The European Commission sketched out plans on Thursday to build a European digital library to allow bookworms to leaf through millions of pages over the Internet.
The move is a home-grown alternative in a cultural battle with US-led schemes to turn the Web into a vast depository of books for readers in a broadband world.
When at one time Karl Marx had to pore over books in the British Library's famous round reading room to research Das Kapital, future philosophers will increasingly use Internet search tools to tap their way into history.
"Information technologies can enable you to tap into Europe's collective memory with a click of your mouse," EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement.
The EU executive will co-fund with member states the setting up of a Europe-wide network of centres to scan millions of pages into an electronic format for the Internet. It was not clear how much money would be invested into the project.
"Member states will have to do their bit by providing the basic means for digitisation," Reding said.
A public consultation by Brussels showed wide backing for the project but opinions were divided over copyright, particularly between cultural institutions and rights holders.
The Commission will make proposals on copyright by mid-year.
The digital library will hold 2 million books, films, photographs and manuscripts by the end of 2008, rising to at least 6 million by 2010.
The EU project faces several transatlantic rivals.
Internet search engine Google has a Book Search project with libraries such as Harvard University, the Bodleian in Oxford, and the New York Public Library to digitise books.
Another competitor is software giant Microsoft, which has announced an agreement with the British Library to make 100,000 out-of-copyright books freely available on the Internet.
First Published: Mar 02, 2006 23:22 IST