Mass digitization of books

Google has redesigned its books search homepage. Instead of looking like a straight search page, you can see book covers in one of four categories: “interesting”, “classics”, “highly cited” and “random subject" (rotating between subcategories — and there are now more of these, displayed down a vertical column on the left of the page). The selections change with each page refresh, presumably to encourage the user to browse rather than just search for a preselected item. From an article at webpronews.com:

"When you hover over a book, a dynamic layer with more information shows. Click on the book, and you’ll land on its detail view containing instant previews of some of the pages. (Note not all books stored in Google Book search have such a preview feature enabled.) Plus, the “classics” section only contains works which passed into the copyright-free public domain zone, so you can view every page – including a plain-text variant of pages – as well as download a full PDF. Ironically, the public domain PDFs are watermarked with a Google logo and preceded by a long usage guideline asking you to not make commercial use of these books – even though that is perfectly OK for works which passed into the public domain."

At the same time, more than 100,000 old books (mostly nineteenth century) have been digitized by the British Library — 25 million pages will be digitized over the next 2 years. The books will be full-text searchable, either using Microsoft’s or the library’s search engine. (Microsoft is a partner of the British Library in this project: Google is embarked on a similar programme with several other huge university libraries.)

From the BBC article linked in the previous paragraph: "Texts which are hard to get hold of will particularly benefit from the digitisation. For example, authors who were only ever published outside the great centres of literary life have tended not to remain in print and have often been forgotten. Now, these authors will have a second chance to reach a readership.  "By digitising the whole collection, we give access to the books without the filter of later judgments, whether based on taste or on the economics of printing and publishing," Dr Jensen [of the British Library] said. "