Google Inc. is giving researchers nearly a half-million dollars to test the academic value of its rapidly growing online library.

The grants announced Wednesday will be used to help pay for 12 humanities projects studying questions that will require sifting through thousands of books to reach meaningful conclusions.

Google is hoping the research will validate its long-held belief that making electronic copies of old books will bring greater enlightenment to the world. The company's critics, though, have argued that the Internet search leader has trampled over copyright laws to build a commanding early lead in digital books so it can boost profits.

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