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British Library hands 200 years of history to Google

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The British Library is handing 250,000 books to Google for scanning into the Google Books project.

The Library had previously partnered with Microsoft which digitised books from the 19th century and Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks. The Library only owned one of the notebooks - the second was from Bill Gates' own collection.

The Google slurp will see 40 million pages scanned and made available on Google's site and through the British Library. All the works are out of copyright - Google's scanning of in-copyright books has caused trouble in the past. The search giant pays the cost of scanning.

Material includes books, pamphlets and magazines from 1700 to 1870 in several European languages.

The scanned books will also be available through the Europeana site, funded by the European Commission.

Dame Lynne Brindley, chief executive of BL, 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.

"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,"

Alongside the Google deal, the library is continuing work with Brightsolid, a subsidiary of DC Thomson, to digitise its newspaper collection. That deal was heavily criticised for effectively handing Brightsolid a monopoly.

We've asked the British Library what the financial implications of the deal are and why it dropped Microsoft, and we'll update the story should we hear back.

A spokesman for the British Library said the deal with Microsoft was simply different and there was no question of scale problems with its technology. He said the material scanned by Google would be free for users to access but Google was free to advertise alongside the content.

The British Library press release is here. ®

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