A free library of classics

If you’re not familiar with Project Gutenberg, it’s worth taking a look.  It’s an online compendium of public domain books, all accessible to anyone for free.  Because in the US, copyright extends several decades past the death of the author (and the author’s estate can extend it), books in the public domain tend to be pretty old.  Of course, PG doesn’t have a piggy bank big enough to pay out royalties on copyrighted work, so it sticks to what it can get for free.

I’ve known about PG for a few years now — though it has existed for over 15 30 years — and have downloaded a couple of books, which I have yet to read.  Personally, I think I like real, physical books too much to read ebooks often.  With ebook readers, though, it sounds a lot more viable — screens made to read more like paper, a size closer to a book, and so forth.  So when I ponder the possibility of getting a toy like the Kindle (and thwarting its overpriced Kindle bookstore in various ways), I can’t help but drift back to Project Gutenberg.

I’ve known about Distributed Proofreaders for quite a while, too; after all, PG plugs them on their main page.  DP is the biggest provider of ebooks for the project — they provide an interface for thousands of volunteers worldwide to help create ebooks, page by page, from scanned images of books.  Every book goes through at least two stages of proofreading and two of formatting, in addition to the postprocessing stage where they turn the book into various ebook formats (plain text, html, pdf, plucker, etc.).  Anyone can sign up to be a proofreader — the number of stages you’re eligible to work on increases as you gain more experience.

All of which to say, I’ve thought now and then about joining DP, but never quite worked up the guts to do it.  I finally signed up yesterday and have edited just shy of 20 pages so far (DP suggests ‘a page a day’, but I’m impatient, I guess).  New proofers can work on specially marked books to get detailed feedback from more experienced folk.  I did some of those in English and in French as well as a few from ‘easy’ or ‘average’ projects.  I’m excited about proofing in French, though I think I’ll stick with first-round proofing on those, just to be sure someone whose French is better than mine can double-check my work.

We’ll see how it goes from here.  It feels pretty cool to think I’m part of a big project that’s compiling a massive library of classics for anyone to access for free.


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