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Book project make old volumes new again

September 29, 2009 - Art Smith
I was thumbing through the History of Marietta.  It’s a very interesting book, it is interesting not just because of the contents, but also in how I was reading it.

The book, written by Thomas Jefferson Summers and published in 1903 has been out of print, is a small part of one of the largest literary projects ever attempted.

For decades the copy of the book I was looking at has quietly set on the shelf of the University of Michigan, that is, until one of the alumni of the school decided to stir things up a little.

Everyone by this point knows about the search engine giant Google. Google has a lot of projects that branch out beyond simply searching for things. One of them is the Google Book Project. Since 2004 Google has been scanning books from some the country’s largest library. The goal of the company is to scan more than 15 million book titles that it knows to be in existence. The project is expected to take 10 years.  Publishers that feared they would not sell books if they were available online quickly sued Google over the plan.

Recently Google announced a settlement of sorts with the publisher. Even though Google may scan all the books they will not display the full contents of books that are still in print. They will however let you know where you can purchase or borrow the book. If a book is out of print but still under copyright it will display excerpts from the book.

If a copyright has expired on an out of print book it will display the full text of the book. Users can read it online or download it to their computer to be read later. It can also be saved on a digital bookshelf.

One of the first libraries to join the project was the University of Michigan, one of the creators of Google attended the school and it saw the importance of making the material available.

Which gets us to the book about Marietta.

The Leader Publishing Co Printers in Marietta published the book in 1903. Written at what is now the mid-point of Marietta’s history, the book details in 23 chapters and 322 pages the history of the town to that point. Every word of it is now online.

For a century the book likely set nearly untouched on the shelves an Ann Arbor before being grabbed by a technician for scanning.

To scan books without destroying them Google had to invent their own technology. The equipment is believed to scan at a rate of around 1,000 pages per hour, which means our little book on Marietta was done in about 20 minutes and likely returned to the same shelf where it had sat for decades.

Most people are aware of the lightning pace that content is being added to the web. With projects such as Google Books, we are slowly starting to fill in the period before computers even existed.

 
 

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