Google Book Search Gets Text Layer

    July 5, 2007

Google Book Search has, up until now, provided images of text; these were fine for reading, but not so great for anything else.  So the service is taking a step forward and offering true “text layers” of many of its out-of-copyright books.

“[T]his opens the book to adaptive technologies such as screen readers and Braille display, allowing visually impaired users to read these books just as easily as users with sight,” explains Bethany Poole, Google’s Product Marketing Manager, on the Inside Google Book Search Blog.  T.V. Raman goes into greater detail over at the Official Google Blog.

“But the new plain-text layer also provides access for cutting and pasting, text-mining, and other forms of processing,” notes Peter Suber, who continues, “Making these books accessible as texts, and not merely as images, is a breakthrough for all users.”  If you’ve ever tried to retype a lengthy quote (perhaps for a book report or something of that nature), you’ll heartily agree.

That’s not to say that the new text layers are perfect – the “squished” formatting makes for rather slow reading, and something about it actually seems to have given Googlified’s Haochi Chen a case of motion sickness.  Also, Google Blogoscoped’s Philipp Lenssen has spied a pack of spelling errors in one of the Shakespeare texts.

Still, for some applications, the text layers are a big improvement over the old scanned images.  If you don’t agree, well . . . the scanned images are still available, and remain Google Book Search’s default mode.