A treatise on the hippopotamus and a description of the first engine-driven submarine are among 250,000 books to be made available online in a deal between Google and the British Library.
The agreement, announced June 20, will let internet users read, search, download, and copy thousands of texts published between 1700 and 1870.
It is a small step toward the library’s goal of making the bulk of its 14 million books and 1 million periodicals available in digital form by 2020.
“So far we have only been able to digitize quite a small fraction of the global collection,” said the library’s chief executive, Lynne Brindley. “There is a long way to go.”
The deal with Google, which will see 40 million pages digitized over the next three years, will offer online researchers a selection of rarely seen works from an era of social, political, scientific, and technological change that spanned the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the American war of independence.
The books range from Georges Louis Leclerc’s “Natural History of the Hippopotamus, or River-Horse” to the 1858 work “A Scheme for Underwater Seafaring,” describing the first combustion engine-driven submarine.
The books are more than scholarly curiosities. British Library curator Kristian Jensen said an 18th-century guide to the English language for Danish mariners shows “how English began to emerge from being the language spoken by people over there on that island” to become the world’s dominant tongue.