updated 1/31/2007 7:56:19 PM ET 2007-02-01T00:56:19

Scholars and others interested in flipping through some of the Library of Congress’ most fragile books will be able to tap the knowledge without damaging the artifacts.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said Wednesday the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awarded a $2 million grant to the world’s largest library for a program to digitize thousands of works with a major focus on “brittle books.”

The project supplements other efforts at the Library of Congress along with private companies such as Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. Those massive book digitization projects, however, have typically shied away from materials in vulnerable conditions.

The new “Digitizing American Imprints” program seeks to identify best practices for handling and scanning those books and collections, according to its managers.

“It is inspiring to think that one of these books, many of which are in physical jeopardy, might spark the creativity of a future scholar or ordinary citizen who otherwise might not have had access to this wealth of human understanding,” Billington said in a statement.

Scanning is expected to begin within a few months.

The library also plans to develop suitable page-turner display technology and the ability to scan and display book fold-outs.

The new project will also digitize American history volumes, U.S. genealogy and regimental histories that hold personal collections from the Civil War period, and six collections of rare books including the Benjamin Franklin Collection.

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