Oxford's Google Books project reaches milestone

9 October 2012

Title pageThe Oxford-Google Digitization project – established in 2004  has reached an exciting stage in its development with the Bodleian Libraries books digitized by Google now fully available to the academic community and the general public for the first time. Much of the material that the Bodleian collaboratively digitized with Google has only been available in “snippet” or “metadata-only” view to users of Google Books outside the US.  By making the Bodleian copy of the digitized books available online, the material becomes fully available to all users in PDF format. 

This feature has proved popular since its soft launch in March of this year.  From the initial load of about 335 thousand books, users from all over the world have made already close to 60,000 downloads. The top five book downloaded in June were:

  1. Cobet, C. G. (Carel Gabriel), 1813-1889 - Variae lectiones quibus continentur observationes criticae in scriptores Graecos  1873
  2. Victoria Queen of Great. Britain. Edited by A. Helps.  Leaves from the journal of our life in the Highlands, from 1848 to 1861 1868
  3. Sir Martin Theodore The life of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort  1875-80
  4. Alfred Tennyson Baron The works of Alfred Tennyson, poet laureate. 1871-1873 Volume 7
  5. Robert Louis Stevenson Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1886
The popularity of three of the books listed above was correlated with the celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee.

The Oxford-Google Digitization programme has been part of the Oxford University Libraries’ strategy for widening cultural engagement and ongoing commitment to enable access to their vast collections for the general public.  Since its launch, selections from the Bodleian Libraries' collections have been made freely available on the web via the Google Book Search interface, and are used by a global audience.

Now the materials digitized are being added to SOLO, the online catalogue of Oxford’s collections (http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk).  Making these digitized works accessible via SOLO enables the Bodleian to provide a direct link between the digital version and the physical item scanned, which can be very important for researchers who need to work with a particular copy of a text. Moreover, the Bodleian Libraries are working on providing enhance functionality such as improved scans or better full-text searching. 

The digitization process led to the creation of two digital copies of each book: one for Google, and one for Oxford. The initial phase of this work completed in the summer of 2009, with several hundred thousand of our books being scanned and made available via Google Books (http://books.google.com). The Google copy is fully indexed and searchable through the Google Book search service. The second phase of this project which links the Oxford copy directly to the relevant catalogue record in SOLO has now been completed by staff of the Bodleian Digital Library Systems & Services. Details of how to access the digitized copy via SOLO can be found at www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/dbooks.

Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian, said; ‘This is an exciting time of transition for the Bodleian Libraries, and we are in the process of reviewing our range of digitization activities to enhance the opportunities and possibilities offered to readers and researchers alike. This collection of several hundred thousand digitized works provides a significant body of material that we can use to develop innovative systems and services.’

About the Oxford-Google Digitization Partnership  

In 2004, University of Oxford entered into partnership with Google to scan the Bodleian Libraries' out-of-copyright holdings, in particular those from the 19th century. The Bodleian was one of the original "big five" institutions to sign-up to Google's Library Partnership Project, and the first from outside the US.

Items were selected solely on their copyright status and suitability for scanning. All the books chosen for this project were out-of-copyright, and the vast majority are now also out-of-print and thus difficult for many readers to obtain. The works that have been digitized cover a wide range of languages, disciplines, and genres. They include the first English translation of Newton's Mathematical principles of natural philosophy from 1729, the first edition of Jane Austen's Emma, the first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origins of Species and John Cassell's Illustrated history of England. The initial phase of this work completed in the summer of 2009, with several hundred thousand of our books being scanned and made available via Google Books.

Google Books is revolutionising - and significantly speeding up - the process of research. As a historical researcher now, I use it regularly for preliminary research and bibliographical purposes and I'm thrilled that so many rare and older texts are now being made fully available online through the Oxford-Google digitization project. Dr Nazneen Ahmed, Research Assistant, COMPAS/Department of History
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