MSU Books About to Be "Googled"

By: Tony Tagliavia Email
By: Tony Tagliavia Email

"It's an ancient book of laws," Michigan State University student Lisa Bright explains as she works on the meticulous, eight-hour process of making a centuries-old Byzantine constitution available electronically.

A new technology -- and a new deal -- from Google promises to tackle many more books in much less time.

"I don't know that it's better but it's clearly faster and that's the key thing," MSU Libraries Director Clifford Haka said.

It's key because the California-based technology giant plans to take as many as 10 million volumes from the libraries at MSU and 11 other schools and make them searchable online.

"The goal of Google Book Service ... [is to] allow users to search books the way they currently search websites," Google's Adam Smith told reporters Wednesday.

The new deal gives the company access to the most unique collections held by MSU, the other Big Ten schools and the University of Chicago.

So what will Michigan State's contribution be?

Google will likely go for its books on how parks, golf courses and athletic fields should be cared for.

"We have without question the number one turfgrass collection in the world," Haka said. "We have a number of other collections of distinction such as Afircana, our history of veterinary medicine and quite a few other ones."

You might think the project would concern library directors. After all, if all those books are available online, why do you still need an institution to hold onto the hard copies?

One answer: copyright laws mean searchers will find only small passages from most books published since 1923.

"If they want the whole book or the whole journal or whatever, they'll need to go to a library, typically, and get it," Haka said.

Books that don't fall under copyright restrictions will be available in their entirety.

The project will open grant access to some of the country's top libraries to just about anyone around the world. But the high-quality searching Google provides should help even those who live a short walk from the library.

"It gets you to things where a lot of times you never could have found it before. And yeah, that's exciting," Haka said. "That's what we try to get people to."


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