The AccessMyLibrary.com service steers people using general search engines, such as Yahoo Inc. and Google Inc., to digitized articles available through their local public libraries. People also can go directly to AccessMyLibrary.com to access the material.
The service is scheduled to be officially announced in beta next week at the American Library Association conference in Chicago.
"This program was drawn out of our library advocacy strategy," Gordon Macomber, president of Thomson Gale, which is part of The Thomson Corp., said. "We're opening up a channel for millions of Americans to get access to content that they're entitled to, but don't know how to get."
Content owned by Thomson Gale, one of the largest providers of library reference information, had been available only through local libraries' websites. To help boost traffic, the company has made its content searchable by web crawlers, so it can be displayed among general search results.
People who click on the links will be directed to AccessMyLibrary.com, which will authenticate that they are members of a library before retrieving the information. The library must be a customer of Thomson Gale, headquartered in Farmington Hills, Mich.
The articles are stored in the Thomson Gale database, but the system is integrated with library web systems in order to confirm people requesting the articles are library members. Searchers need to have the same password or library card number used in accessing local-library websites.
About 5,000 U.S. libraries are participating in the test of the service, which is expected to be finished in about six months. Thomson Gale has about 60,000 library customers in 60 countries.
Although libraries offer the same information on their sites, the general public often doesn't think of them first when searching for articles, Macomber said. Because state and federal funds are often based on library usage, this can have a financial impact.
"There's a big shift toward virtual library access, and most all of the libraries out there have one or more virtual library products to offer," Macomber said.
Thomson Gale plans to eventually include its encyclopedias in the new services. The company's publications focus mostly on the humanities and include the New Catholic Encyclopedia and the Dictionary of American History.
Thomson Gale owns the rights to all the information in its database, so there's no threat of copyright violations, Macomber said.
Google, Mountain View, Calif., announced late last year a project in which the company has been digitally scanning parts or all of the collections of Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan and The New York Public Library. The project has raised concerns among book publishers worried over potential copyright violations, despite assurances from Google.
"In digitizing books, it remains to be seen what Google is going to do with that content," Macomber said.
In terms of digital books, Thomson Gale focuses on scholarly works. The company recently finished digitizing the British Library's collection of English-language books published in the 18th century, Macomber said. Such works are in the public domain.