Google has donated $3 million to the US Library of Congress, sponsoring a project to digitise "rare and unique" items and build an online library.

Google is the first private-sector contributor to the Library of Congress' World Digital Library (WDL) project. The Library of Congress will continue to seek contributions from other private-sector companies for the project.

The Library of Congress is looking to develop a plan to lay the technological foundations of the WDL, whose content will mostly be digitised unique items, such as manuscripts.

Not only books

Other items that will be digitised for the WDL include photos, maps, music and films, said Guy Lamolinara, a Library of Congress spokesman: "This isn't a book-scanning project," he said, adding that the WDL will contain works from the world's major libraries.

At this point, the project is in a very early stage, he said. The Library of Congress doesn't have a timetable for its completion, but it's safe to say it will be a multiyear endeavour, and it's unlikely that there will be anything for the public to see online next year, Lamolinara said.

It hasn't been determined either how much money will be required for the WDL, or how much financial backing will be provided by the US government, he said.

The library expects to have a better idea of the project's budgetary needs and timetable once it completes the technological foundation plan, which hasn't been started yet, Lamolinara said.

Track record

The Library of Congress in the past has pulled off Internet projects funded jointly by the government and private-sector donors. An example is the American Memory website, which has more than ten million digitised items considered rare and unique. The library raised $48 million from private-sector backers and received $15 million from the government for that project, which was launched in 1994 and is still ongoing, although the fund-raising part is finished, he said.

Potential donors to the WDL project should view their contributions as strictly philanthropic in nature, since the Library of Congress doesn't offer special incentives or rewards to get donations, he said.

Google's library-scanning activities have landed it in hot water recently. Google is digitising books from five major libraries, including books under copyright protection, to make them searchable online using the company's search engine. As a result, The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers have filed separate lawsuits charging Google with copyright infringement.

Google in the pan

Google Book Search for Libraries is a project to scan all or portions of the library collections of the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, The New York Public Library and Oxford University. Google says its users will be able to access the full text of books in the public domain, but only a few sentences of copyright books.

The Library of Congress will get special permission to include works in the World Digital Library that aren't in the public domain.

This isn't the first time Google and the Library of Congress have collaborated. The two organisations recently completed a project to digitise about 5,000 public-domain books, and Google will scan works considered of historical value from the Library of Congress' Law Library.