ILI 2005: Oxford University's New Mission

By Ashling, Jim | Information Today, December 2005 | Go to article overview
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ILI 2005: Oxford University's New Mission

Ashling, Jim, Information Today


Two world-renowned information resources are on a mission. The first-the Bodleian Library (http://www.bodley founded in 1602 "to maintain and develop collections and services in support of the present and future teaching and research needs of the University of Oxford, and of the national and international scholarly community." The other-Google-was founded in 1998 with an even broader goal: "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

Why and how these two organizations will work together was the topic addressed by Internet Librarian International (ILI) keynote speaker Ronald Milne, acting director of university library services and Bodley's librarian at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library. The speech was given on Oct. 10, 2005, in London.

Although these information resources are separated by 400 years, Sir Thomas Bodley, scholar, diplomat, and founder of Oxford's Bodleian Library, and ex-Stanford University duo Larry Page and Sergey Brin (founders of Google, Inc.), have a common ambition today.

A Rich History

Milne began by reviewing the basics about the Bodleian Library: It has 120 miles of shelving and 7 million volumes. It is one of Britain's legal deposit libraries and is second in size in England only to The British Library. The Bodleian Library was not created for the exclusive use of the university's staff and students, but is open to scholars worldwide-as long as they are able to travel to Oxford. According to Milne, "Digitizing the collection and making it available to the world via the [W]eb was fully compatible with BodleVs ethos."

The Bodleian has a history of digitization projects dating back to 1993, before any agreement was made with Google. The first project was the digitization of a collection of automobile ephemera called the Toyota City Imaging Project. The Oxford Digital Library (http://www, which was established in 2000, now provides access to a range of collections, from medieval manuscripts to the poetry of WWI writer Wilfred Owen.

Digitizing with Google

Negotiations between Google and the Bodleian began in late 2002. The early digitization projects were focused, and both Google and the library were interested in providing access to resources hidden in the deep Web or sources presently not in any type of electronic form. An agreement making the Bodleian one of five partners in Google's digitization program (along with Harvard University, Stanford University, Michigan University, and the New York Public Library) was signed in December 2004 ( pressrel/print_library.html).

The scope of the material is all books included in the Bodleian collection published in the 19th century. This will initially comprise English language titles, but French, Italian, German, and Spanish works will also be scanned. All works will be in the public domain. The Bodleian had no desire to stir up any conflict about copyright issues with todays publishers. After all, there was no point to putting its legal deposit status in jeopardy.

Scanning will begin in January 2006. The quantity of material to be scanned and processed through OCR ranges from 1 million to 1.5 million items. Since the library has full control of the selection process, it will exclude fragile manuscripts, newspapers, and large formats such as maps.

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ILI 2005: Oxford University's New Mission


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