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The U.S. Library of Congress and UNESCO will cooperate to develop a digital library of works from around the world, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said on Wednesday.
"The World Digital Library initiative will digitize unique and rare materials from libraries and other cultural institutions around the world and make them available free of charge on the Internet," Paris-based UNESCO said in a statement.
The project, backed by Internet giant Google, was launched by the Library of Congress in 2005, with the aim of digitising records of the great cultures of the world.
U.S. and U.N. Cooperate on Global Digital Library [uk.reuters.com]
Google books is on its way to becoming the best library in the world in my research area. I don't mean to exaggerate. It's not even close to a truly good library yet, but they are adding books faster than any other library does, so they are catching up quickly.
I don't know what the timeframe is, but it seems like they are now up and running at top speed scanning all the public domain books at Harvard, Stanford, Michigan and other top research libraries. In some ways, it's even better, since most of these books are not indexed, but Google is using OCR to create indexable searchable text. I sometimes use Google books to search for references in books that are three steps away on my shelf!
They also scan non-public domain books and make them roughly searchable (OCR is of course not very good still) and when the copyright expires on these, they will end up in the full-text index automatically I assume. That may not excite you if you're in the sciences, but as a historian, that is absolutely huge.
Make no mistake, if this project continues at its current pace, in another ten or twenty years it will have radically transformed the way we think of research libraries.