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Last Updated: Friday, 28 September 2007, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
British Library books go digital
By Cristina Jimenez

Old books
Out of print 18th and 19th Century books will be digitised
More than 100,000 old books previously unavailable to the public will go online thanks to a mass digitisation programme at the British Library.

The programme focuses on 19th Century books, many of which are unknown as few were reprinted after first editions.

The library believes online access to the titles will help teachers.

"If there are no modern editions teachers cannot use them for their courses," said Dr Kristian Jensen, from the British Library.

"What we can read now is predetermined by a long tradition of what has been considered great literature," he added.

At full production approximately 50,000 pages per working day will be scanned.

Project's output

Approximately 30 terabytes of storage will be required to accommodate the project's output.

The first 25 million pages are expected to take two years to complete. Texts which are hard to get hold of will particularly benefit from the digitisation.

Readers could discover new authors and texts
Readers could discover new authors and texts

For example, authors who were only ever published outside the great centres of literary life have tended not to remain in print and have often been forgotten.

Now, these authors will have a second chance to reach a readership.

"By digitising the whole collection, we give access to the books without the filter of later judgments, whether based on taste or on the economics of printing and publishing," Dr Jensen said.

The new category of digitised titles will supplement other early historic printed books which the British Library has already made available for viewing online through previous projects.

Those are included in two commercial resources: the Early English Books Online and the Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

Both collections are freely available to higher education institutions in the UK.

Other digital resources in the British Library will soon include two million pages of 19 Century newspapers and one million pages of 18th Century newspapers.

Text searchable

Digitised publications will be accessible in two ways -initially through Microsoft's Live Search Books and then via the Library's website.

The books will be fully text searchable, meaning users will be able to look for keywords within a publication, making research easier and enhancing interaction with the material.

Whereas Microsoft is working with the British Library, Google is digitising the work of five of the world's other renowned libraries - Stanford, Harvard, and Michigan university libraries, the New York public library and the Bodleian library in Oxford.

Due to copyright restrictions and intellectual property issues, the agreement between Microsoft and the British Library covers only "public domain" materials.

"We have taken great care to exclude 19th Century works by authors who died after 1936, for there is copyright in the item for 70 yeas after the death of the author," Jensen said.

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