Books, Books, Books
Nowadays you can do your family history reading anywhere. By Mia5793 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Nowadays, however, the content of huge numbers of old books are freely available at the click of a button over the internet. Whole texts of books can be accessed (and searched) on screen within seconds from the comfort of your own living room. You can read such treasures straightaway online or download them to another device such as a Kindle, iPhone or Ipad for future consumption, providing that your device has a ‘reader’ for the book format that is on offer. Additionally, in many cases, books can be downloaded as searchable pdf files which can be easily read by most desktop and handheld computers. A very useful article on the different ways of reading books via electronic devices is at www.moneysavingexpert.com/shopping/free-e-books#baen.
Whether you have a particular title in mind or just want to browse areas in which you are interested, here are some of the top websites to get you started.
Some large sites of general interest
Some large sites of general interest
|Man Reading - John Singer Sargent, undated. Wikimedia Commons|
1. Internet Archive
A not-for-profit archive including millions of digitised books. Special collections include: American Libraries, Canadian Libraries, European Libraries and Project Gutenberg (see below).
2. Digital Books Index
This includes a wide range of texts from the ‘highly scholarly to the contemporary and popular.’ It is a Meta-index for most major e-book sites as well as thousands of smaller specialist sites. Over 14000 of the 165,000 texts are available for free.
3. Universal Digital Library Repository
This project has the long term aim of digitising all the books ever written! Between 2006 and 2007, however, it achieved a smaller goal of digitising 1 million books (The Million Book Digital Library Project). The project was initiated at Carnegie Mellon University and has participating universities in places as far away as China, India and Egypt. More books are continually being scanned at 50 global centres.
4. Project Gutenberg
This project provides the free full text of over 50,000 free e-books (mainly pre-1930s and so out of copyright) which can be read online or downloaded. There is no fee or registration process on this site but readers are encouraged to donate a small amount towards the cost of further digitisation projects.
This is a ‘collaborative book authoring’ website. Volunteer users from all over the world work together to write textbooks and other types of instructional books on many topics. If you have an area of specialty, you could join in. Otherwise, search the site to see if there is anything that might help your research.
6. The E-server
This site hosts short writings by over 35,000 writers, editors and scholars. The history section has items on such diverse topics as ‘medieval carpentry’ and ‘Russia 1914-1917.’ The non-fiction section includes the full text of such key historical works as Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams.
7. Just Free Books
Searches the content of more than 700 websites that offer books without charge, including www.gutenberg.org, www.wikibooks.org and www.archive.org.
8. Google Books
More than 2 million full text books now in the public domain are available for free via this site. Many more copyrighted books are included via excerpts and snippets.
9. Hathi Trust
Based on a partnership of academic & research institutions, this offers millions of titles digitized from libraries around the world. It includes the full text of books, monographs and pamphlets out of copyright and covers the arts and humanities, sciences and social sciences. You can also search for individual words within books.
10. Internet Public Library
This site, hosted by the University of Michigan, is no longer adding new material but it can still be searched. It has over 16,000 texts searchable by author, title or Dewey Decimal Classification and is especially strong on 19th century English language items.
11. British Library
Access to digitised copies of some manuscripts and books in the British Library’s collections, with descriptions of their contents. The site currently features the full text of the Library's latest major acquisition, the St Cuthbert Gospel.
Links to free digitised early manuscripts and books elsewhere on the web.
Links to free digitised facsimiles of early manuscripts and books elsewhere on the web.