The German Digital Library wants to make millions of books, films, images and audio recordings accessible online. More than 30,000 libraries, museums and archives are expected to contribute their digitized cultural artifacts. The idea, in part, is to compete with Google Books. But will it work?

On a good day this reader gets through as many as 1,216 pages per hour. Hissing quietly, devouring book after book. Now and then it says, "Pffft."

This is a state-of-the-art robot at work. It automatically scans every book placed open in front of it. A slender wedge drops down to the fold, sucks in a page from left and right and lifts the goods. It's photographed and with a gentle puff of air -- pffft -- the robot flips the page.

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