From the beginning of Google at the Stanford Digital Libraries Initiative in 1996 Larry Page and Sergey Brin wanted to build a searchable digital library of the world's books, but put the project on hold in order to launch Google's web search. In 2002 Larry Page returned to the project of digitizing the world's books and making them searchable. To do that he asked Marissa Mayer, Google employee no. 20 and Goggle's first female engineer, to help test the idea by turning pages to the beat of a metronome as he snapped digital photos. It took him 40 minutes to photograph all the pages of a 300-page book.
To research the project Page and a small team visited other book digitizing projects, including one at his alma mater, the University of Michigan. There the staff estimated that it would take 1000 years to scan all seven million books in the university library; Page estimated that he could do in it six years.
Page then hired a robotics company to build an automatic scanner that could handle books with fragile pages, and programmers at Google created a page-recognition program that could recognize the widest range of typefaces of various sizes in 430 different languages.
After discussions with several university libaries, Oxford University became the first institution to allow Google to scan their one million nineteenth century books over a three year period.
Brandt, The Google Guys (2011) Chapter 9, "The Ruthless Librarians."