The University of Minnesota and eleven other universities in the US Midwest announced Wednesday that they have partnered with Google to digitize up to ten million bound book volumes as part of the Google Books Library Project.

The agreement will allow Google to digitize significant portions of many of the books in the general collections of libraries on the campuses of the 12 universities - all the schools in the Big Ten and the University of Chicago - that make up the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC). The University of Minnesota noted that each CIC library has also agreed to provide specialized content to Google to be digitized.

The move will double the number of universities participating in the Google Books Library Project, according to the CIC.

The library project is part of the larger Google Books Search project, in which the search-engine developer aims to create an online catalogue of books along with details on how to buy or borrow them.

For books that are not under copyright - generally books published prior to 1923 - or where the publisher has given permission, the entire book is made available online under the scheme. For the rest, Google offers excerpts from the books, according to the University of Minnesota.

"The University of Minnesota is making history today," said University of Minnesota provost Thomas Sullivan in a statement. "For our students and researchers, speedy access to printed volumes will change the face and pace of scholarly research. Digitizing these collections is also a public good and supports the land-grant mission of the University of Minnesota."

Wendy Pradt Lougee, librarian at the University of Minnesota and member of the six-person team that negotiated the six-year agreement with Google, said that the company's capacity for digitizing the books will far exceed the capability of any of the CIC universities individually. In addition, she described the project as one of the largest cooperative projects of its kind in higher education.

Google will fund the digitization of up to ten million volumes in the CIC collections; each of the CIC organizations will cover the costs of preparing the books for digitization. The University of Minnesota estimated the value of the partnership - in which Google will cover the costs of digitizing one million volumes at its library - at up to $60 million.