Google Books – Online Literature Library

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The idea of Google Books was first conceived in 2002 when a small group of Google programmers started pondering the question of how many man hours it would take to scan every single book ever written.    We still don’t know the true answer to this question although just eight years from the idea conception there are now over 10 million books catalogued in their database.

While the first scan was done manually on a 300 page book and took 40 minutes to process, Google now use cameras capable of scanning at a rate of 1,000 pages an hour and also work with 20,000 publisher partners who provide content directly.  They have also been able to provide over 1 million books that can be read in full from cover to cover; these unrestricted works are either books that have fallen out of copyright or have been provided with publishers express permission.

As well as simply scanning the books, Google performs OCR (Optical Character Recognition) on the pages, thereby turning them in to pure text which can be entered in to their database.  As a result when you do a Google Search you are now not only returned results from relevant websites but also your search terms are checked against a library encompassing millions of books and appropriate matches are suggested for further reading.

The integration in to the Google Search engine means you may have already inadvertently stumbled across Google Books but if you haven’t and are eager to explore then the Google Books can be found by visiting the site http://books.google.co.uk/ directly.   Being a Google service, it almost goes without saying that the service is completely free of charge and is instead paid for via a minimal number of sponsored links which are in no way intrusive or detrimental to the service.

From the Google Books site you can perform searches, add books to your virtual library or organise your collection in a logical manner.  Searching for a book and then subsequently clicking on it opens an interface which allows you to either view the directly scanned pages from the book or in some instances a ‘plain text’ version.  This plain text can then be copied and passed to another application or simply printed out for reading offline.

Books still under copyright enjoy the protection of a variety of access limitations and security measures which limit the number of viewable pages making the experience somewhat akin to being able to flick through the first couple of pages in a library or bookshop.   Despite this protection there have rather predictably been a number of fairly major lawsuits issued by individuals and publishers alike; some with legitimate grievances and others just seeking money or publicity.

Possibly the most notable case was between The Authors Guild, the publishing industry and Google which resulted in Google agreeing to a settlement on October 28, 2008.  This would see them pay a total $125 million not only to pay the court costs of the plaintiffs but also create a Book Rights Registry which will collect and disburse revenue generated by all third party sites such as Google which provide content based on the content of books covered by the agreement.

These issues aside, on the whole I am amazed that again this relatively new company have been able to offer such an incredible gift to the world.  With Google Books we have the potential to preserve centuries of human literacy work for generations to come as well as promoting the spread and availability of knowledge amongst all groups and all classes of people.

 

About the Author – Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.

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