the
pacts are almost certain to touch off a race with
other major Internet search providers like Amazon,
Microsoft and Yahoo. Like Google, they might seek the
right to offer online access to library materials in
return for selling
advertising, while libraries would receive corporate
help in digitizing their collections for their own
"Within two decades, most of the world's knowledge
will be digitized and available, one hopes for free
reading on the Internet, just as there is free reading
in libraries today," said Michael A. Keller, Stanford
University's head librarian.
The Google effort and others like it that are already
under way, including projects by the Library of
Congress to put selections of its best holdings
online, are part of a trend to potentially democratize
access to information that has long been available to
only small, select groups of students and scholars.
Last night the Library of Congress and a group of
international libraries from the United States,
Canada, Egypt, China and the Netherlands announced a
plan to create a publicly available digital archive of
one million books on the Internet. The group said it
planned to have 70,000 volumes online by next April.
"Having the great libraries at your fingertips allows
us to build on and create great works based on the
work of others," said Brewster Kahle, founder and
president of the Internet Archive, a San
Francisco-based digital library that is also trying to
digitize existing print information.
The agreements to be announced today will allow Google
to publish the full text of only those library books
old enough to no longer be under copyright. For
copyrighted works, Google would scan in the entire
text, but make only short excerpts available online.
Each agreement with a library is slightly different.
Google plans to digitize nearly all the eight million
books in Stanford's collection and the seven million
at Michigan. The Harvard project will initially be
limited to only about 40,000 volumes. The scanning at
Bodleian Library at Oxford will be limited to an
unspecified number of books published before 1900,
while the New York Public Library project will
involve fragile material not under copyright that
library officials said would be of interest primarily
The trend toward online libraries and virtual card
catalogs is one that already has book publishers
scrambling to respond.
At least a dozen major publishing companies, including
some of the country's biggest producers of nonfiction
books - the primary target for the online text-search
efforts - have already entered ventures with Google
and Amazon that allow users to search the text of
copyrighted books online and read excerpts.
Publishers including HarperCollins, the Penguin Group,
Houghton Mifflin and Scholastic have signed up for
both the Google and Amazon programs. The largest
American trade publisher, Random House, participates
in Amazon's program but is still negotiating with
Google, which calls its program Google Print.
The Amazon and Google programs work by restricting the
access of users to only a few pages of a copyrighted
book during each search, offering enough to help them
decide whether the book meets their requirements
enough to justify ordering the print version. Those
features restrict a user's ability to copy, cut or
print the copyrighted material, while limiting
on-screen reading to a few pages at a time. Books
still under copyright at the libraries involved in
Google's new project are likely to be protected by
The challenge for publishers in coming years will be
to continue to have libraries serve as major
influential buyers of their books, without letting the
newly vast digital public reading rooms undermine the
companies' ability to make money commissioning and
publishing authors' work.
From the earliest days of the printing press, book
publishers were wary of the development of libraries
at all. In many instances, they opposed the idea of a
central facility offering free access to books that
people would otherwise be compelled to buy.
But as libraries developed and publishers became aware
that they could be among their best customers, that
opposition faded. Now publishers aggressively court
librarians with advance copies of books, seeking
positive reviews of books in library journals and
otherwise trying to influence the opinion of the
people who influence the reading habits of millions.
Some of that promotional impulse may translate to
the online world, publishing executives say.
But at least initially, the search services are likely
to be most useful to publishers whose nonfiction
backlists, or catalogs of previously published titles,
are of interest to scholars but do not sell regularly
enough to be carried in
large quantities in retail stores, said David
Steinberger, the president and chief executive the
Perseus Books Group, which publishes mostly nonfiction
books under the Basic Books, PublicAffairs, Da Capo
and other imprints.
Based on his experiences with Amazon's and Google's
commercial search services so far, Mr. Steinberger
said, "I think there is minimal risk, or virtually no
risk, of copyrighted material being misused." But he
said he would object to a library's providing
copyrighted material online without a license. "If
you're talking about the instantaneous, free
distribution of books, I think that would represent a
problem," Mr. Steinberger said.
For their part, libraries themselves will have to
rethink their central missions as storehouses of
printed, indexed material.
"Our world is about to change in a big, big way," said
Daniel Greenstein, university librarian for the
California Digital Library of the University of
California, which is a project to organize and retain
existing digital materials.
Instead of expending considerable time and money to
managing their collections of printed materials, Mr.
Greenstein said, libraries in the future can devote
more energy to gathering information and making it
accessible - and more easily manageable - online.
But Paul LeClerc, the president and chief executive of
the New York Public Library, sees Web access as an
expansion of libraries' reach, not a replacement for
physical collections. "Librarians will add a new
dimension to their work," Mr. LeClerc said. "They will
not abandon their mission of collecting printed
material and keeping them for decades and even
Google's founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have
long vowed to make all of the world's information
accessible to anyone with a Web browser. The
agreements to be announced today will put them a few
steps closer to that goal - at least in terms of the
English-language portion of the world's information.
Mr. Page said yesterday that the project traced to the
roots of Google, which he and Mr. Brin founded in 1998
after taking a leave from a graduate computer science
program at Stanford where they worked on a
"digital libraries" project. "What we first discussed
at Stanford is now becoming practical," Mr. Page said.
At Stanford, Google hopes to be able to scan 50,000
pages a day within the month, eventually doubling that
rate, according to a person involved in the project.
The Google plan calls for making the library materials
available as part of Google's regular Web service,
which currently has an estimated eight billion Web
pages in its database and tens of millions of users a
day. As with the other information on its service,
Google will sell advertising to generate revenue from
its library material. (In it existing Google Print
program, the company shares advertising revenue with
the participating book publishers.)
Each library, meanwhile, will receive its own copy of
the digital database created from that institution's
holdings, which the library can make available through
its own Web site if it chooses.
Harvard officials said they would be happy to use the
Internet to share their collections widely. "We have
always thought of our libraries at Harvard as being a
global resource," said Lawrence H. Summers, president
At least initially, Google's digitizing task will be
labor intensive, with people placing the books and
documents on sophisticated scanners whose
high-resolution cameras capture an image of each page
and convert it to a digital file.
Google, whose corporate campus in Mountain View,
Calif., is just a few miles from Stanford, plans to
transport books to a copying center it has established
at its headquarters. There the books will be scanned
and then returned to the Stanford libraries. Google
plans to set up remote scanning operations at both
Michigan and Harvard.
The company refused to comment on the technology that
it was using to digitize books, except to say that it
was nondestructive. But according to a person who has
been briefed on the project, Google's technology is
more labor-intensive than systems that are already
Two small start-up companies, 4DigitalBooks of St.
Aubin, Switzerland, and Kirtas Technologies of Victor,
N.Y., are selling systems that automatically turn
pages to capture images.