Turns out, there is.
My classmate Kevin wrote two excellent posts on Project Gutenberg, and the phrase "digitalizing books" caught my eye. In light of my earlier musings, this concept seemed promising. It didn't disappoint. I found an excellent article on the workings and philosophy of Project Gutenberg by Marie Lebert, part of which reads,
The books are digitized in "text" format...so they can be read easily by any machine, operating system or software. Digitization is done by scanning. The book is then proofread twice by two different people, who make any corrections necessary.
Digitization in text format means a book can be copied, indexed, searched, analyzed and compared with other books.Score! Digging a little deeper, I found that books are digitized using Optical Character Recognition (OCR), a computer intelligence software that translates scanned images of handwritten text into computer encoded text (see the Wikipedia article for a quick overview). So exciting! I had no idea that this existed! And you can even try OCR for free online! I CAN'T WAIT to try it myself. I'm TOTALLY geeking out about this.
This has huge ramifications for family history work; if all handwritten records with genealogical information could be digitized using this software, it would help people access the information so much easier. As far as digitizing books in general and what it means for computer intelligence and the philosophy of Project Gutenberg... I need to write another post. It's the "too much rock for one hand" concept.
I shall be posting again very soon.