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.

EServer home page The EServer (founded in 1990 at Carnegie Mellon as the English Server), attempts to provide an alternative niche for quality work, particularly writings in the arts and humanities. Based at Iowa State University since 2003, it offers 50 online collections on such diverse topics as art, architecture, race, Internet studies, sexuality, drama, design, multimedia, and contemporary cultural studies. More from the site: “In addition to short and longer written works, we publish hypertext and streaming audio and video recordings. We offer advanced database-driven web publishing technologies to authors and editors who publish with us. Our collections grow as increased membership has new works to publish with us, and as we teach new members how to publish works to the Web and to the more than two million readers who visit our site per month. According to Alexa, this makes us among the most popular arts and humanities websites in the world.”

The site provides much information about its organization in a comprehensive list of topics. Among these is Eserver’s view of copyright, which I believe you’ll find laudable:

  1. Copyright should exist for the public good.
  2. Fair use and other relevant provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976 must be preserved in the development of the emerging information infrastructure.
  3. Libraries, schools, universities and archives must have full use of technology in order to preserve our heritage of scholarship and research..
  4. Licensing agreements should not be allowed to abrogate fair use authorized in the copyright statute.
  5. Educators and librarians have an obligation to educate information users about their rights and responsibilities under intellectual property law.
  6. At present, too many works are presently too inaccessible to average readers.

Each of  these points are expanded on the site, but  I wanted to give you a feel for how much in-sync this group is with the beliefs of other contributors to NSR—not to mention Mirela’s! Further, though Eserver does use the Creative Commons Licenses  to recognize copyright holders and readers, Eserver has been exploring more creative agreements that are still based on solid jurisprudence (see http://about.eserver.org/CreativeCommons). In addition, I found no mention of DRM (remember that horsefly in the ointment?). Therefore, there should be the opportunity to download content, especially as Eserver emphasizes its belief in community.

Searching the sub-collections is very straightforward: all titles related to a topic are listed and hyperlinked. The collection currently has 30,000 works and actively encourages authors to participate.

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