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BooksOnline 2010

The Present and Future of Google Books

James Crawford
Google Books

The Google Books project has the modest goal of scanning all of the world's books, converting them to digital form, and making them searchable and accessible. To date over fifteen million books, containing over five billion pages, have been scanned and digitized.

This is an impressive number but it turns out that scanning is only the beginning of the challenge.

One part of the challenge in making books searchable and accessible is that a scan produces an image of a page, and often a blurred or partially obscured one at that, but searching requires a digital representation of the text on the page. Converting the image to text is also critical to creating a good reading experience since the text can then be reformatted to match the display size and the user can control the font size and layout. This is especially important for tablet devices and smart phones.

Another part of the challenge is that a search query will often match thousands or even tens or hundreds of thousands of books. Consider for example the query 'to be or not to be'. This line has been quoted in an untold number of books (plus one more if the notes from this workshop are published). How should we choose the top ten matches to return on the first page of search results? Much work has been done on search rankings for web pages. Unfortunately these techniques do not apply well to books. The Google books teams has had to invent largely new techniques to rank book results.

A third challenge is that copyright law was not written with the digital world in mind. In the days of print books the cost of a print run was sufficiently high that when books went out of print they relatively rarely came back into print. However, in the digital world we have the technical ability to make millions of out of print books available as ebooks. For books that are out of print, but in copyright, the largest expense in creating ebooks is the cost of accurately identifying the owner of the digital rights. This cost has emerged as an important non-technical challenge to opening up many millions of out of print books.

This talk will discuss these challenges and a variety of others (how do you scan a 100 year old book without breaking the binding?). We will also look at some of the new opportunities that arise from the emerging digital books corpus. These range from social collaboration, to linguistic analysis, to other new areas that are only beginning to be discovered.


The metadata challenge: Promoting discovery, access, and usability for online books

John Mark Ockerbloom
University of Pennsylvania

With millions of books, serials, and other documents now digitized, rich troves of information and culture can now be made available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection. But these riches are worthless if they cannot be found, accessed, and effectively used by the readers who need them. The key to unlock these treasures is metadata. Networked computing enables techniques for making metadata more effective than ever; yet in practice, online collections all too often either do not have or do not take full advantage of the best metadata they could use.

There is much ongoing work harnessing metadata to improve online book discovery, access, and usability. Online book discovery is being enhanced with concept-oriented catalogs of various kinds, including browsable maps relating millions of subjects and associated books. Copyright metadata is starting to open access to many books that had been needlessly withheld from the public, while also reducing the risk of inadvertent infringement. Structural and relational metadata and annotations are making complex works much more usable than they were when they were represented as a mishmash of volumes.

Using metadata effectively in multi-million-volume collections poses special problems of scale. Solving these problems requires considered application of both library science and computer science. It also requires harnessing the collective intelligence of readers, writers, librarians, and publishers. Wise metadata management policies, including open data sharing, can promote the effective aggregation of human and machine intelligence at the scale we will need. This talk will demonstrate and describe ways in which we can meet the metadata challenges of large-scale online libraries both now and in the future.