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Google to scan 250,000 old British Library books

Google Books partners with the British Library to digitize 250,000 books from between 1700 and 1870. Readers will soon be able to access all of the knowledge without the mustiness of old books.

Google Books partners with the British Library
Google plans to deliver a hippopotamus to your browser. (Click to enlarge.) British Library Board

Google Books has an ambitious mission statement: "Google Books is an effort to make all of the knowledge contained within the world's books searchable online."

That's a tall order, but the company will make a dent in it with a new agreement to scan 250,000 books from the British Library.

The books, pamphlets, and periodicals are all out of copyright and come from between 1700 and 1870. This is a nice companion project to the British Library's new 19th Century Books app that will eventually put thousands of old books on your iPad.

To put it in perspective, these books were generated during some famous events you may have heard of, including the French Revolution, the invention of rail travel, and the end of slavery. Google will foot the cost for this mammoth digitizing effort.

The digitized books will be available free online through Google Books and the British Library site. Readers will be able to view, copy, and share the text for non-commercial uses.

I'm most looking forward to reading "De Natuurlyke Historie van den Hippopotamus of het Rivierpaard" from 1775. That translates to "The Natural History of the Hippopotamus, or River Horse." According to the British Library, this rare tome includes the story of a stuffed hippopotamus that belonged to the Prince of Orange. Awesome.