Skip to main content

UW-Madison joins massive Google Book project

October 12, 2006

The University of Wisconsin–Madison and Google announced an agreement today to expand access to hundreds of thousands of public and historical books and documents from more than 7.2 million holdings at the UW-Madison Libraries and the Wisconsin Historical Society Library.

Photo of books from the Miller Collection of Bee Literature

A few of nearly 5,000 volumes in the Miller Collection of Bee Literature, some of which date back to the early 17th century. The books are among the hundreds of thousands of public and historical books and documents from UW–Madison libraries and the Wisconsin Historical Society Library that will get greater public access through the Google Book partnership.

Photo: Eric Ferguson

The university is the eighth library to join Google’s ambitious effort to digitize the world’s books and make them searchable on Google Book Search.

The combined library collections of UW–Madison and the Wisconsin Historical Society comprise one of the largest collections of documents and historical materials to be found in the United States. The collections are ranked 11th in North America by the Association of Research Libraries in Washington, D.C.

“Wisconsin is in a position to take a leading role in making the primary documents of U.S. government history freely accessible on the Internet for anyone to find and use,” says UW–Madison Provost Patrick Farrell.

Adds Edward Van Gemert, interim director of the UW–Madison General Library System: “Whenever possible, the university intends to make the complete content of public documents available on the Internet, including text, images and maps.”

Other libraries that are currently working with Google to digitize portions of their collections include: Harvard, Michigan, New York Public Library, Oxford, Stanford, the University of California system, and, most recently, Madrid’s Complutense University � the largest university library in Spain. The Library of Congress is also conducting a pilot project with Google.

Photo of books from the Miller Collection of Bee Literature

Message of his excellency Nelson Dewey. Wisconsin was admitted to the Union on May 29, 1848. The first Wisconsin State Legislature convened June 5, and two days later the state officers were sworn in. Gov. Dewey delivered this message to the Legislature one day later on June 8.

Photo: courtesy UW–Madison Libraries

An individual looking for information will be able to use Google Book Search to search the full text and locate the printed works digitized from the UW–Madison and WHS collections. Google has specifically designed Book Search to comply with copyright law. Anyone will be able to freely view, browse and read the UW–Madison’s public-domain books, including many of the treasures in the libraries’ historic and special collections.

For books in the Google Book Search service that are protected by copyright, users just get basic background (such as the book’s title and the author’s name), at most a few lines of text related to their search, and information about where they can buy or borrow a book. If publishers or authors don’t want to have their books digitized, they will be excluded.

The project is expected to provide easier public access for Wisconsinites and others around the world to hundreds of thousands of books held by the two institutions. Van Gemert says the library will work to build awareness of the educational potential of these materials in its future outreach to K-12 schools across Wisconsin.

“This project reflects the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea – the notion that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state and beyond – by making some of our most valuable resources readily available to the public,” Van Gemert says.

Photo of books from the Miller Collection of Bee Literature

Image of Vacuum Milker (U.S. Patent, 1868). Taken from The Growth of Industrial Art, arranged and compiled under supervision of Benjamin Butterworth, Commissioner of Patents. Reproduced and printed in pursuance of Act of Congress on March 3, 1886. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892.

Photo: courtesy UW–Madison Libraries

Superintendent of Schools and UW Regent Elizabeth Burmaster says the project has great promise for the classroom. “UW-Madison’s digitizing program has given special attention to state and regional collections related to history, the environment and the arts,” Burmaster says. “I’m encouraged by the emphasis on expanding access to collections that are useful to Wisconsin educators and students – it makes our best libraries a resource for K-16 education.”

WHS Director Ellsworth Brown concurs. “The UW–Madison and Google collaboration is a perfect fit with the Wisconsin Historical Society’s vision for public education and outreach,” says Brown. “We look forward to working with them to expand access to our history and heritage resources.”

The Wisconsin project will initially focus on library collections that are free of copyright restrictions. Most books published before 1923 and publications of the U.S. government are in the public domain by law.

“The original material will not be harmed in the digitizing process and it will, of course, be retained for future generations,” says Van Gemert. “This project makes significant inroads toward safeguarding great stores of human knowledge.”

In addition to public documents, the UW–Madison digitizing program will target other high-use collections, such as history of medicine, patents and discoveries, history of engineering, early publications of scientific societies, American and Wisconsin history, genealogical materials, Wisconsin state documents, decorative arts, visual/material culture, maps and sheet music.