Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Internet Archives: The Open Library

LibraryThing's Thingology Blog has an interesting post this morning about Open Library, an Internet Archives project.

"Imagine a library that collected all the world's information about all the world's books and made it available for everyone to view and update. We're building that library." (The Open Library, 7/17/07)

Intrigued, I selected King Lear and found 28 different entries. After refining my search to eng (chosen because there were 26 results for "eng" and only 2 for "English") I was able to peruse the "catalog" results and find more than one full text copy of the play. While it took some time to locate a title actually containing the play, I browsed: The plays of William Shakespeare in ten volumes, with corrections and illustrations of various commentators by Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 Johnson, Samuel, 1649-1703 Steevens, George, 1736-1800 Reed, Isaac, 1742-1807. Published in London, 1778, this particular volume (IX) was contributed by University of California Libraries and included the plays Troilus and Cressida, Cymbeline, and King Lear.

The graphics interface is visually appealing with full text selections dispayed as an open book. Users are able to manipulate the book using arrows, paging via your mouse, or investigate specific topics using the search box provided. Beginning on page 347, King Lear was the third of three plays in the volume so I tried, unsucessfully, to use the search box (it never returned any results). Instead of advancing through three hundred pages, I clicked my mouse toward the last third of the book, clicking the mouse over various pages to fast-forward, this method also displayed a "leaf" number, but the count was not the acutal page number. The display provides opportunity for magnifying the book and/or listening to an audio version; unfortunately while the links worked neither perk is yet available hence the "early technology preview" notice on Open Library's main page.

I have a few reservations concerning the Wikipedia-like atmosphere, but was overall impressed with the scope of the project. For those of us worried about copyright, from the About Us section:

"We hooked it up to the Internet Archive's book scanning project, so that you can read the full text of all the out-of-copyright books they've made available. And we hope to add a print-on-demand feature, so that you can get nice paper copies of these scanned books, as well as a scan-on-demand feature, so you can fund the scanning of that out-of-copyright book you've always loved." (About Us, 7/17/07)

There is no comparison to holding a book in my hand, but it was definitely interesting to look at a 229 year old copy of Shakespeare. I've bookmarked the site on my browser and will check back again.

Update: 7/18/07
More information about this project may be found at ACRLog: Open Library Opens

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