The following is a Plus Edition article, written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
Google’s plan to digitize the world’s books into a combination research library and bookstore is progressing at an impressive rate. It is expected to become the largest and most comprehensive library in the history of the world. Google has scanned more than 129 million books from the start in 2002 and the latest published number is now more than 129 million. Best of all, this number includes thousands of books of interest to family historians. [The 129 million number is from article at http://booksearch.blogspot.com/2010/08/books-of-world-stand-up-and-be-counted.html.]
Google claims its mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” The result is a huge library that is available on your computer, an attractive offering for many people. Most books also can be downloaded to Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and other e-reader devices.
In partnership with major university libraries, Google has digitized books that range from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that are no longer copyrighted to the Harry Potter series to other books whose authors and publishers cannot be located. The idea is simple: make the library of all libraries by converting every book ever published into an e-book that can be indexed, searched, read — and sold — online.
Google Books is designed to help you discover books, not always to read them online. To be sure, out-of-copyright books often can be read online, a huge boon to genealogists. However, to read an entire book that is still under copyright protection like the Harry Potter series, you need to use the "Buy this book" link to purchase it or the "Find this book in a library" link to look for a local library that has it available.
Google Books finds pretty much any kind of book you can imagine — genealogy, geography, fiction, non-fiction, reference, scholarly, textbooks, children's books, scientific, medical, professional, educational, and other books of all kinds. The goal of Google Books is to include books from all the world's languages and cultures. This may be helpful when looking for information about "the old country" where your ancestors came from. You may not find any information about the specific individuals, but you can find books that will give you information about the location(s) where they lived and the local history that shaped their lives. You can even find information about the railroads your ancestors traveled on or the steamship companies that transported them to their new country.
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