The British Library receives more than one million visitors a year Thousands of pages from one of the world's biggest collections of historic books, pamphlets and periodicals are to be made available on the internet. The British Library has reached a deal with search engine Google about 250,000 texts dating back to the 18th Century.
It will allow readers to view, search and copy the out-of-copyright works at no charge on both the library and Google books websites.
The library gets more than a million visitors a year.
The works selected to be digitised date from between 1700 and 1870, and the project will take some years to complete, with Google covering the costs of digitising.
Among the first works to go online are a pamphlet about French Queen Marie Antoinette and Spanish inventor Narciso Monturiol's 1858 plans for one of the world's first submarines.
Google has similar partnerships with about 40 libraries around the world.
Library chief executive Dame Lynne Brindley said the scheme was an extension of the ambition of the library's predecessors in the 19th Century to provide access to knowledge to everyone.
"The way of doing it then was to buy books from the entire world and to make them available in reading rooms.
"We... believe that we are building on this proud tradition of giving access to anyone, anywhere and at any time.
"Our aim is to provide perpetual access to this historical material, and we hope that our collections coupled with Google's know-how will enable us to achieve this aim."
Director of external relations at Google Peter Barron said: "What's powerful about the technology available to us today isn't just its ability to preserve history and culture for posterity, but also its ability to bring it to life in new ways."
Google's plan to digitise copyrighted texts has run into serious legal problems in the US. Among critics were the Authors Guild of America and the Association of American Publishers.
The digitised works are just a small fraction of the library's collection which totals more than 150 million items representing every age of written civilisation, including books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages.