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A Promise Kept

shakespeareA few days ago, I promised that I’d go into more detail about the Google Books project.  Here it is in a nutshell.  I haven’t been this impressed by an internet undertaking since I first fired up a modem.  You may think this is overstating the case.  Okay, I can see why.  The creation of email, the development of the World Wide Web, the near instantaneous availability of video reports from all corners of the map…what is so special about Google Books?

Two things:  First, this little thing called public domain.  Second, Google’s tireless Library Project.  Even as you read this, there are “agents” all over the place scanning library holdings into Google Books.  For the most part, I am only concerned with their public domain scans.  These are works whose copyright has expired or those which never held a copyright.  They belong to…me.  And you.  And they are increasingly more available now online.  You can read them online.  You can download the PDF on a portable drive and take them with you anywhere.

Okay, PDFs are kind of clunky to read on a computer and are even worse on portable devices.  Gotcha.  It is better than not having the books available to you.  And then, two things are quickly coming down the pike that could erase the headache.  Amazon is coming out with a next generation Kindle book reader with nearly a ten inch diagonal screen, which will make most of these public domain books eminently readable.  The new Kindle will cost around five hundred bucks.  If you have the cash, that’s a small price to pay to be able to carry an entire library around in your briefcase or purse, and when you find time to read, for it to feel like…well, like a book.

Sometime next year, Barnes and Noble will be rolling out their version of an electronic book reader which incorporates plastic electronic technology…that means a flex screen book reader.  Why am I so excited?

It is simple really.  I subscribe to John Senior’s worldview.  That is to say, if we are to restore Christian culture, it will be because we smash the television and the video game system and all of these technologies of separation and return to the hearth and the porch as families.  We have to return to a human scale and pace.  And we have to have the normal experiences which will prepare us to fight for our culture.  That includes hiking in the woods, sledding down hills, wading through creeks, chasing dragonflies, singing wholesome songs together and reading the “thousand good books” that prepare the soil of the soul to receive The Faith.  If you didn’t have those experiences as a kid, can you still?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that we had darn well better make these experiences available to our children.

At this point, ninety-or-so percent of these irreplaceable works are available for free on Google Books.  Many of them had been out of print for decades, and if you couldn’t find a copy in a used bookstore after weeks or months of searching, your only recourse was to unicode text versions stripped of their artwork and peculiarities.  Google Books are the real thing…high quality scans of the actual books, in most cases with color artwork intact.

I am in awe of those at Google who have devoted their time and effort to this undertaking.  They may not realize it yet, but they’re saving the world, one book at a time.

As I said, these books are available for PDF download if that appeals to you.  You can also create your own library.  Check out mine.  It is fledgling, but I’ll flesh it out.

The GB project is still in beta, believe it or not, and there aren’t a lot of controls, but to help you out, here are some simple instructions.  Go to books.google.com and then click on the “advanced book search”.  Once on that page, click the radio buttons for “full view only” and “all content.”  That will give you only the books which are public domain, and it’ll give you all of them.  Happy hunting!

What happens after you get there, I’ll let you discover.  Make sure you get to bed before 3 a.m.

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