Live searching

The British Library (the noble institution where I happen to work) has been engaged for some time in a major project with Microsoft digitising some 100,000 books from the nineteenth century. Around 30,000 of these have now been made public available through Microsoft’s Live Search facility (to UK users only). I haven’t investigated this collection to see what possible texts on moving images it might contain, but the news has drawn my attention to Live Search as research source, which I’d quite overlooked.

You will find many digitised historical texts there, as well as current texts where there is limited access (e.g. to 10% of the content), much as you do with Google Books. In truth, the two resources offer much the same results and extras, but I find Live Search superior for the clarity of layout, ease of navigation, the linkages offered, and the word searching. Click in a search term such as ‘cinematograph’ – 1,860 hits – and for each title you get the book record, publication information, hyperlinks to where the search term appears in the digitised text, links to World Cat (if you want to find it in a library somewhere), and where available the opportunity to download the book from the Internet Archive. It is this latter option that particularly appeals, because it offers a far better means to search through texts on the Internet Archive than the Internet Archive provides itself (there you can only search titles and a limited synopsis). Hence many more titles turn up with relevant material for early film studies, including texts not directly about the movies but which have handy incidental information. I’ll be bringing you the results of some of these in future posts.

Update (May 2008): Microsoft has just announced that it has withdrawn Live Search Books, as well as winding down its book digitisation programme. More information here. Sorry.

5 responses

  1. The results arrangement of this is excellent; the searching side seems rather basic. But what a wealth of information one could find – given the time.

  2. I’d neglected to point out the excellent feature of a ‘ruler’ down the side of the image of the book which indicates where in the entire text the search term you have entered occurs. You see instantly how many times the words in the text, and can scroll directly there. It saves a lot of time from looking at the merely inconsequential.

  3. Hmmm, and then Microsoft snatch it all away in order to concentrate on “the development of an underlying, sustainable business model”. What’s that about the first taste being free ?

  4. Yeech! I knew about Microsoft stopping their book digitisation programme, but hadn’t realised it was stopping Live Search Books as well. So what happens to the 750,000 digitised books? Their scanning project with the British Library, so far as I know, is still ongoing. Maybe not. I am puzzled and dismayed.

  5. The British Library’s book digitisation agreement with Microsoft won’t be extended, but the current project will be completed within its allotted time frame, with 8.5 million pages to be digitised over the next six months. Here’s its press release on the matter:

    http://www.bl.uk/news/2008/pressrelease20080528.html

    The British Library 19th Century Book Digitisation Project

    28 May 2008

    The British Library has over 20 years of experience digitising its collections. The mass digitisation of 19th century literature in partnership with Microsoft is one of fifteen British Library-led digitisation initiatives, currently taking place.

    As part of the 19th century book project, the British Library has now successfully digitised 40,000 out-of-copyright items from its collections, including a range of authors such as Dickens, Eliot, Trollope and Hardy as well as many forgotten literary gems.

    It is our intention that the material will be made available on the Library’s catalogue after the completion of a pilot, which is currently providing access to over 1,100 books with more added on an incremental basis from St Pancras Reading Rooms.

    Approximately 75,000 pages are being scanned daily by the digitisation studios at the British Library. A further 40,000 out-of-copyright books will be scanned as agreed in the Library’s contract with Microsoft.

    The British Library continues to work with Microsoft on projects that will support and benefit research. For instance ‘Turning the Pages 2.0’, enhanced by Windows Vista, offers researchers an opportunity to explore digitised versions of some of the world’s greatest texts, combining a rich and life-like interaction with the text itself with a potential for collaborative international research.

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