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Cornell and Amazon.com join to resurrect 90,000 rare books via print-on-demand

More and more, as libraries scan and digitize their rare holdings, books you never thought you'd be able to read are becoming available on the Internet. But sometimes you'd rather have the real thing: Something to read in bed or on the bus, to keep on the bookshelf in case you want to review it.

Soon, thanks to a partnership between Cornell University Library and Amazon.com, some 90,000 titles from Cornell's library shelves will be available as print-on-demand books as well as online. The books were digitized over the last two years with the support of Microsoft. They represent a substantial part of the library's unique offerings printed before 1923 and which therefore are in public domain in the United States. Some are rare and many are currently out of print.

The new titles will join about 6,000 items from several of Cornell's special collections in such areas as historical mathematics, agriculture texts and anti-slavery pamphlets already available in print from Amazon and online from Cornell.

"Although demand for online access to digital books has been growing, books as artifacts continue to have a real value," said Oya Rieger, associate university librarian for information technologies, noting the advantages of physical books. "They support deep reading, underlining and writing comments in the margins. The Web is great for easy access and browsing, but because digital content can sometimes be ephemeral, physical books continue to serve as valuable reference sources on your shelf."

The new titles will be added to Amazon's database and available in print over the course of 2009. "We are in the process of working with the Internet Archive to provide free online access to the digital books that will be available from Amazon for print-on-demand," Rieger said.

Positive feedback from users helped contribute to the decision to expand the number of titles available.

Customers who order a title in print will receive a reproduction of the original pages in paperback format. Orders can be placed on the library's bookstore page at http://bookstore.library.cornell.edu/ or directly through Amazon.com, and titles can be found through Google's Book Search.

The books being added reflect Cornell's subject strengths, including American history, English literature, astronomy, food and wine, general engineering, the history of science, home economics, hospitality and travel, human sexuality, labor relations, Native American materials, ornithology, veterinary medicine and women's studies. Collections already available for reprint from Amazon include New York state historical literature, core historical literature in agriculture, historical math monographs and materials related to home economics.

Among current and forthcoming titles are "Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics," by Richard Folkard (1892); "Gettysburg: How the Battle Was Fought," by James T. Long (1890); "True and Firm," a biography of Ezra Cornell by Alonzo B. Cornell (1884); "Shakespeare as a Lawyer," by Franklin Fiske Heard (1883); "Financial Crises and Periods of Industrial and Commercial Depression," by Theodore E. Burton (1902); and "Memorials of a Tour on the Continent," by William Wordsworth (1820).

Meanwhile, the library is engaged in a large-scale digitization initiative with Google that will digitize another 500,000 books over the next six years.

Media Contact

Nicola Pytell