Following the announcement by Google late last year that it would digitize millions of books and make them available over the Internet for free, French President Jacques Chirac launched his own initiative, to put books in other European languages -- notably French -- online as well.

Chirac touted the need for cultural diversity which some took as a response to perceived American influence on the Internet. France's chief librarian Jean-Noel Jeanneney was more blunt, saying the Google measure carried the risk of "crushing American domination in the definition of how future generations conceive the world," according to a translated account from Le Monde.

Meanwhile, the British Library this month launched "Texts in Context" with more than 400 books online. Other notable online collections include the U.S. Library of Congress' American Memory Project.

Google plans to make books in the public domain (published before 1923 for U.S. books) available complete and unrestricted, while books still under copyright will have portions available. The project is under way with digitizing of books from Stanford, Harvard, Oxford, the University of Michigan and the New York Public Library.

In a very American-style business model, Google's program for book publishers promises to make new books more visible, attract new readers and increase book sales by allowing access to limited portions of content. Google will also provide ads related to book content, and will provide revenue to publishers based on ad traffic.

The beneficiaries of these initiatives will likely be everyone with an Internet connection, regardless of language, country or subject-matter interest.

Wayne Hanson  |  Editor