The scanning race has started. Microsoft announced an agreement on Friday to scan 25 million pages from the British Library's collection that will eventually be made available on its MSN Book Search site next year.
Around 100,000 of the British Library's 13 million books will be digitised, according to a joint press release. MSN Book Search, launched earlier this month, is scheduled for a beta release next year.
The agreement comes as Microsoft's competitors, such as Google and Yahoo, are aggressively moving toward compiling online libraries of books amid copyright concerns. The titles to be scanned at the British Library are no longer under copyright restrictions.
Microsoft is contracting the Internet Archive, a non-profit group based in San Francisco that works on digital preservation projects, to do the scanning, said Richard Boulderstone, director of e-strategy at the British Library. Microsoft is not paying for access, but the library will benefit, as it has been working for the past 10 years on digitisation.
Despite a decade of work, only 0.2 percent of the institution's vast collection has been digitised, Boulderstone said.
"Actually, for us to have some of these commercial players come along and want to work with us on digitising these collections, it's fantastic," he added.
Google said on Thursday it had made a significant addition of scans from public-domain books to its Google Print site. The company is working from the collections of the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, the New York Public Library and Oxford University.
Google is also facing two copyright infringement lawsuits over the scanning of works in those collections, a practice that the company has halted but vows to resume, citing laws that allow certain liberties with the use of protected material. It said it will focus on out-of-print and older selections.
Yahoo and Microsoft have thrown their support behind the Open Content Alliance (OCA), a group based in San Francisco working to digitise public domain text and films. The Internet Archive is one member of the OCA. Yahoo has offered to index content while also funding the digitisation of a collection of American literature selected by the University of California.
MSN said last week it is talking with libraries and publishers about offering copyrighted material in its index. Microsoft eventually plans to build a business model around the search service for copyright works, but so far has said it doesn't intend to charge for searches of non-copyrighted material.