Rolf Griebel, general director of the Bavarian State Library, said on Tuesday that more than a million out-of-print and public domain works in German, English, French, Italian, Latin and Spanish would be made searchable and readable on the Internet.
"With today's announcement we are literally opening the library to the entire world and bringing the real purpose of libraries -- namely the discovery of knowledge and books -- a deciding step further into the digital age," he said. "It is a fascinating challenge to present Germany's rich literary tradition to every reader in the world."
Books still subject to copyright law will not be available in full online, he said, adding that only excerpts would accompany the book's bibliographic information, including its title and author.
Founded in 1558 and currently with some 9 million volumes, the Bavarian library is one of the largest in the German-speaking world, and joins university libraries from Oxford, Madrid and Barcelona as well as a number of US institutions in allowing Google to index at least part of its collection.
Search engine has some critics
While the plan would make the books available to anyone unable to make the journey to southern Germany, not everyone in Europe is pleased with the idea of an American corporation cataloging European literature.
Jean-Noel Jeanneney, director of the French National Library, said Google's attempt to index world knowledge would lead to "cultural homogenization" as it would have a near monopoly on deciding which books are made available digitally.
It's a charge David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, denied.
"The goal ... of products like Google Book Search is to help users find information from content producers of every size," he said in a statement.
"We do this by complying with international copyright laws, and the result has been more exposure and in many cases more revenue for authors, publishers, and producers of content," Drummond added.
Google accused of copyright infringement
Google competitor Microsoft also leveled an attack at Google's book search project this week.
Top Microsoft lawyer Tom Rubin came as the two corporate titans step up their competition in both the software and online content markets.
Google "appears to be trying wherever possible to skirt copyright law's boundaries," Rubin, Microsoft's associate general counsel for intellectual property, wrote in a Financial Times opinion piece.
"This project may well bring significant commercial advantage to Google," Rubin said. "By contrast, those who own the copyrights in these works would gain little or nothing from Google's plan."
The Microsoft lawyer criticized Google's justification of its book scanning as "fair use" under US copyright law, calling it a "novel" interpretation that would stretch to countries where the fair use concept is not recognized.
Drummond said the company offered authors and publishers the opportunity to opt-out of the book search feature, adding that Google has more than 10,000 partners in publishing, and its newly acquired video-sharing Web site YouTube has recently tied up with the British Broadcasting Corp. and the National Basketball Association.