Project Gutenberg is a fantastic resource, representative of humanity’s potential for learning coming into the digital age. It is hard to over-represent the importance of education to humanity’s continued progress in the 21st century, and hard to overestimate the impact tools like Project Gutenberg have on that potential equation.
Named after the location of the original printing press, Project Gutenberg’s goal is to spread literacy and digitize and archive important cultural works. Anyone can begin the process of uploading a book to be preserved and shared for future generations. There are over 56,000 titles available currently, in a wide range of formats, including most cultural classics.
There are also regionalized versions of Project Gutenberg, like Project Gutenberg Canada. These are set up as separate organizations, but are run in a very similar format.
One thing that is particularly cool to look at is their Top 100 list – you can see what the top downloads were for the last day, week or month. As of this writing, there were 3.1 MILLION books downloaded over the past thirty days. It is hard to overstate the value of making so many books embodying the depths of human knowledge and feeling available, for free, to a global audience. Almost any book a hundred years old or more (thereby falling outside of copyright) will be able to be found here – and if there’s something you feel is missing, it’s easy to go about getting it added to the list!
It is fueled mainly by volunteer efforts, and the digitized books come from a variety of sources, including other digitization efforts (Google did a bunch at one point), through its in-house publishing platform, and perhaps most interestingly, from a feeder charity called Distributed Proofreaders – if you want to help in their mission of digitizing parts of the worlds knowledge, you can sign up there and begin participating today.
Distributed Proofreaders has an active community of very helpful people who will help get you up to speed on performing first-round edits on books that have been scanned via OCR. The end product is the plain text files that populate Project Gutenberg’s shelves. They have produced almost 35,000 titles for Project Gutenberg to date. Individual contributions are tracked, so you can see the impact that you personally have made – it can be very cool to participate in these types of projects, knowing that you are helping to expand the base of freely available knowledge in the world. It doesn’t need to be a time-consuming activity – even spending 5 or 10 minutes a week going through pages will eventually add up to a pretty substantial contribution. Doing this is a great way to generate appreciation for the amount of work a wonderful resource like Project Gutenberg requires.
Anyone with a flair for translating – your services would be viewed as doubly valuable, for there are many works in original languages still requiring translation into English.
It is a registered 501(c)(3) charity in the US, so donations are tax-deductible. If you would like to contribute, you can do so here.