The World’s Biggest Free e-Library is still thriving and growingProject Gutenberg is one of the true gems of the internet for anybody who likes to read literature, or comics, or classic sci fi, or browse magazines of a different era. It was created in 1971, which was not only long before there was a World Wide Web, it was even before there were PC’s or Macs. (The first ebooks were text-only files in all capital letters, not the easiest format to read, but that was the state of computing then.) It has since grown, but its mission remains the same, to make it easy to find and read books that are in the public domain.
Here are 13 facts you probably didn’t know about Project Gutenberg (PG).
1. The Numbers
By the time you read this, Project Gutenberg will have surpassed 50,000 books (49,754 as I edit). As internet statistics are concerned, these sound like small potatoes, but for readers it means you can have a collection the size of a city library on your desktop (or in your pocket). The books range from venerated classics to totally unknown works, to vintage magazines, photo books, books on writing, classic science fiction, romance, children’s books, and much more. Since most of these books have expired copyrights, most date from before 1924, but newer books are also included. (For example, books, reports, and other documents (including photos) by the U.S. government have no copyright. Recently, the CIA World Factbooks from 1991 to 2010 were added to the collection.)
2. Finding Books
There are several ways to find books on Project Gutenberg:
- Use the “Search Book Catalog” search bar on the top of any page on the site.
- The “Search Project Gutenberg” page (access it from the left sidebar) allows you to see the current most popular books, the latest books, and a random book browser.
- Click on “Book Categories” to browse in roughly 300 different categories.
- “All Categories” takes you to the websites various info pages, including various other worldwide book projects, but not to books.
But, you can also use Google (or other search engines) to search Project Gutenberg. First restrict the search to the PG site by using the search term:
site:www.gutenberg.org and then add the name of the author or title in quotation marks: e.g.
"Jack London". (In other words, type or tap:
site:www.gutenberg.org "Jack London" in Google or Bing.
3. Read or Preview Online
You don’t actually need a reading app to enjoy these books; you can read many of them right in your browser. Just click on
Read this book online - HTML. The HTML version likely includes images as well as text.
This is a great way to preview books in your browser before downloading them to your computer, tablet or phone. Unlike those previews in your online bookseller’s website, the preview won’t stop right when it gets interesting. You can read as much as you like.
4. Read ePub, Kindle and Text Formats
You can read PG books with your Kindle or Nook device or with reader software on desktop or laptop computers, phones or tablets (iPads and iPhones included). The text versions can also be viewed in any text or word processor.
Most books are included in ePub format (the mostly widely shared format), Kindle format (also known as mobi files), and plain text. (PDF appears to have fallen by the wayside.) All the formats are normally included with and without images. Your choice would probably depend on your storage space on your device and your reading software.
5. Save Your Books in DropBox, Google Drive or OneDrive
You can quickly save your books online to DropBox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. Then you can share the same book between devices, or just wait and download when you’re ready to read the book. You can save several books in a visit, then read them at your leisure, whenever you’re ready. You can also share with friends, too.
To save your book to DropBox, just click on the DropBox icon next to the version of the book you want. If it’s your first time, you will need to give permission for Project Gutenberg to save files in your DropBox account online. It will also automatically create a folder called
gutenberg in your DropBox Apps folder to hold all your books.
The process is similar for saving to both Google Drive and OneDrive, except that PG doesn’t create a new folder before sending the file. Somehow, having a specified file feels slightly more secure to me, but that may be a myth. (To learn about myths, Project Gutenberg has 351 books of and about myths in English, plus a handful in Greek and a couple in Chinese.)
6. Audio Books
Audio Books are available on Project Gutenberg, too; both “Human Read” files and others with computer generated voices.
7. Use the mobile site from your phone
If you are searching from a phone, try the URL
http://m.gutenberg.org for the mobile version of the site. It’s a quick and easy way to search for books, including the latest uploads.
8. Use image search with Project Gutenberg books
Since Project Gutenberg books are all in the public domain, you can use Google (or Bing) image search to find free illustrations for your blog or website (or desktop publishing, too). Go to Google Image Search. To limit the search to Project Gutenberg, you type this text into the search bar:
site:www.gutenberg.org, then add whichever search terms you want to search for. (Note that there is no space between “site:” and “www.gutenberg.org”.)
You can even specify the title of the book you want to search through, by adding the title in quotation marks:
site:www.gutenberg.org "Alices Adventures in Wonderland".
You can do a more general search by putting an author’s name in the quotes, instead. Here the search engines vary. In Bing Image Search, adding the author name finds images of the author, then some images from the books. In Google’s Image Search, the author’s name finds images of varying authors, but adding the word books (as in “Washington Irving books”) finds images from that author’s books.
With a lot of children’s books, technical books, magazines, and illustrated classics, there is a surprising amount of artistic material on the site, most of it in black and white illustrations.
Oh, excuse me, I just got distracted looking at Charles Henry Lane’s “All About Dogs,” particularly R. H. Moore’s illustrations. This is the most difficult part of writing about Project Gutenberg – the distractions. See what I’m looking at by searching
site:www.gutenberg.org "all about dogs".
9. Getting Daily Updates
There are many ways to keep track of the new books added to Project Gutenberg daily:
- On Twitter: follow @gutenberg_new, which tweets each book as it’s posted.
- Facebook: Go to the Facebook page, New Project Gutenberg Books and Click on Like to follow announcements of new books.
- If you use Feedly (or most other RSS readers), do a search for
www.gutenberg.comand the option for following new book announcements should show up.
See the New Publications Feeds page for more options.
10. Project Gutenberg’s Blog
Project Gutenberg has a blog! Who knew? (You can’t find it on their home page.) It’s the Project Gutenberg News. They get no extra points for creative naming, but it works.
11. PG’s Markup Language
Project Gutenberg has even developed its own markup language (PGTEI) to help speed up the creation of ebooks in HTML, Kindle and ePub formats. See the blog post.
12. You Can Help!
Volunteers are always needed for proofreading books and encoding them into PGTEI. But, if you can’t offer time, you can support by clicking on the Donate button.
13. Get New Books, Too
Not all the books on Project Gutenberg are old. They also sponsor the Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Press for U.S. writers. You can publish your own books on Project Gutenberg and still retain copyright and other rights (world-wide distribution, translations, and film rights, for example). These books are not in the public domain, but are free for download. (Again, you wouldn’t find this from PG’s home page.)
Unlike Project Gutenberg’s public domain works, these books are PDF files, and have specific publishing requirements, but publishing and distribution are free.
Lagniappe: Free Tip #14, not just for Project Gutenberg
If you are reading books on your PC (or Mac) I recommend downloading and using Calibre as your book reader. It’s much more than a book reader, though, because it can organize your ebooks, open up various types of ebooks, and even translate them between formats. For writers, it can also help you create ebooks, too. Best of all, it’s an easy-to-use book reader – you can install it and be reading in a few minutes.
All drawn illustrations were found in various books available on Project Gutenberg.
Title illustration is “Girl Thinking Hard” from 7 Ages of Childhood. Image by Susan William Smith, book by Jessie Willcox Smith, verses by Carolyn Wells. New York: Moffat, Yard and Co., 1909
The Project Gutenberg sidebar and The Tale of Two Cities detail are screen clippings, made by the author.
“Girl Reading a Book” (under a tree) is from The Child’s World by Hetty S. Browne, Sarah Withers, & W. K. Tate. Richmond, VA: Johnson Publishing Co. No date given.
“A Man Reading an Alphabet Book,” from A Moral Alphabet by Hilaire Belloc. Illustrated by Basil Blackwood.
“A Poor Reader,” image by J.B.P., from Punch, or the London Charivari, Vol. 101, Oct. 24, 1891.
Man hitting another over the head with a book, from Punch, or The London Charivari, Vol. 98, April 12, 1890.
“The Linking Gloon Playing the Bassoon,” from In My Nursery, by Laura E. Richards. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1890.
Bookshelf image is from Citizenship, A Manual for Voters by Emma Guy Cromwell, 1920.