Category Archives: Free Content

The British Library provides access to over a million vintage images on Flickr

More and more copyright-free images and illustrations are available freely online without a library card. Many of these initiatives are driven by libraries and various other government institutions. As they should be.

The British Library’s archive on Flickr includes over a million free images and illustrations. They are drawn from 17th, 18th and 19-century books in the Library’s collection, located in the main building in London. The archive is divided into themes including, among many others, Women of the World, Decorations & Design,  Space & SciFi, Architecture, Portraits, Book Covers, Illustrated Lettering, Children’s Book Illustration, Technology & Industry, and Fauna.

For other sites offering free vintages images, consider also the following:

How enormous is Sci-Hub? And does its size signal the end of paywalled research?

According to biodata scientist Daniel Himmelstein (University of Pennsylvania ) and his colleagues, who recently conducted a survey that investigated the impact of the web site and its repository, “Sci-Hub can instantly provide access to more than two-thirds of all scholarly articles.  The self-proclaimed “first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers” (as stated on its homepage)  continues to grow rapidly while still facing legal issues.

Himmelstein’s study (published on July 20th on PeerJ Preprints) found that Sci-Hub’s reach is even greater for research papers protected by a paywall (instant access is provided for 85 percent of all papers published in subscription journals). In a conversation with ScienceInsider, Himmelstein said that the results of the study could mark ‘the beginning of the end” for paywalled research.

When asked if librarians would ever endorse Sci-Hub over paying for journal access, Himmelstein said: “I don’t think librarians would ever endorse it, given the legal issues of instructing someone to do something illegal. But in a way they already do. There are many libraries nowadays that can’t provide 100% access to the scholarly literature.”

When asked if there was anything publishers could do to stop new papers from being added to Sci-Hub, he said: “There are things they could do but they can really backfire terribly. The issue is, the more protective the publishers are, the more difficult they make legitimate access, and that could drive people to use Sci-Hub.”

Children’s Books Online: The Rosetta Project — the largest collection of illustrated antique books online

The 10 collections of online sites available to readers for free downloading and reading that we have considered over the past months have almost exclusively focused on books for adults. A number of these sites do include a section for children. However, some sites are devoted exclusively to children’s books, such as Children’s Books Online (CBO), and those books mostly done in a classic time for such writing: between 1880 and 1930.

CBO describes itself in the briefest of terms: It is a library of illustrated books begun in 1996 by just one person with a handful of books. Today it is a volunteer-driven organization of almost 100 residing throughout the world (see long list o volunteers here) who assist in website development and maintenance, and translating many of the titles into a variety of languages. The extent of the collection is not given but I would estimate several thousand volumes have been digitized. Each page of a book is downloadable as a jpg file. Books can be accessed by chapter and even image.

Titles are indexed by age, interest and reading levels, which are categorized from Pre-Reader to Adult.  In addition, downloads (as zip files) of almost 500 titles are available for purchase. CBO relies on donations and grants for this work.  The collection is certainly unique in presenting what many children’s literature specialists consider the Golden Age of the genre.

When ebooks are ‘free’ through libraries for two weeks (like Harry Potter)

We learned last week that Pottermore will make J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone ebook available to UK library users for two weeks in order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its publication. The ebook will be available through library distribution apps OverDrive, BorrowBox from Bolinda and Askews & Holts from June 26 until July 7. During that time, the U.K. library system (which signed an agreement with Pottermore) will offer unlimited number of loans to the first book in the massively popular series.

We also learned that Pottermore is supplying participating libraries with posters, flyers, social media materials and competition ideas to help them publicize the free loans (as they are called) and, in essence, help publicize the book and the series in digital format.

Those of us who have worked with ebook vendors and engaged publishers (big and small) to consider alternative ebook business models (for consumers and especially for libraries) have long been aware of the resistance on the part of established, traditional publishing houses to expose their content digitally in ways other than through the one copy-one user model.

So when a publisher such as Pottermore decides to provide a Harry Potter title in ebook format through a library in ‘unlimited’ ways (which means no restrictions are placed on how many readers can read at the same time during the two-week period, and only during that period), the first reaction is certainly one filled with hope that a new trend may be on the horizon showing signs that publishers hesitant to embrace less restrictive ebook models in libraries are embracing innovation by making some bold digital moves. What’s more, some are touting this move as a great way to ‘support’ public libraries in the U.K., which have been struggling.

The second reaction, however, is one of hesitation. Continue reading When ebooks are ‘free’ through libraries for two weeks (like Harry Potter)

Ten sites that give free access to quality ebooks librarians and publishers should know about [readers, too]

Since launching the Free Content Alerts column, which highlights sites and platforms where ebooks and econtent may be downloaded and read for free, we’ve brought to our readers’ attention 10 great sites to recommend to anyone looking for quality content online in digital format, particularly those unable to access quality ebooks through their local libraries, ranging from classics to professional literature and from popular fiction to scholarly monographs.

These are the ten sources highlighted thusfar on NSR.

Open Culture, a mission to collect the content that is free and [arguably] the ‘best in class’

Eserver.org, an alternative niche for free quality content (including ebooks) in the arts and humanities

Unglue.it, an ebooks site that functions like a true participatory democracy

Knowledge Unlatched, supported by libraries, and made available in pdf to any reader, anywhere in the world

Hathitrust Digital Library, a major source of open scholarship with legal issues seemingly behind it

Smashwords, where indie authors may price their books at ‘free,’ but ‘free’ isn’t the core mission

World Public Library, an impressive collection of free books and documents but a cumbersome registration process

Internet Archive, a nonprofit offering an overwhelming amount of free content (and triggering some copyright debates)

B-OK (formerly Bookzz), probably the world’s largest free ebook site with a minimally-invasive registration process

Project Gutenberg, public domain titles free to be read and re-distributed in the U.S. (but not necessarily throughout the world)

Europe Announces That All Scientific Papers Should Be Free by 2020

This week was a revolutionary week in the sciences – not because we discovered a new fundamental particle or had a new breakthrough in quantum computing – but because some of the most prominent world leaders announced an initiative which asserts that European scientific papers should be made freely available to all by 2020.

This would legally only impact research supported by public and public-private funds, which are a vast portion of the papers produced annually; however, the goal is to make all science freely available.

Read the rest of the story here.

Open Culture — A mission to collect the content that is free and [arguably] the ‘best in class’

Up to this point, NSR’s Free Content Alerts column has focused almost exclusively on ebooks. Of course, though, the Internet is an expansive place and offers a seemingly endless variety of choices. Openculture.com attempts to partially fill the gap between ecollections and all the variety of other material that has been brought together across the Web. It describes itself this way: “Open Culture editor Dan Colman scours the web for the best educational media. He finds the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons & movies you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between. Daily email updates about the site are available as well.” Continue reading Open Culture — A mission to collect the content that is free and [arguably] the ‘best in class’

Dutch startup Sweek—a free reading and writing platform—welcomes 100,000th user

From a Sweek press release:

Sweek, a platform for free reading and writing, has welcomed its 100,000th user last week, since the official launch at the Frankfurt Book Fair seven months ago. Meanwhile, readers and writers from over 100 countries are already using Sweek. Both aspiring and top authors have joined Sweek, and traditional publishers are starting to use Sweek as a talent-scouting platform. Continue reading Dutch startup Sweek—a free reading and writing platform—welcomes 100,000th user

Library for All — not another ebook collection, but rather an idea

It has been a pleasure and an honor to write about various free ebook collections for the No Shelf Required community. I believe we share a number of commonalities about  reading and ways to make it more accessible apart from historical models  based on a buyer-customer relationship. The nine free e-collections I profiled thusfar have various models by which they operate, but all wish to disseminate information outside of  traditional methods.  And, to go a step further, I would be safe to assume that those of us who read NSR, share Mirela Roncevic’s passion to bypass the corporatized process by which print or electronic books are made available worldwide.  From our perspective, Mirela’s efforts to show that a country in its entirety can be a “Free Reading Zone” were not merely experimental, but could well be the leading edge of a future norm. Thus it is, dear readers, that, in my tenth post, I want to present you with not another collection, but rather an idea. Continue reading Library for All — not another ebook collection, but rather an idea

Time travel with the ancient aural art

Among the literary arts, poetry almost always needs oral performance to bring even the solitary reader close to the text. In efforts to record poetry, too its authors almost always are the best choices for performing their own works. This week, take a poetry break and learn about lives and dreams from the mouths of the poets giving their literary art immediacy, whether you are generations away or remember seeing their lines in print.

Amiri Baraka read at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Decker Library, 14 September 1992, an occasion and performance preserved in its entirety. The MICA Archives include more than 100 readings and lectures by poets and artists. Many of the recordings here were made at local performances in Decker Library, including this 1973 reading by Allen Ginsberg. Listening to Baraka and Ginsberg across a quarter- and nearly a half-century offers something more compelling than nostalgia: these poets committed vestiges of their immediate social and political contexts to sounds that resonate with listeners in the here and now.

Recording of William Carlos Williams are preserved at the University of Pennsylvania’s PennSound Center. These tiny, literally seconds-long audios offer him reading his “The Red Wheelbarrow,” on three different occasions, spanning 1942 to 1952. One poet, one poem, and three different pacings give listeners the opportunity to appreciate how each time we express ourselves, the expression is just a bit different, perhaps easier—or more difficult—for the listener to access. PennSound also contains a treasure trove of Adrienne Rich reading her works on a great number of occasions, including this 1988 poem, “Divisions of Labor,” that speaks of matters that continue to be trenchant nearly 30 years on. Also available at PennSound, Francisco X. Alarcón’s “Letter to America”, published first in 1991, is indeed an anthem for today, both in word and performance. Continue reading Time travel with the ancient aural art

EServer.org, an alternative niche for free quality content (including ebooks) in the arts and humanities

At this point in our journey into major sources of free ebooks, we are able to see that some of the collections operate as academic consortia, some use board members to set policies, and still others strive to be a true community of  users (e.g., Unglue.It). This week, we will again focus on the last group because my sense is that this approach to sharing knowledge is where the sympathies of those advocating true free access are. Therefore, I’ve chosen eserver.org.

Eserver is (justifiably) proud of its community and describes itself this way: The EServer is a growing online community where hundreds of writers, artists, editors and scholars gather to publish works as open archives, available free of charge to readers.

In a publishing industry dominated by corporate publishing of books and ebooks, value is placed on works that sell to broad markets. Quick turnover, high-visibility marketing campaigns for bestsellers, and corporate “superstore” bookstores have all made it difficult for unique and older texts to be published. (Further, the costs this marketing adds to all books discourage people from leisure reading as a common practice.) And publishers tend to encourage authors to write books with strong appeal to the current, undermining (if unknowingly) writings with longer-term implications. Continue reading EServer.org, an alternative niche for free quality content (including ebooks) in the arts and humanities

De Gruyter and major university presses make 500 books and journal articles across nine topical areas free through 2017

As part of their “Rights, Action and Social Responsibility” initiative, De Gruyter and a number of university presses are making books and journal articles across nine topical areas freely available (to download in PDF) until the end of 2017 on degruyter.com, more precisely here.

The topical areas included in the initiative are:  Constitutional History, Dissent, Truth & Ethics, Environmental Studies, Gender Studies, Geopolitics, Human Rights, Immigration & Urbanism and Islamic Studies.

The content includes more than 500 books and selected journal articles from Columbia University Press, Cornell University Press, Harvard University Press, Princeton University Press, University of Pennsylvania Press, Transcript-Verlag and De Gruyter. Access the content via this link.

Broadening access to these areas of scholarship enables more people, including non-academics, to address these issues in an informed manner: it helps to combat false news sources, to reflect on the nature of truth and ethics, and to understand the struggles of all members of society.

“Public debates surrounding immigration policy, climate change, international relations, and constitutional and human rights are currently at the forefront of the national discourse, especially, but not only, in the United States. Together, De Gruyter and its partners are keen to support a thoughtful and informed debate on these sensitive and serious issues,” said Steve Fallon, Director Publishing Partner Program.

Knowledge Unlatched, supported by libraries, and made available in PDF to any reader, anywhere in the world

This week, I’d like to highlight Knowledge Unlatched (KU),  a nonprofit in the U.K. that “offers a global library consortium approach to funding open access books” (according to Wikipedia). It shares a number of similarities with the HathiTrust Digital Library, featured on NSR last week, and provides a backdrop to KU’s business model.

KU began in 2012, after two years of exploratory work by founder Frances Pinter, who has owned a publishing house since 1973 (when she was 23). The Wiki on KU details its beginnings and growth, also well-covered in two blog posts (Griffith University and The Bookseller). What is of particular interest is that both collections rely on consortia of universities and colleges to maintain their services. Continue reading Knowledge Unlatched, supported by libraries, and made available in PDF to any reader, anywhere in the world

A necessary reminder: Sci-Hub continues to grow and more and more of its users attend affluent universities

“A research paper is a special publication written by scientists to be read by other researchers. Papers are primary sources necessary for research – for example, they contain detailed description of new results and experiments. Papers we have in our library: more than 58,000,000 and growing.”

So states the homepage of Sci-Hub, “the first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers.” Just who is downloading all these pirated papers? According to this article in Science Magazine, which is almost a year old but still intriguing and highly recommended to NSR readers not familiar with the unstoppable force of Sci-Hub: EVERYONE. Continue reading A necessary reminder: Sci-Hub continues to grow and more and more of its users attend affluent universities

HathiTrust Digital Library, a major source of open scholarship with legal issues seemingly behind it

This week, we take a closer look at the HathiTrust Digital Library. This collection is likely the most oriented towards academic researchers, largely because it was the product of 13 universities that made up the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (renamed the Big Ten Academic Alliance last year) and the University of California.

The Trust began in 2008 as the result of the digitization of “orphan books,” which started in 2004 by the Google Books Library Project and now consists of a partnership of 60 research libraries located in Canada, Europe and the U.S. (See www.hathitrust.org/community). The University of Michigan currently provides the infrastructure on which the digital content resides. The collection includes 15 million volumes, of which about half are books. Of those 7.5 million books, 5.8 million are in the public domain. Continue reading HathiTrust Digital Library, a major source of open scholarship with legal issues seemingly behind it

Smashwords, where indie authors may price their books at ‘free,’ but ‘free’ isn’t the core mission

smashwordsThe focus of this week’s Free Content Alert column is ebook distributor Smashwords, which occupies a unique niche in the world of free ebook collections in that its focus is indie ebooks. As stated on Smashwords’ website:

Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks.  We make it fast, free and easy for any author or publisher, anywhere in the world, to publish and distribute ebooks to the major retailers  and thousands of libraries. Continue reading Smashwords, where indie authors may price their books at ‘free,’ but ‘free’ isn’t the core mission

World Public Library, an impressive collection of free books and documents but a cumbersome registration process

WPL logo

We can see at this point in our Free Content ‘tour’ that ‘free’ ebook (or econtent) collections online are based on various premises (e.g., a true nonprofit or a quasi-nonprofit) and take different approaches to issues such as the need to register with the site, as well the ability to download items from the site. As I’ve learned more about DRM and ebook platforms over the past few years, I’ve also learned that the variations in how these collections operate are considerable and speak to models of access.

With that in mind, this week’s focus is on the World Public Library—a service that, contrary to the others considered so far in NSR’s Free Content Alerts (see Project Gutenberg, Bookzz, and Internet Archive posts), requires disclosing personal information to obtain an “e-Libray card”. Continue reading World Public Library, an impressive collection of free books and documents but a cumbersome registration process

ProQuest launches free access to its databases for researchers affected by travel ban

proquest_logo_186_notag

Kudos to ProQuest for this.

From a ProQuest press release:

No-charge access to ProQuest databases helps individuals continue their research and learning

ProQuest has launched a program to provide no-cost access to its databases for students and researchers who have been separated from their universities and libraries because of travel bans or other immigration changes. The company has an email hotline ContinueMyResearch@proquest.com where these displaced researchers can arrange for access to the materials they need to continue their work.

“ProQuest is an open and inclusive organization that takes its role in supporting research and learning very seriously,” said Kurt Sanford, ProQuest CEO. “We’re doing whatever we can to mitigate the interruptions facing our community of students and scholars around the world.” Continue reading ProQuest launches free access to its databases for researchers affected by travel ban

Internet Archive, a nonprofit offering an overwhelming amount of free content (and triggering some copyright debates)

 

internet archive

This week’s Free Content Alert column considers the Internet Archive, and it’s a bit complex. Not that I want it to be, but it typifies DRM issues. If you bear with me, I believe you’ll find the result worthwhile.

First, the straightforward part: Internet Archive (IA)  is a true nonprofit, founded in 1996, and headquartered in San Francisco. According to a lengthy wiki on IA, its size was 15 petabytes. (A petabyte is 10 to the fifteenth power in bytes, or a million gigs.) Its stated mission is to provide “universal access to all knowledge.” The basic stats are staggering. Wiki continues,

It provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, software applications/games, music, movies/videos, moving images, and nearly three million public-domain books…In addition to its archiving function, the         Archive  is an activist organization, advocating for a free and open Internet. The Internet Archive allows the public to upload and download digital material to its data cluster, but the bulk of its data is collected automatically by its web crawlers, which work to preserve as much of the public web as possible. Its web archive, the Wayback Machine, contains over 150 billion web captures. The Archive also oversees one of the world’s largest book digitization projects. Continue reading Internet Archive, a nonprofit offering an overwhelming amount of free content (and triggering some copyright debates)

B-OK, probably the world’s largest free ebook site with a minimally-invasive registration process

As NSR readers know, one of its overriding purposes is to be a passionate advocate for what could  be called ‘boundary-less reading’. By that I mean, e-reading liberated from the confines of space, time, and—increasingly—economic control by rapacious publishers and colluding library administrators whose model for reading demands that digitized books conform to the limitations of print in terms of availability and accessibility.

This radical departure in how to think about electronic reading  can free reading material from the requirements of location, platform, codes, passwords, and library cards and let people just read. There would no longer be a Library-Patron relationship, or a Vendor-Subscriber one. The high-tech simplicity of it all! This is possible when committed people join together.  Therefore, I dedicate this space (and a new column) to NSR‘s readership, who seek to read boundary-less.


Our tour last week began at the beginning, with Project Gutenberg. This week, I’ll describe what is probably the largest free ebook site: B-OK (http://b-ok.org/). It looks to be a short description. The research I did for this post yielded very little. Searches on Google and ProQuest’s Library Science database revealed essentially nothing. Their website is extremely sparse on background information as well and gives no history. However, they do say that they have 2.8 million ebooks and 52.5 million science articles. The vast majority of files are in PDF format. Continue reading B-OK, probably the world’s largest free ebook site with a minimally-invasive registration process