How the Google Books team moved 90,000 books across a continent

First by land, then by sea

The team considered air travel, but their transportation carts were about five inches too tall to fit in the standard air freight container. Plus, the cost would be about twice as expensive as ground shipping.

With land and air out, they set their sights on the sea. They’d ship the books from Jerusalem via sea freight to Google’s point of entry for customs clearance in Rotterdam, then by ground to Germany — a trip that would take about two to three weeks one way. While this meant they could use their special carts and stay within budget, there were still a number of challenges to address.

“When we scan a book, we transform the information within it, preserving it and making it searchable and shareable across the world,” Fernanda says. “But until we get those volumes into a scanning center, they’re incredibly fragile, vulnerable to shifts in temperature, humidity and handling. Some of these books were over 200 years old, and we needed to take great care in their transport.”

Refrigerated sea freight containers, also known as “reefers,” would do the trick, allowing them to control the temperature and humidity of the books as they made their way over sea. Fernanda would receive a notification if the temperature within the reefer exceeded 21 degrees Celsius (69.8 degrees Fahrenheit) or a humidity level above 50%.

“If the books were exposed to conditions outside of this range, they could develop mold, possibly rendering them unreadable, unscannable and unable to be reincorporated into the library’s collection,” she says. “Over the course of the project, I received a few of these notifications, but in each case, the reefer was able to correct itself and return temperatures to the appropriate range.”