Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Books, free, on the internet?

Last week for Digital History we were asked to have a look at the Eaton’s Fall and Winter Catalogue from 1913-1914 and choose 6-8 books from pages 282 onwards. The challenge was to see if we could find full online copies of these books.
For the exercise I chose:

Rose in Bloom- Lousia May Alcott
The Pathfinder- James Fenimore Cooper
A Ladder of Swords- Parker
The Trail of ’98- Robert Service
A Child’s Garden of Verses- Robert Louis Stevenson
Wood’s Illustrated Natural History

Originally I had chosen primarily from the catalogues selection of non-fiction books because I thought that those were likely to be the most difficult to find and might be the most fun to research, especially considering the catalogue often does not provide the authors first name. As you can probably tell from the selection of books I ended up with, a fair number of those books I rather quickly gave up on.

I knew before I even began that Project Gutenberg and Google Books would be invaluable, in part because Bill told us so, however,I hadn’t thought of Archive.org as a source for these books. I decided, however, to start with a google search and work from there.

I started with Rose In Bloom for two reasons, first, I thought that I should try to start out easy, and second, Louisa May Alcott remains to this day one of my favourite authors. I started as I mentioned above with a google search, and the book was just as easy to find as I expected it to be, a few links down the page, I got a full text scan from google books which you can go visit for yourself. Whats particular exciting about this scan is the table of contents has actually been hyperlinked. Maybe I just haven’t spent enough time looking at google books but thats the first time I remember seeing that. Just to see how it fared elsewhere I hoped over to Project Gutenberg. They have text transcriptions of the book available in a variety of formats here. Whats even better is they have other Alcott books I’ve never read. I have this strange feeling that I’ll be putting them on the ereader and reading a lot of Alcott over the Christmas Holidays.

It rather quickly became apparent that I didn’t have the requisite patience to find the non-fiction titles I had chosen for myself, so I moved on to The Pathfinder by James Fenimore Cooper. This one I found first at Project Gutenberg, you can download or view it here. Google books also has a full view scan of the 1877 and 1883 editions of this book.

I decided next to check out the “Recent High Class Fiction.” I started with one I’d never heard of, A Ladder of Swords by Sir Gilbert Parker. I sucessfully pulled up the 1904 edition on Google Books but its only a limited preview. A Ladder of Swords is not available at all on Project Gutenberg, it isn’t even on the works of Gilbert Parker that they list. This struck me as the perfect time to hop in the wayback machine to see if I could find the book there. Thank heavens for the internet archive, I  found the full text of the book on this page, the text version is here. What I find particularly interesting, especially as someone who worked in the book business for seven years is the catalogue’s definition of recent. A Ladder of Swords published in 1904 is listed as “recent” fiction in the 1913-1914 catalogue. Today, that book would be considered ancient by bookstore standards. In fact, if a book is more than two to five years old it can be difficult to find in stores, in part because it may not even be in print anymore.

Next I chose a book I knew well, The Trail of ’98 by Robert Service. I found it easily on Project Gutenberg. You can go read it too if you follow this link. The book was only available in a limited preview on google books. I think because the scan google has is a recent republication. I was also able to find the book 

I decided to look for Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses because I wanted to see if there was anything different about the way books with pictures appear on the internet, as we’ve discussed the fact that images can make the copyright situation a little hairy. The text of the book was pretty easy to find on Project Gutenberg, and they actually even had an audiobook. It turns out that A Child’s Garden of Verses is very much in the public domain, so I was very easily able to find a full scan at google books. However, the scanned edition was not illustrated, so it did not include the pictures I loved as a child. None of the full editions on google books seemed to have illustrations.

Finally, I decided to actually look for one of the non-fiction books I had originally chosen.,Wood’s Illustrated Natural History. I was able to find a full scan of an edition of the book at Google Books, but it was not a general Natural History like the Eaton’s add mentions, instead this was an edition about birds, so I still hadn’t found the book in the catalogue. However, an author search on Google Books quickly yielded this book. Go figure the one I chose would be a relatively easy one to find.

One of the books I could not find in full text: Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book, it is still being published to this day and so was only available as a limited preview, or in snippet view.   Another book I was unable to find: Dr. Gunn’s New Family Physician. I was able to find references to the book but could not find the book itself.

In general, this search was surprisingly easy but I think what surprised me the most about this search is actually the availability of public domain audiobooks. Although I suppose it is logical to assume that if a book is in the public domain and can be reproduced textually, interested parties like LibriVox can make them into audiobooks. More than anything this search was particularly revealing about what is and is not available on the internet and about the nature of copyright. 

No comments:

Post a Comment