Five prestigious university and public libraries have reached agreement with Google Inc. to digitize millions of volumes in their collections and make portions of the text available for free to computer users online, the search giant plans to announce today.
The collaboration is likely to rekindle debate about the extent to which books should be available on the Internet. Some publishers worry that such efforts will depress sales. But the libraries say online access can be a boon to researchers and a benefit to people who do not have access to high-quality collections.
Initially, some of the libraries plan to make available the full text of books that are in the public domain while offering snippets or excepts of books protected by copyright.
The participating libraries include those at Stanford University, where Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin met as doctoral students and dreamed up the idea of the search engine (Stanford President John L. Hennessy is on Google's board); Harvard University; the University of Michigan, Page's alma mater; Oxford University in Britain; and the New York Public Library.
On the Internet, the books will be exclusively available through Google searches, company officials said. University officials said the books in digital form will also be made available to students and faculty members within their institutions.
"The goal of the program is to unlock the wealth of information that is offline and bring it online, and make it searchable via Google," said Susan Wojcicki, director of product management for Google Print. "Larry [Page] has been very interested in bringing books online even before he founded Google. This is a passion of Larry's."
When users type a search request, the results will include descriptive information making it clear whether the information came from a book, as opposed to a Web site or any other source.
At the New York Public Library, Google is picking up the cost of putting online thousands of the institution's 20 million volumes as part of a pilot project. Books selected for the project will be those no longer covered by copyright and are deemed to be of public interest.
"This is a historic moment for libraries everywhere and for this library in particular," said Paul LeClerc, president of the New York Public Library.
Google's program with Harvard, which has 14.6 million volumes, will also begin as a pilot program. Google plans to scan in about 40,000 volumes before Harvard decides whether to go forward with its entire collection.
Harvard officials said they like the idea of making their books more widely available, but they are concerned about potential damage from the conversion process as well as the possibility that books could be lost. Harvard officials also said they want to learn more about the reaction of the publishing community before proceeding further with Google.
The University of Michigan is making its entire collection of 7.4 million volumes available to Google for scanning and searching by computer users.
A small sample of books from the University of Michigan would be available online beginning today, Wojcicki said. Books that are still covered by their original copyright will be searchable, but only a sentence or two will be accessible via search. Older books in the public domain will be available to be read or searched in their entirety on Google, but they will not be readily available for printing.