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Google Partnership Reaches Landmark

One shelf of a Google book cart, still packed with books and protective styrofoam, just back from being scanned by Google Books

Later this month the Wisconsin Historical Society and the University of Wisconsin-Madison will reach an important benchmark in their effort to share library collections with the world. On April 15 they will send the 50th shipment of books to Google for publication on the Web. It will contain the 500,000th book lent to the Google Books digitization project by the Madison campus. Google scans the volumes and makes their texts available to the public at Google Books. UW-Madison also makes the digital copies available online through the HathiTrust.

Successful Partnership

More than four years ago the Society and the UW-Madison General Library System joined Harvard, Oxford, Stanford and 17 other major research libraries around the world in a cooperative effort to share humanity's printed knowledge. The libraries send books from their collections to Google, whose staff converts them to electronic formats and republishes them on the Web. "The UW-Madison and Google collaboration is a perfect fit with the Wisconsin Historical Society's vision for public education and outreach," said Society Director Ellsworth Brown at the time. "We look forward to working with them to expand access to our history and heritage resources."

A team of four experts has worked in the Society's library since 2007 to select, evaluate, describe, ship and monitor the books. Library carts holding up to 1,000 items are specially loaded and packed (a portion of one cart is pictured above). Each book's whereabouts is traced in the catalog, and when it returns and its electronic facsimile is available, a link is placed in the catalog. These staff have provided more than 65,000 Society volumes to the project.

Since the work began, Google has converted about 15 million books from around the globe. Scholars estimate about 2 million of those have no copyright restrictions. How to handle the remaining 13 million, including millions of titles whose copyright holders are untraceable, has led to lengthy legal negotiations. Meanwhile, nearly every book published before 1923 is available free in its entirety on Google's site. Most are also available free on other websites, including Amazon's and Barnes & Noble's online bookstores.

Marking the 500,000th Book

In announcing the upcoming shipment, Ed Van Gemert, deputy director of libraries at UW-Madison, said: "Thank you and congratulations to all of the staff involved. … All of the current efforts to preserve and archive print collections, enhance searching, and improve access and research capabilities of Google Books and HathiTrust are, of course, dependent upon a steady stream of material from the partner libraries. … We are beginning to see the payoffs from our efforts, and we should pause to recognize our collective efforts and to acknowledge how much we've accomplished in four years."

:: Posted April 4, 2011

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