In July 2004, Google began quietly scanning and digitizing Michigan's library. Five months later, in December 2004, the company officially announced the "Google Print for Libraries" project. (After the effort hit snags and received some bad press, it was rebranded "Google Book Search.") Google partnered with five major libraries--Michigan, Stanford, Harvard, Oxford's Bodleian, and the New York Public Library--in an attempt to scan the pages of 15 million volumes. These digital books would be kept and indexed in a Google database, which would be made available, for free, to the public.
The scope has changed in the intervening years. Initially Google planned to scan the 15 million books in six years. That projection was revised upwards to more than 20 million books, and the New Yorker recently reported that Google is now aiming to scan at least 32 million books, besting the number of titles in the largest bibliographic database, WorldCat. It hopes to finish within ten years. As one Googlehead told the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin, "I think of Google Books as our moon shot."
The whole thing is quite similar to what is happening to the music industry, right down to the copyright lawsuits.