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Project resurrects 90,000 rare books via print-on-demand


Oya Rieger, associate university librarian for information technologies, with some rare books and print-on-demand copies in Cornell's Kroch Library. (Credit: Robert Barker/Cornell University Photography)

CORNELL (US)—Theodore E. Burton’s 1902 book Financial Crises and Periods of Industrial and Commercial Depression could have remained hidden in the stacks for eternity. Now—and perhaps just in the nick of time, given the relevance of Burton’s topic—a partnership with is making that book and some 90,000 others from Cornell University’s library shelves available online as print-on-demand books.

The project includes a wide range of titles, some rare and out of print. The books were digitized over the last two years with the support of Microsoft and represent a substantial part of the library’s unique offerings printed before 1923 and therefore in the public domain in the United States.

The newly digitized 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,” says 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 says.

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 or directly through, 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.

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.

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