Project Gutenberg: putting the e- into free books

Blogger nearly crashed - an OLiA posting, after all this time! Oh, yes - OLiA is back, baby, inspired by the doughty Web 2.0 bloggers. So, to business...

Project Gutenberg claim to be "the first and largest single collection of free electronic books" and who am I to disagree. There are over 27,000 free books in the searchable Online Book Catalogue and over 100,000 titles available at listed associate sites. The Project's 'Mission Statement' is "to encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks" - an extremely worthy aim that would fit in exactly with OLiA's own mission statement, if we had one.

So, what's the catch? Restrictions on use? Well, not really - this is the text at the start of every eBooks: "This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License (sic) included with this eBook or online at" 

Incidentally, the Project Gutenberg site is a very good, practical and well organised example of a wiki. 


  1. Bill, I am going to be a wet blanket (if you can be a wet blanket on the Web). I do realise that Project Gutenberg can be really useful -- and in the days when I used a PDA I found it very helpful to be able to download books on to it to read on the train. But from a literature point of view, there are real problems with the quality of the texts on Project Gutenberg. As I understand it (and do correct me if I'm wrong), many of Project Gutenberg's texts are based on out of copyright material -- that's how they can provide the resource for free. If you're working in a subject, such as English literature, where it really matters to have a sound, reliable text, then anything you get through Project Gutenberg is going to be very unsatisfactory. Students tend to find it difficult to see why the textual status of an edition matters, and Project Gutenberg isn't going to help in that respect. There is also the point -- which has more purchase with students -- that Project Gutenberg texts are unannotated.

  2. Thanks for that, Gill - it's good to get the inside story, and this is exactly why Web 2.0 is so powerful. Out of interest, does anybody have anything positive to say about Project Gutenberg?Sorry about making you do the word verification and then be moderated, btw - I've gone back and made them open again.


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