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August 30, 2006, 11:44 AM ET

Failure to Launch For Google's Book-Scanning Service

The books scanned through Google’s partnership with university libraries are now available for download online. Well, that is, the public-domain books are available. “Public domain books include both well-known classics and less well-known books on every conceivable subject,” Sidney Verba, Director of the Harvard University Library, a partner in the Google Books Library Project, said in a statement released by Google. Google offered some examples of classics that one might download, such as Newton’s Principia and Dante’s Inferno. Finding one’s own public domain books through Google Book Search proves to be a little more difficult. A search of “apocalypse” on the main Book Search page yields books mainly from the past 10 years. Use of the “advanced search” option, keeping the publication-date range prior to 1923, yields three pages with 100 listings each. After clicking on a listing for a book, a “download” button, on the right side of the screen, promises to give you a PDF version of the book. A downloaded book opens with a warning: The book, the note explains, “has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain,” but users should still be mindful of their use of the book and laws within their country. The note also attempts to connect the user to the artifact. “Public domain books are our gateways to the past, representing a wealth of history, culture and knowledge that’s often difficult to discover. Marks, notations and other marginalia present in the original volume will appear in this file—a reminder of this book’s long journey from the publisher to a library and finally to you.” But it seems there are still some bugs to work out. When we clicked on a download link for one book in Internet Explorer, the browser crashed. When we clicked on the link in Firefox, nothing happened. The link seemed to work in Safari, but took a moment to start.

When we downloaded Annotations on the Apocalypse, by John Chappel Woodhouse, from 1828, the PDF was completely blank. Inexplicably, some public-domain books did not have download links. At press time, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, by Moses Stuart, published in 1845, had no such link. Megan Lamb, a spokeswoman for Google, said that the search-engine company’s systems might still be going through the digitized collection, adding download links. —Scott Carlson

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