I’ve known for a while that Google was working on a project of making digital facsimiles of books. I have one of them posted in my Silk Library. What I didn’t know, is how MANY books they have now – it’s a HUGE collection. For those of us who are looking at “lost arts” type work, it’s a gold mine. Books from the 1700’s, the 1800’s, and much of the 1900’s, scanned with illustrations, and they’re SEARCHABLE. You can see huge swaths of many books still in print – and if you choose “Full View” in your search options, you can get full, untrimmed scans of books out of copyright. You can switch to a plaintext view, and see the text in Arial font (granted, it DOES occasionally have difficulty with some of the books that have odd type, and you’ll occasionally see “hom” instead of “horn,” and other such OCR type errors) and you can copy and paste passages.

I’ve been searching on various terms related to silk and sericulture, the history of silk, silk industry, etc… and so far I’ve got seventy books corralled into My Library, which has a fixed address that I can go link to, and share with friends. Some of the books are hard-to-find classics about silk, like Dandolo’s “The Art of Rearing Silk Worms” from 1825, or William Kenrick’s “American Silk Grower’s Guide” – some are references in history books, agriculture reports, etc. Need to know how many pounds of silk were raised in 1890 in Missouri? Check the “Report of the Secretary of Agriculture” (page 273). The US cocoon crop for 1890 was over sixteen thousand pounds. Who knew?

I need to go through and put in “reviews” on them, so that I can remember why I chose each book, as well as noting books that have especially interesting bits, which ones are accurate or fanciful, etc.

You can also DOWNLOAD the PDF files, if you want to have the whole thing with you.

It’s just amazing.

12 replies
  1. admin
    admin says:

    Yup. I haven’t heard too much of the opposition, but I can imagine it. The thing is, for a lot of the more rare volumes, it makes available something that I might NEVER otherwise be able to get… I just love it.

  2. perspicuity
    perspicuity says:

    amazing! and scary :> i’ve reading there is some controversy over google scanning current works in copyright and making results from the contents available to anyone… fair use is one thing but … now, they don’t let you download everything… yet 😉 still. interesting. oddly good for research, and perhaps it’ll sell more actual books – assuming you can buy them, like “princples of knitting” 🙂

    i’ve been compiling a large list of ebook and other sources lately for my kindle viewing. good stuff. LOTS of nice books to read.


  3. perspicuity
    perspicuity says:

    why would librarians be opposed?

    there are many many sources of old, rare volumes, esp fit for reading online these days. as i’ve blogged, i have a few old books and most of those can be downloaded and read on a portable device now. it’s opening up reading bigtime. librarians hate that? further, barnes and nobles has all these books, dozens and dozens of classics, for $8ish each, but you can download them for free. if you don’t mind the lack of paper and have a pda, kindle, etc, woo hoo. my brain is going to get big.

    google is going above and beyond with image scans too.


  4. travspence
    travspence says:

    Some old school librarians object to a private company such as Google scanning and having access to so much information.

    What it boils down to is that libraries have lost their monopoly on the business of collecting and disseminating information. Google is perceived by some as a huge threat to libraries.

  5. perspicuity
    perspicuity says:

    librarians with college degrees probably know better – information science… books is books is information is paper is datafiles…

    i can see how the super old school ones might hate it.

    i embrace both my paper and my bits. it would be fantastic to have every book i own be searchable. a project at Sun Micro i worked on was to have every last piece of paper doc be online/searchable in this fashion. the end result was that many people would use the computer to search, then pull a manual off the shelf, turn to that page, and read/wander. exact 1:1 of online to paper made that possible 🙂


  6. admin
    admin says:

    They’re all PDF’s, but they only load the part you’re looking at at the moment. Some times if you’re flipping fast (like when I’m fast-forwarding to get to an illustration) it will load a little slow. The plain-text version would probably be faster, too.

  7. flying_blind
    flying_blind says:

    There’s also Open Library, a non-profit project of the Internet Archive, still in its early stages. I very much like the idea of a non-profit running the digitization project, but I think Google has such a head start (and such enormous resources) that Open Library may never catch up. OL is digitizing only public domain material, though, and thus will avoid the conflicts with publishers and copyright owners which Google Books will inevitably face.

    Publishers and copyright owners often oppose not only Google’s digitization project, but any such project which might leak copyrighted material into the world in easily duplicated digital form (the Author’s Guild sued Google over the project.)

    Much of the negative response to the project from librarians has come from Europe, and is led by Jean-Noël Jeanneney, President of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and one of the main supporters of European digitization efforts. He makes some good points.

    I’ve downloaded a number of books from GB myself, and check the site often to see if anything new has been added that might interest me. The main problem for me is going to be finding enough time to actually read all the stuff I can now nab so easily.

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