Books in Browsers: Brewster Kahle and E-Books

There is a lot of dis­cus­sion in the geneal­ogy world about e-books.

Of course, there are large book dig­i­ti­za­tion projects: Google Books and Inter­net Archive being the two best known. (In 2008, Microsoft can­celled a book dig­i­ti­za­tion project that had scanned more than 750,000 books.) While Google has got­ten into some legal hot water by mak­ing books that are under copy­right avail­able under an agree­ment with the Writ­ers’ Guild, which has not held up in court, the vast major­ity of books are in the pub­lic domain.

A great sum­mary of where we are in terms of e-books is the keynote speech (text and slides | see above for the video) that Brew­ster Kahle, founder of Inter­net Archive gave at the Books in Browsers con­fer­ence in Octo­ber 2010. Kahle talks about the trans­for­ma­tion from a paper book ori­en­ta­tion, through a device ori­en­ta­tion (the Kin­dle, for exam­ple), to a device-independent (browser) ori­en­ta­tion. His goal is to make books avail­able to all. He does this via dig­i­tiz­ing books and mak­ing them avail­able as follows:

  • Pub­lic Domain — Free — The Inter­net Archive now has over 2.8 mil­lion titles avail­able for free
  • Under copy­right (but out of print) — Borrow
  • In Print — Buy

One thing that sets the Inter­net Archive apart from Google Books, is that most of the titles (at least most that I have seen) are avail­able in mul­ti­ple for­mats. There’s PDF, of course, but also .epub (works in the Apple iBooks and Barnes and Noble reader soft­ware and the Nook and other ded­i­cated read­ers), .mobi (works in the Kin­dle reader soft­ware, the Kin­dle portable device, and other read­ers), black and white PDFs, HTML, and sev­eral other formats.

E-books have trans­formed genealog­i­cal research. If you haven’t used one, I encour­age you, the next time you are look­ing for a local his­tory, to con­sider using Google Books or Inter­net Archive. If the book was pub­lished in the US prior to 1923, it should in the pub­lic domain, and you may find it for free on Google Books or the Inter­net Archive now or in the future.

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