British Library and Google Books partner up to digitize 250,000 out-of-copyright works

Oh paper, ye olde guardian of human wisdom, culture, and history, why must you be so fragile and voluminous? Not a question we ask ourselves every day, admittedly, but when you're talking about the British Library's extensive collection of tomes from the 18th and 19th century, those books, pamphlets and periodicals do stack up pretty quickly. Thankfully, Google's book digitization project has come to the rescue of bewildered researchers, with a new partnership with the British Library that will result in the availability of digital copies of works from that period -- spanning the time of the French and Industrial Revolutions, the Crimean War, the invention of the telegraph, and the end of slavery. In total, some 250,000 such items, all of them long out of copyright, will find a home on Google Books and the British Library's website, and Google has even been nice enough to bear the full cost of transforming them into web-accessible gems of knowledge. Jump past the break for the similarly digital press release.

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The British Library and Google to make 250,000 books available to all

Major project to digitise up to 40 million pages from 1700-1870, from the French Revolution to the end of slavery

The British Library and Google today announced a partnership to digitise 250,000 out-of-copyright books from the Library's collections. Opening up access to one of the greatest collections of books in the world, this demonstrates the Library's commitment, as stated in its 2020 Vision, to increase access to anyone who wants to do research.

Selected by the British Library and digitised by Google, both organisations will work in partnership over the coming years to deliver this content free through Google Books ( and the British Library's website ( Google will cover all digitisation costs.

This project will digitise a huge range of printed books, pamphlets and periodicals dated 1700 to 1870, the period that saw the French and Industrial Revolutions, The Battle of Trafalgar and the Crimean War, the invention of rail travel and of the telegraph, the beginning of UK income tax, and the end of slavery. It will include material in a variety of major European languages, and will focus on books that are not yet freely available in digital form online.

The first works to be digitised will range from feminist pamphlets about Queen Marie-Antoinette (1791), to the invention of the first combustion engine-driven submarine (1858), and an account of a stuffed Hippopotamus owned by the Prince of Orange (1775).

Once digitised, these unique items will be available for full text search, download and reading through Google Books, as well as being searchable through the Library's website and stored in perpetuity within the Library's digital archive.

Researchers, students and other users of the Library will be able to view historical items from anywhere in the world as well as copy, share and manipulate text for non-commercial purposes.

Dame Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library said: "In the nineteenth century it was an ambition of our predecessors to give everybody access to as much of the world's information as possible, to ensure that knowledge was not restricted to those who could afford private libraries. The way of doing it then was to buy books from the entire world and to make them available in Reading Rooms."

Dame Lynne continued: "We are delighted to be partnering with Google on this project and through this partnership believe that we are building on this proud tradition of giving access to anyone, anywhere and at any time. Our aim is to provide perpetual access to this historical material, and we hope that our collections coupled with Google's know-how will enable us to achieve this aim."

Peter Barron, Director of External Relations, Google, said: "What's powerful about the technology available to us today isn't just its ability to preserve history and culture for posterity, but also its ability to bring it to life in new ways. This public domain material is an important part of the world's heritage and we're proud to be working with the British Library to open it up to millions of people in the UK and abroad."

Professor Colin Jones, President of the Royal Historical Society and Professor of History at Queen Mary, University of London commented: "There is no doubt that the digitisation of this unique material will greatly benefit the research process. Academics are increasingly using new technologies at their disposal to search for innovative ways of investigating historical material to enable us to probe new questions and find alternative patterns of investigation. Digitisation gives us the freedom to not only do this quickly and remotely, but also enhances the quality and depth of the original."

Examples of the items that will be digitised include:

- An address to the people, on the present relative situations of England and France, Robert Fellowes (1799) - pamphlet addressed to the British public commenting on the political situations in Britain and France

- Les droits de la femme. A la reine, [The Rights of Women. To the Queen] Olympe de Gouges (1791) - remarkable pamphlet that explores Queen Marie-Antoinette as both subject and object

- Proyecto de navegacion submarina, Narciso Monturiol [A Scheme for Underwater Seafaring: the Ichthyneus or Fish-Boat] (1858) - Monturiol was the inventor of the first combustion engine-driven submarine and this book describes his invention

- De Natuurlyke Historie van den Hippopotamus of het Rivierpaard, George Louis Leclerc (1775), [The Natural History of the Hippopotamus, or River Horse] - Translated from a French original but with additional material, including an account of the stuffed Hippopotamus in the Prince of Orange's cabinet of curiosities.

This partnership demonstrates the Library's further commitment to working with the private sector to digitise parts of its collections. Recently, the Library announced a partnership with brightsolid to digitise up to 40 million pages of its newspaper collections and previously the Library partnered with Microsoft to digitise 65,000 19th century books, some of which are now available as an App on Apple's iPad.

It is also planned to make the works available via Europeana (, the European Digital Library.

Google has partnered with over 40 libraries around the world.