On Tuesday, the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant announced relationships with five major libraries, including those at the University of Michigan and Oxford University, as well as the New York Public Library, to create digital copies of some books so that they may be searchable using Google. Also on Tuesday, the company began sampling some works already scanned for Google Print, the company's searchable index of books that it formally unveiled in October.
Susan Wojcicki, Google's director of product management, said the project will evolve over several years.
"Libraries have been the keepers of information for centuries," she said. "We're excited to unlock that wealth of Information."
For now, the scope of Google's relationship with each institution varies. For example, Harvard Publications director Peter Kosewski said the university is in a pilot program with Google to scan only 40,000 randomly selected books from its collection of 15 million, the largest academic library in the United States and one dating back to the 1630s. By going through the process, Harvard will be able to vet issues such as care of the books and copyright concerns and determine whether it's appropriate to proceed, he said.
Google has long said it plans to make the world's information accessible and searchable, and a cornerstone to its mission would be to bring libraries to life online. Google itself was born out of a library digitization project at Stanford, Wojcicki said, and its founders had planned all along to build a vast searchable index of books. Only now has the company found the technology and resources to work with libraries to scan their volumes, she said.
Faced with increasing competition from Microsoft, Yahoo and others, Google is also trying to continually differentiate itself in Web search and make its service vital to consumers in new ways. The task is not only in making it easy for consumers to find an obscure travel site on Zimbabwe or track a UPS package, but now it's also in helping a visitor call up and read a work of Shakespeare.
Still, the company must navigate tricky issues of copyright. Because libraries own only copies of copyrighted books and don't hold the rights to reproduce those works for wide distribution, Google will likely have to deal with publishers to share revenue on advertising, excerpt only a small portion