Soon anyone will be able to browse the University library, whether he is in Ann Arbor or Europe or anywhere in between.
The University announced a partnership with Google today in which the Internet search engine will digitally scan all University books and other media and make them available to anyone worldwide with an Internet connection. Plans are in place to convert all 7 million items in the University library collection into digital form and place them online in about six years.
Users will be able to search the collection by phrases and keywords. If the relevant material is currently under copyright, users will be able to view three snippets per work. Snippets consist of the sentence where the match occurs and the sentences before and after. The user can then determine whether the work is valuable to them and, if it is, find a copy.
If the material is not under copyright, users will be able to view the text from cover to cover.
“Suppose in the second edition of John Stuart Mill’s essays there was a particular twist no one has seen for 50 years — that’s in our library,” Provost Paul Courant said. “But the value is not the particular documents, it’s that you can search this huge library.”
He added that in the age of the Internet, if things can’t be found online, people do not bother to find them, especially among the younger generation. “Now they will be able to,” he said.
Google will shoulder the entire cost of converting the materials, said John Price Wilkin, associate University librarian.
“I think what it’s going to do is give Google a significant advantage in providing information content,” Wilkin said.
Google has already started the project and it can scan an average of 5,000 University items a year. By the time the program is in its most advanced state, Google plans to scan more than one million items per year.
Previously, that would not be possible. But Google has created innovative scanning technology specifically for the library project that won’t destroy the University’s physical copies.
“It’s fast and high quality,” Wilkin said. “It takes the operators as long to scan a book as it takes to turn pages.”
The partnership was made because Google founder Larry Page is a University alum. The University is also a good candidate because it has one of the six largest research libraries in the country, Wilkin said.
It will join other libraries — notably the New York Public Library and Harvard University’s library — in digitizing their collections through Google.
“It’s all about democratizing access,” Wilkin said.
The University library is one of the few research libraries that invites people to walk off the street and come in, Wilkin said.
“Now it becomes as easy as searching in Google,” he said. “Many more people around the world will have access to the collection, and our own people will have more convenient access.”
Wilkin said he finds it hard to imagine any drawbacks, especially because the University will not be responsible for funding. Also, the scanning will be completed in University facilities so the materials will be missing from the shelves for a minimum amount of time. The University will maintain ownership of all the digitized files.
In a news release, University President Mary Sue Coleman said that the partnership will advance the school’s mission as a great public university that shares knowledge within the academic community and beyond. “It is an initiative with tremendous impact today and endless future possibilities,” she said.
Courant said the University has been wondering for years how they were going to eventually convert all of their material into a digital form.
“Now we have this partner who can do it for us in half a dozen years,” he said. “It’s wonderful for the University and for the world of ideas.”