Sidestepping lawsuits by the US publishing industry that seek to derail a related effort by Google to scan copyrighted books, the company and its library partners said they would put up their first large collection of public domain works on Thursday.

Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Michigan and the New York Public Library have contributed US Civil War history books, government documents, the writings of Henry James and other books to the Google Print programme.

The books were scanned by the Mountain View, California-based company's book digitisation project and can be read in their entirety at http://print.google.com/. The text is searchable and users can save images of individual pages.

"Today, we welcome the world to our library," Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, said in a statement. "As educators, we are inspired by the possibility of sharing these important works with people around the globe."

Small beginning

"Any researcher or student, whether they're in New York or New Delhi, can now research and learn from these books that previously were only available in a library"

Susan Wojcicki,
vice-president,
product management, Google

The works are just a small fraction of the information that the Google Print project plans to eventually make available.

"Any researcher or student, whether they're in New York or New Delhi, can now research and learn from these books that previously were only available in a library," said Susan Wojcicki, vice -president of product management at Google.

The Google Print programme was unveiled a year ago involving the four great US libraries plus Oxford University to help users search the world's great books and to help authors and publishers promote their books in order to expand their sales.

Earlier this week, Google said it would soon resume scanning of in-copyright works with library partners as it seeks to create an electronic card catalogue of books for Google Print.

The initial focus, it said, was on public domain books, orphaned works and out-of-print titles as it seeks to downplay the controversy over scanning copyrighted works that are the subject of two US lawsuits filed by publishers and authors.

"These older books are the ones most inaccessible to users, and make up the vast majority of books - a conservative estimate would be 80%," Google said in a statement posted on the company's website on Monday.

"We think that making books easier to find will be good for authors, publishers, and our users," it said.