November 27, 2007 1:53 PM PST

Online library offers 1.5 million works and counting

Online library offers 1.5 million works and counting
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The Universal Digital Library, a book-scanning project backed by several major libraries across the globe, has completed the digitization of 1.5 million books and on Tuesday made them free and publically available.

The online library offers full text downloads of works that are in the public domain, or for which the copyright holder has been given permission to make available. Having the backing of prominent institutions such as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, however, the collection goes far beyond the widely available classics, though those are there, too.

"You're not going to find over 900,000 works in Chinese on Google," said Michael Shamos, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and director of intellectual property for the Universal Digital Library (UDL).

In fact, there are many differences between the book-scanning projects that Google and even Microsoft are doing, and the UDL, according to Shamos.

"If your subject is ancient archery and you have trouble because it's not something stocked at Barnes & Noble, you can find it at the Universal Digital Library."
--Michael Shamos, UDL director of intellectual property

For one, the UDL isn't interested in how many users it gets. Though its abundant amount of content and easy-to-download texts may make it attractive to e-book users looking for free compatible content, the library offers a large number of obscure works likely interesting to only a niche group of academics or hobbyists.

"If your subject is ancient archery and you have trouble because it's not something stocked at Barnes & Noble, you can find it at the Universal Digital Library," Shamos said.

Most importantly, he said, this is an undertaking of preservation for all humankind.

"Remember when the Taliban took over in Afghanistan and they dynamited statues they thought were heretical? We'll never have them again. But once books are digitized and stored on servers around the world, it becomes impossible for any one government to destroy all the copies of a book. Once it's there it remains immortal," he said.

The project, which has been ongoing for the last five years, was founded and is still directed by Raj Reddy, a Carnegie Mellon computer science and robotics professor who has been awarded everything from the ACM Turing Award to the French Legion of Honor. The project is funded partially by the National Science Foundation and, in addition to Carnegie Mellon and Bibliotheca Alexandrina, is led by Zhejiang University in China and the Indian Institute of Science in India. Seven other Chinese universities and eight other Indian universities are also partners.

Another difference between the UDL and other book-scanning projects is formatting. Because it was such a widespread project--books were scanned by several different groups in multiple countries--many open formats were used instead of one. Books from the Universal Digital Library are available in the open formats HTML, TIFF and DjVu (pronounced deja vu), an alternative to PDF.

While all of the content, regardless of copyright, has been digitized and indexed, those works still in copyright are only offered as abstracts. Even works from publishers long dissolved are included among the copyright text group if rights cannot be absolutely determined. That ensures that there is not even the slightest chance of copyright infringement, Shamos said.

"We don't have the legal resources of Google. We don't want to spend the university's endowment in legal fees," he said.

See more CNET content tagged:
Barnes & Noble Inc., project, university, computer science, intellectual property

4 comments

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More Sources for Free or Low Cost Digital/Digitized Books
We've put together a list of several more sources where you can find digital/digitized books on the Internet. Congrats to the UDL team.

You can find it here.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://digbig.com/4wbbb" target="_newWindow">http://digbig.com/4wbbb</a>

Sources Include:

+ Online Books Page
Many providers. Updated daily.

+ International Children?s Digital Library

+ Internet Archive?s Open Content Alliance Grows to 80 Contributing Libraries
One project comes from the University of Illinois, Illinois Harvest. Numerous books by and about Abraham Lincoln.

+ Internet Archive--Text

+ Digital Book Index

+ World Public Library

+ UK: Full text books and cool technology from the Turning the Pages service at The British Library.

+ Shakespeare Full Text and Full Image on the Web
Some gorgeous work.

+ It?s Not All Books: Sheet Music Digitization

ebrary Discover
Over 20,000 new full text books. Free to read online. Pay to print (by the page).
Posted by gprice100 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
More Sources for Free or Low Cost Digital/Digitized Books
We've put together a list of several more sources where you can find digital/digitized books on the Internet. Congrats to the UDL team.

You can find it here.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://digbig.com/4wbbb" target="_newWindow">http://digbig.com/4wbbb</a>

Sources Include:

+ Online Books Page
Many providers. Updated daily.

+ International Children?s Digital Library

+ Internet Archive?s Open Content Alliance Grows to 80 Contributing Libraries
One project comes from the University of Illinois, Illinois Harvest. Numerous books by and about Abraham Lincoln.

+ Internet Archive--Text

+ Digital Book Index

+ World Public Library

+ UK: Full text books and cool technology from the Turning the Pages service at The British Library.

+ Shakespeare Full Text and Full Image on the Web
Some gorgeous work.

+ It?s Not All Books: Sheet Music Digitization

ebrary Discover
Over 20,000 new full text books. Free to read online. Pay to print (by the page).
Posted by gprice100 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is this a joke!
Has anyone tried to actually "use" this site? horrible user experience, slow and often no response....bascially the site is not useable at all....hence the question.
Posted by designwww (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is this a joke!
Has anyone tried to actually "use" this site? horrible user experience, slow and often no response....bascially the site is not useable at all....hence the question.
Posted by designwww (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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