Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Open Library Project

On two different occasions in the last two days this subject came up, so I figured it was worth posting about.

A teacher I was speaking to talked about how difficult it was to read as you were scrolling through a document. Just a bit earlier in the day, I had been in a correspondence with a reader and the same issue had come up.

Well, I agree that scrolling and turning pages are two very different things, and I get eyestrain with the best of 'em. That's why I'm really excited about what's going on at the Open Library project.

The project, a non-profit run by Internet Archive and supported by the California Public Library, seeks to build a web page for every book ever published. Yes, that's right: every book ever published.

As they state on their site:

To date, we have gathered about 30 million records (20 million are available through the site now), and more are on the way. We have built the database infrastructure and the wiki interface, and you can search millions of book records, narrow results by facet, and search across the full text of 1 million scanned books.

Now, in addition to this being a completely audacious project of the highest magnitude, it's also a great lesson in how reading online will be a different sort of experience in the future. Because rather than just presenting the book as text -- like the admirable, but hard-to-read Project Gutenberg -- the books in the Open Library collection have actually been scanned into digital form in their entirety. Once you find the book you are looking for, you can actually flip through the tome just as if you were standing in the dusty old stacks of Widener Library.

I can only imagine were this might go with book-shaped PDAs and SmartPaper.

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