The British Library has announced that it is to digitise some 250,000 items published between 1700 and 1870. This project will be carried out in partnership (almost inevitably) with Google. The British Library holds around 150 million items in its collections, but how many of those are from between 1700 and 1870, and thus what proportion of them will be covered by this new partnership, I have not yet been able to establish.
Any student of Behemoths will be delighted to learn that one of the newly digitised texts will be De Natuurlyke Historie van den Hippopotamus of het Rivierpaard, by George Louis Leclerc, from 1775 (admittedly translated from a French original, but with additional material, including an account of the stuffed Hippopotamus in the Prince of Orange’s cabinet of curiosities), but I am looking forward to finding out what other Georgian and Regency treasures are to become available.
There has - quite rightly - been considerable concern over Google's earlier adventures into digitising books that are still in copyright with little or no consultation with authors and other copyright holders, but I don't think that such criticisms can be levied at this venture. Most of us simply do not have the time - or the resources - to visit the British Library, or another such comprehensive reference library when researching for historical fiction. being able to access hundreds of thousands of books from home will be wonderful. The only downside I have identified is the ease with which it will be possible to become distracted from the subject in hand, and lost down random paths paved with ancient wisdom.