Oxford-Google digitisation agreement


After more than a year of discussions and negotiations, the University of Oxford has concluded a mass-digitisation agreement with Google, Inc., of Mountain View, California, which should lead, over the next three years in the first instance, to the digitisation of more than 1 million of the Bodleian Library's printed books, and their worldwide availability on the Internet, through Google's popular search services and the Oxford website.

Because of copyright restrictions and intellectual property issues, the agreement between Google and Oxford covers only 'public domain' materials (i.e. printed books for which the copyright has expired - principally, books published before 1920), and it will involve the establishment in Oxford, by Google, of a digital scanning and processing unit which, when fully operational, should be capable of producing as many as 10,000 electronic books per week.

The scanning operation will lead to the creation of two digital copies of each book: one for Google, and one for Oxford. The Google copy will be fully indexed and searchable through the Google search service, while the Oxford copy will be linked directly to the relevant catalogue record in the Oxford Libraries Information Service (OLIS). For Google, this will represent a major enhancement of the quality and range of the information discovered and presented by its Internet-based services. In Oxford, the addition of so many electronic books, from the University's own collections, to its web-based library resources will not only provide a major increment in library service for users, but will also represent a significant step forward in the long-term aims of the Oxford University Library Services (OULS) in developing a 'virtual library' based on its incomparable physical collections.

The printed collections of the OULS (consisting of the principal central libraries of the University of Oxford) number in excess of 11 million volumes, and they represent one of the largest university library collections in the world. The OULS holdings are of primary interest and importance to the scholars and students of the University; but the electronic availability of a substantial and growing proportion of these items will serve not only study and scholarship in Oxford, but also the whole worldwide community of the literate and of the information-hungry. In line with Sir Thomas Bodley's original founding aims for the Bodleian Library in 1602, the benefits of physical access to Oxford's library collections are already enjoyed by many thousands of non-Oxonians (with more than 60% of Bodleian Library users being external to the University); but the worldwide accessibility of an increasingly large number of digital copies of Oxford's holdings will help to maximise the value and use of these materials by an even wider global audience.

With Google bearing the direct cost of digitising the books under this new agreement, the major benefits envisaged will accrue to the University, and to the wider public, at a rate which could never have been otherwise achieved. At the same time, the OULS itself stands to gain a great deal, in terms of innovative information technology, through this close working relationship with one of the world's leading Internet companies, for whom "innovation is standard".

While the vast collections of unique, or especially rare, research materials in Oxford (manuscripts, archives, maps, and early printed books) are not included within the scope of the agreement with Google, the OULS 'Oxford Digital Library' initiative, which was launched in 2001, will continue with its in-house aim of digitising as many as possible of the University's more 'high-value' library materials, on the basis of local demands and scholarly needs. But the ultimate objective is to ensure that these 'high-end' digital resources are made seamlessly searchable along with the many 'Google' copies of later printed materials, to provide Oxford library users with round-the-clock networked access to an electronic library of unparalleled quality and depth.

Reg Carr, the Director of OULS, and Bodley's Librarian, observes that "the agreement with Google is a classic example of a 'win:win situation', in which everyone stands to gain. The Bodleian Library and Google are both 'first-in-class', and their mutually beneficial co-operation in this mass-digitisation scheme can be warmly welcomed as a really major step towards the global electronic library of the future. We are truly delighted to be an integral part of such an exciting development. It should help us all to gain the maximum possible benefit from the huge possibilities opened up by the digital information era."

Oxford is the only non-North American institution presently included in this mass-digitisation effort by Google, the other libraries involved being those in the universities of Stanford, Harvard, and Michigan, together with the world-famous New York Public Library.

The University's Vice-Chancellor, Dr John Hood, is enthusiastic about the scheme, and describes the agreement between Oxford and Google as "really good news".

Reg Carr
Director of University Library Services and Bodley's Librarian