Click-On Libraries

Today, 15 million library books online - tomorrow, all the information in the world.

That's the bold vision of the founders of Google, the world's most popular Internet search service. This week they took a giant step toward their goal by announcing agreements with five big libraries to make their collections available online - more than 15 million books and papers, ready for viewing in a few years.

Google will underwrite the digitizing of all the noncopyrighted holdings at Stanford University and the University of Michigan libraries, and some of the collections at the New York Public Library and Harvard and Oxford universities. Copyrighted books will be excerpted.

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This is right up there with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. The common denominator is the wide dissemination of information. Gutenberg made human knowledge more broadly accessible through paper. Google does the same through the computer. Not limited to location or profession, the shelves of well-stocked libraries will be available in the far corners of the earth, enhancing distance learning. And now hard-to-find books will be only a click away.

Additionally, the Google deal is based on a supposedly viable business model. Digitizing books costs enormous time and money, and that's prevented many libraries from taking this step. Expect other search engines to strike deals with other libraries. The race to digitize all the information in the world is on.

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