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Updated 10:00 AM December 4, 2006
 

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University-Google digitization effort turns page
toward future in book access

Access to books and related information is being made easier all the time for University users by ever-improving electronic tools.

That was the word from Ben Bunnell, library partnerships manager for Google Book Search, and Perry Willett, U-M digital library production services librarian, in a discussion at West Hall Nov. 30, in which they outlined progress and prospects for the collaboration between the University and Google to digitize the University Library's entire print volume collection.

Google has partnered with U-M and other university and research libraries in a continuing effort to meet the company's mission: to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible, Bunnell said. Google founders Larry Page, a U-M graduate, and Sergey Brin hatched the idea when they met at Stanford University, where they wondered whether book-citation index information could be linked into a database.

"Books were in the minds of the founders from the beginning," said Bunnell, a 1998 U-M graduate with master's degrees in information and business administration. "This wasn't something they just thought of in the last couple of years."

U-M was one of the company's earliest partners, he said, when the University Library-Google Digitization Project was started in 2004. The goal was to have the entire University Library collection of some 7 million volumes converted within about six years. Willett didn't have a total number of volumes to date but said that they are becoming more and more efficient with their production efforts.

Google Book Search enables users to take advantage of new features for works in the public domain—which comprise about 20 percent of all books ever printed, Bunnell said. Screen pages now contain marginalia notes, double-page views and hyperlinked tables of content.

Users also can search cover to cover within a book for a certain term, download books in the public domain as full portable document format (PDF) files and click on links to bookstores and other Web sites to buy the book such as Amazon.com or Froogle. They also can type in a ZIP code to learn where to find the desired book at libraries near them.

Holdings of libraries far away, including other countries, can be accessed as well through their catalogs, Bunnell said, even if Google has not yet indexed their books.

The collaboration and new features have brought real benefits to the University, Willett said, noting that since its beginning the project has drawn on the efforts of a cross section of the library system. Problems for those handling texts during the digitization process, such as crumbling books or missing bar codes, have been far fewer than anticipated, he said.

MBooks, the University's access system to the library's digitized collections, utilizes the Mirlyn online cataloging system. Mirlyn has an improved interface, Willett said, that allows users to view bibliographic information.

New MBooks tools include onscreen arrows that flip pages and buttons for changing sizes, rotating pages and searching for words within volumes. Icons indicate whether or not texts are restricted.

Library officials have begun an online user survey to see what can be improved, but already have some idea where to start.

"We know we want to have some way for people to collect volumes," Willett said.

He and Bunnell said company and University officials also would like to expand access to texts in different languages. Bunnell said a system that would answer queries in one language by searching library data in all languages is a sort of "holy grail" that company officials and librarians everywhere would like to see one day, "but we're not there yet."

For more information on Google Book Search go to books.google.com. For more on MBooks go to www.lib.umich.edu/mdp.

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