Work to digitize an estimated 400,000 public-domain books in the University Library collection as part of the Google Books Library Project has passed the halfway point, Princeton officials said.

Google is working with a number of major libraries, including Harvard, Michigan, and Stanford, to digitize books and make them searchable by Internet users in what it calls “an enhanced card catalog of the world’s books.”

Princeton joined the project in December 2006. The University provides Google with a list of its books in the public domain (published prior to 1923). Google responds with a list of volumes to be scanned. While Princeton originally estimated that about 1 million of its 7.1 million books would be scanned over a six-year period, that figure has been reduced considerably, according to Richard J. Schulz, associate librarian for technical services. Some titles have been scanned from other library partners, he said, while others have been determined to be too fragile to leave Princeton.  

Six Princeton employees gather the books and, when necessary, provide barcodes for older materials that predate the library’s barcode-identification system. Google, which does not receive a fee from Princeton, is responsible for trucking the books to a scanning center and for digitizing them. The first two years of the work have gone “tremendously smoothly,” Schulz said.

University Librarian Karin A. Trainer said it would cost Princeton “tens of millions of dollars” to digitize the books in its collections, and the Google partnership allows the library to focus its own scanning efforts on rare books and manuscripts. “The Google project and our own digitizing work allow us to let the whole world into our library,” Trainer said.  

The University has been watching closely a federal lawsuit challenging Google’s ability to make available electronic copies of in-copyright material, including out-of-print and “orphan” books whose copyright holders cannot be located. Google reached a proposed settlement with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, but other parties have objected to the settlement. A court hearing is scheduled for Feb. 18 in New York.

­Deputy University librarian Marvin Bielawski said Princeton hopes to continue to partner with Google. “Overall, there could be terrific benefits going forward,” he said. But he said the University shares some of the concerns expressed about the proposed settlement.