The world of digital books is already so overwhelmingly vast but there’s still a whole library of written materials from the 16th-19th century that are not yet digitized and accessible. The Plantin-Moretus Museum in the city of Antwerp houses more than 25,000 of these early printed books. Google will now be working in partnership with the Belgian city to digitize over 32,000 books from the museum as well as an additional 60,000 books in the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library.

Once the project is finished, we will have more than 100,000 international works published between the 16th-19th century in digital format. And since these works are no longer subject to copyright, we will be able to access them for free on Google Play Books. The scanned books will be full-text searchable so it will be easy to use these books for research or even just for leisure reading. Imagine, all those classic works can be accessed on your mobile device.

But if you think this will just happen quickly, maybe you shouldn’t hold your breath. They will only start with the digitization early 2021 since they have to establish logistical processes. They also don’t want to close the museum and library totally, so it will probably take them 3 years to finish the project. Visitors will still be allowed to visit and view the books so they will be doing it slowly and by batches.

The books for digitization will be transported from Antwerp to Google’s European digitization center. And after each book has been scanned, the digital copy will be immediately uploaded to books.google.com. The libraries will also receive digital copies so that it will be incorporated into their own catalogues. This will be painstaking work but academics, researchers, and casual readers of classic literature will definitely be thankful.

One of the main purposes of Google Books is to make all books digitally available and searchable (although not always free). Expect them to partner with other similar institutions, museums, and libraries as they take more steps to achieving that mission.