The British Library has signed a deal with Google, which will see one of the largest collections of books and pamphlets in the world made available and searchable online for the first time. The deal included 250,000 out-of-copyright books from the Library’s collections, covering up to 40 million pages from 1700-1870, from the French Revolution to the end of slavery.
The arrangement is similar to those Google has established with other national libraries. According to the BBC, the library has more than 150 million items representing every age of written civilisation, but this deal specifically covers texts dating back to the 18th century. It is unlikely to impact copyrighted works, but will nevertheless worry those who fret about Google's power over digitised public domain culture.
Under the terms of the deal, Google will cover the costs of digitisation, and give one file to the British Library and keep a second for itself. It will allow readers to view, search and copy the out-of-copyright works at no charge. Google will also make the books available on its site. The items will be stored in perpetuity within the library’s digital archive.
Google has similar partnerships with about 40 libraries around the world. It signed such a deal with Oxford University Library in 2004 to scan mostly 19th-century public domain books from its Bodleian library. It did not finish the scanning phase until 2009.
Discussions over a similar arrangement with the French National Library (BNF) two years ago ran into controversy, with former BNF director Jean-Noël Jenneney stating that the cost of digitisation was a "derisory" argument for giving Google such power.
Dame Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library said: “In the nineteenth century it was an ambition of our predecessors to give everybody access to as much of the world’s information as possible, to ensure that knowledge was not restricted to those who could afford private libraries. The way of doing it then was to buy books from the entire world and to make them available in Reading Rooms.
"We are delighted to be partnering with Google on this project and through this partnership believe that we are building on this proud tradition of giving access to anyone, anywhere and at any time. 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."
It is also planned to make the works available via Europeana, the European Digital Library.