With Google’s help, it is becoming increasingly easier for students to ditch their paperbacks and hardcover textbooks for e-readers and iPads.
The option partly stems from the University’s involvement with the Google Books Library Project, in which tens of thousands of volumes from campus library collections have been digitized each week since 2004. According to Paul Courant, the University’s dean of libraries, the project is currently 60 percent complete in its digitization process — with more than 1 million volumes currently readable and more than 5 million volumes text-searchable online.
“This is the kind of project that never quite ends, but it will be substantially true that we at least have search access to a digital copy of essentially every bound published work in our libraries within a couple of years,” Courant said.
Though it is difficult to gauge the exact progress of the digitization process, Courant said he doesn’t think the University is more than two years away from completing the first phase of the digitization.
Since the start of the Google Books Library Project, the University has been in the process of building a collective digital library called HathiTrust Digital Library that uses books made digital by Google. HathiTrust, which is a collaboration with 52 other libraries, is part of the development of the largest library in the world, according to Courant. The University was one of the first institutions to work with Google on the project along with Stanford University, Harvard University, Oxford University and the New York Public Library.
The Google Books Library Project intends to digitize all bound materials from the University’s main library system, as well as those of the William L. Clements Library, Bentley Historical Library, Law Library and the Kresge Business Administration Library. In total 8 million volumes will be digitized, according to Courant.
Ben Bunnell, manager of Library Partnerships for Google Book Search, wrote in an e-mail that so far Google has digitized more than 15 million books, which accounts for nearly 10 percent of books across the globe. Google aims “to scan just about all of the world’s books” and will continue on its quest by pursuing further collaborations, Bunnell wrote.
“Since we’re scanning collections from so many libraries, all students are able to benefit from multiple library collections directly, whether their own institution is a direct participant in the project or not,” Bunnell wrote.
In addition to more typical texts, Google has been working with NASA to digitize aeronautical material, according to Bunnell.
To make information more accessible, some of the fully readable digitized texts have been converted to an electronic publication, or EPUB, which allows for the text to be read on digital readers such as Kindle and E-Book, Courant said.
“Basically, you’ll be able to carry the library around in your pocket,” he said.
University students will also have the option to print coursepacks for classes using the digitized library collections after copyright concerns are resolved. Courant said he believes this option will be available within the next few years. Additionally, he said he thinks people will eventually choose to view the coursepacks on their mobile devices like iPads and iPhones and only print certain sections they want in paper form.
Courant said he believes access for students to older works of literature will improve with the digitization of library collections, as well as provide an efficient method of record keeping for collections.
“I think it makes the printed literature of the 20th century able to compete for student attention on the same terms as the new literature, which is born digital, and I think that’s extremely important because there’s a remarkable amount of very important work that was done in the past,” he said.
The complete digitization of library collections is the most significant technological change for libraries to date, Courant said.
“I really think (it) is the biggest transformation in the work of libraries ever,” he said.
But not all the volumes are currently readable because of problems with copyright law, according to Courant.
The Google Books Library Project is in the midst of a class action lawsuit with the Authors Guild regarding issues with copyrights. The lawsuit was initially filed against Google in 2005. The case has yet to be settled in court, according to Bunnell.
“It’s a class action, so the court has to approve any settlement proposed by the parties,” Bunnell wrote. “The parties have in fact proposed a settlement, but the judge has not approved it yet.”
This is the only lawsuit regarding copyright laws with which the project is currently involved, Bunnell added.
“We are confident that Google Books is fully compliant with U.S. and international copyright law,” he wrote.