The British Library has signed a deal with Google that will see web users given online access to a collection of historic books and leaflets.

Under the deal, which is not financial, the search engine will index and igitise thousands of out-of-copyright texts that date as far back as the 18th century. Web users will then be able to search for and read these texts online for no charge.

Google, which already has similar deals with more than 40 libraries around the world, will be responsible for covering the cost of digitising the texts and creating two electronic copies, one for itself and one for the library.

The search engine is currently in discussions with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers after the pair filed separate class-action lawsuits objecting to Google's practice of digitising library books without always getting permission from copyright owners. In October 2008 Google and organisations surprisingly reached an agreement to settle the matter. However, creating a proposal that all parties agree on is proving extremely difficult.