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Robot Digitizes Literature, Broadens Access to the Public

There is a robot at Stanford University in California that has an unusual assignment. It is speed-reading and digitizing every book in the library. It's another fascinating part of the digital revolution.

The speed-reading robot is making a major contribution to the digital revolution, turning pages and scanning more than 1,100 pages an hour. Stanford librarian Michael Keller said, "My goal is to see how much of these eight million volumes we have gathered here we make accessible and more available because they've been digitized."

Converting books into digital data used to be a tedious job, limiting the number of complete books available on the Internet. Bill Lefurgy of the Library of Congress says robots have revolutionized the process. "What this machine does is make digital copies much, much more quickly," he said.

Lefurgy manages the library's Digital Initiatives Project. "There is tremendous pressure in cultural heritage collections all over the world to be able to get more of their materials digitized and online."

Keller added, "The internet presents us now with a way to make them more broadly available and more deeply available."

Using a search engine, or Stanford's website, the public can sample digitized materials from Stanford's library and other collections. Lefurgy says digitizing is gaining momentum. "It's a very popular activity, because it enables being able to put information -- which up to this point has been on shelves, or in drawers or somehow preserved within libraries -- and make it available on the Internet," he said.

Another site,, offers subscribers books, maps, scientific papers and sheet music. EBRARY'S Christopher Warnock did a sample search of a document for the word “love.” He said, "If we search for every occurrence of 'love' within this document, we can find it much more quickly and efficiently than if we had to go through and read the entire book."

Even at 1,100 pages an hour, the scanning project at Stanford will continue for years, but eventually is expected to bring hundreds of thousands of books to the Internet.