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e-Books and Digital Library Projects

Man holding a tablet in a library

The continued growth of digital content and e-books has lead to an explosion of digital library projects. According to a study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project released this past summer, trends show that American’s are gradually reading more materials in digital form. Recent developments related to the legality of large-scale projects such as Google Books project has further brought attention to the growing demand for e-book content and services. As librarians and publishers continue to sort through legal issues related to e-book licensing, it is important to note that several digital library projects are underway.

Google Books

E-books and digital content got a boost last month when a long awaited ruling in a case against Google Books was announced. The Google Books project began in 2004 and included efforts to scan and make digitally available books from university and public libraries around the world. For books that were in the public domain or where the author had given permission, the full text of the book was scanned and made digitally available through the Google Books interface for free. For books which were still under copyright, scans were made with the idea that Google Books users could search the full text and preview a limited number of pages for free but then be required to purchase the title to read more. With scanning continuing, in 2005 the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishes filed suit against Google claiming the Google Books project caused “massive copyright infringement.” Last month, after many years of legal procedures, a U.S. district court judge sided with Google and their claim of “fair use” for the scanning project. While the Authors Guild plans to appeal this ruling, it is important to take note of the impact the Google Books project has made in the past nine years.

According to Google the project currently includes 30 million scanned books all of which can be searched for free making it one of the largest collections of digital resources. While the full text of copyrighted materials cannot be viewed in full, many books in the project continue to provide previews of the content. The full text of materials out of copyright is freely available.

While Google Books is one of the largest digitization projects, similar projects include online digitization efforts through the HathiTrust, Internet Archive, and the Digital Public Library of American (DPLA).

Internet Archive

Founded in 1996 and launched in 2001, Internet Archive provides permanent storage of and free access to digital collections. Internet Archive is a storage location not only for over four million public domain books, but it also provides access to archived websites, moving images, and music. Internet Archive also allows the public to upload and download digital content. Many museums and universities have uploaded their content into the system. In 2007 Internet Archive began uploading public domain books from the Google Books project. Another project of Internet Archive is the Open Library which provides free full text access to over one million public domain books as well as an e-book lending program with over 250,000 recent books which are still under copyright. These books can be borrowed by Open Library card holders. Registration for Open Library is free. This digital lending program is made possible through partnerships with libraries around the world.

The collections of the Medical Heritage Library is included in the Internet Archive as a special collection of freely available materials.


The HathiTrust Digital Library launched in 2008 and is designed as a large-scale collaborative digital repository for content including materials digitized by the Google Books project and Internet Archive. HathiTrust includes partnerships with research libraries around the world with costs being shared among the participants. In 2012 HathiTrust reported over 10 million digital volumes, 2.7 of which are in the public domain. HathiTrust provides free search of its repository as well as full access to free content.


The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is the newest large-scale digital library project. Launched in early 2013, DPLA aims to unify large siloed digital collections such as those from the Library Congress, HathiTrust, Internet Archive, and other collections. According to project founder Robert Darnton, by using a distributed system of service hubs as well as application programing interface (API) and open data tools, DPLA hopes to “make the holdings of America’s libraries, archives, and museums available to all Americans – and eventually to everyone in the world, online and free of charge.”

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