Thursday, May 01, 2008

Digital libraries and Google Books

I am fascinated by ebooks. Though like many people, I much prefer the feel of a book in my hand, I also believe that ebooks have their uses. They provide instant access to research information, and thanks to compact ebook readers such as the Kindle, enable you to take multiple books with you without changing the amount of purse or luggage space you need. As someone who packs a minimum of three or four books every time I take a trip, this sounds particularly appealing to me.

I first heard of ebook libraries about six months ago, and honestly I can't think of a better idea. With just my normal library subscription (and an account with NetLibrary that my librarian set up for me), I can access hundreds of books instantly and get the information I need, all for free. I can't think of a better

So when I saw an NPR story on libraries that are digitalizing their book collections, I was instantly intrigued. The story talks about how some are opting to handle the digitalizing themselves, while others are relying on Google. Of course, the catch is that books digitalized by Google are only available on Google.

I have gotten research for some of my articles via books digitalized by Google, so after listening to the story I decided to visit Google Books. I was surprised at what I found: hundreds of fully digitalized books to choose from, including popular, modern titles such as Gregory Maquire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. The ebooks are free and fully searchable, the only drawback being that they are only accessible online.

While I understand the concern that books digitalized by Google will only be made available by Google, I also have to admit that Google Books is offering an amazing service here. By scanning books belonging to libraries that can't afford the expense of digitalizing their collections, Google is ensuring that the information is still made available to the general public.

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