Monday, December 10, 2012

Finding And Using Free Digital Books – The Internet Archive and More

Did you know that over three million books have been digitized and uploaded to the Internet? Or that accessing and using them is free? To me, this library of ones and zeroes is one of the great resources on the web.

The Best Site is the nonprofit Internet Archive

Founded in 1996 by Brewster Kahle, this huge collection includes printed material of all sorts (including foreign language texts, pamphlets, and militaria), over 100,000 concert recordings (9,000 from Grateful Dead shows alone), and thousands of motion pictures and video (like home movies and old TV commercials). 

There is a “however . . .” here. If you’re looking for books published in the past ninety years the Internet Archive may not be able to help you. That’s because the vast majority uploaded to the Archive were published prior to 1923, which means, according to U.S. Copyright Law, they’re in the “public domain.” It won’t be until 2019 that books published in 1923 drop into the public domain. The following year, 1924 books become available, and so on (unless Congress changes the law). 

There are many 1923 to 2012 items available from the Internet Archive, but these tend to be government publications, academic material, and books that were not properly copyrighted in the first place. So if your subject matter is post-1922, then digital libraries may not be particularly helpful to your cause. That’s where WorldCat,  ILL, and Amazon may be of some assistance (more upcoming posts).

How to Take Advantage of the Internet Archive

When you open the site there is a search box on the left. Type in your subject, title, or author, and be sure to click “texts” in the box to its right. Be aware that the search WILL NOT look for individual words within a publication. Click Enter.

Tip: If nothing shows up on the search, try variations—different names, subjects, combinations.

If there is something available in the Archive, a list of results will appear. In my last post I mentioned a subject named Asbury, who had written an autobiography. A search brought up five listings—four of which were relevant. 

Confronted with four seemingly identical choices, which one to pick? I usually click on the one that has been downloaded most often. In this case (and on the day I’m writing this) the third entry has the most—309. So I click on that.

The next page has a lot of information about the book: who contributed it, who digitized it, even the type of equipment used to scan it. On the left side is a box that says “View the book,” and gives me several choices.

Your best bet is to click “Read Online” first. This brings up a reading copy that you can page through, and better yet, search for individual words. If it finds the word you want, it will show flags to indicate the location. If you only need a couple of pages, you can print directly from the reader by right clicking, then clicking “View Image,” and print each image page singly. As near I can figure, there is no way to save the entire “Read Online” file.

But, you can save it in another format. Do you want PDF? EPUB? Kindle? Full Text (HTML)? Pick the one that’s going to work best for you (I usually opt for the PDF), and follow the onscreen instructions.

Tip: If the scan you’re looking at is particularly dark or faded, try one of the other search results for that title.

If the file has been digitized by Google, the procedure for downloading is a little different. When you click on a Google PDF in the "View the book" box, it will take you to a Google Books page. Look over on the left side for a red box that says “Ebook – Free.” Move your cursor onto the box and hold it there without clicking. This will bring up another box, toward the bottom of which is a link “Download PDF.” Slide the cursor onto this link and then click on the letters “PDF.” A new page with a “Captcha” box appears. Type in the answer, click “submit,” and then you’ll be able to download the file.

One nice feature of the Google approach is that the page will show you an algorithmically-generated, illustrated list of “Related Books.” Sometimes there are nuggets to be found—be sure to check them out.

The Internet Archive is Not the Only Source for Free Digital Books

The Library of Congress  offers a selection. An Australian site has a links page called the Best World Free Digital Libraries. The Online Books Page, posted by the University of Pennsylvania, has an extensive list of digital books (most of which come from other collections). As part of their “Making of America” series, Cornell and the University of Michigan have a number of texts available (we’ll get into their magazine offerings in another post). And there are many more.

Tip: If a source you discover refers to a particular book, see if it’s available on the Internet Archive.

Next time we’ll find stuff using tools like WorldCat and Inter-Library Loan.

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