Last updated: April 01. 2014 7:53AM - 2217 Views
By Ben Loftis Contributing Columnist

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Recently, the Union Carnegie Library was excited to begin offering downloadable e-books. Our participation in the Jasmine Consortium of libraries powered by Overdrive allows us to make many new books available through download. Thus far the service has been well-received, and if you enjoy reading books with your tablet, smartphone, or e-reader, we encourage you check out the service.

Sometimes, however, the catalog on Overdrive may not meet your needs. Most of the e-books or e-audiobooks offered on Overdrive are newer and popular titles. If you are looking for more academic-oriented or classic titles, there are many free websites that make these materials available either to view in your browser or to download. A list of many of these websites — including a link to a more comprehensive list of free e-book sites — is available on our website at http://www.unionlibrary.org/pages/Digital%20Resources.asp.

Today, I wanted to highlight several of these free sites. It should be noted that the majority of books available for free download are classified as Public Domain titles — books whose copyright has expired. The vast majority of public domain titles were published prior to 1923 — anything published before 1923 has entered the public domain, and books are copyrighted during an author’s life plus an additional 50-70 years.

Two of the more popular websites for free e-book downloads are Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive’s Open Library. Project Gutenberg was founded by Michael Hart in 1971 when he created the first “e-book” by typing the Declaration of Independence onto a computer. Project Gutenberg seeks to provide texts of public domain materials that are 99.9% accurate in the eyes of the general reader.

The Open Library is similar concept to the Project Gutenberg, though many of the texts are scanned into their database.

The Internet Archive provides a variety of other public domain materials besides books including movies (many older feature films are included, such as the silent horror classic Nosferatu) and live music and audio clips.

Also available through the Internet Archive is the Wayback Machine, a project that attempts to maintain a historic record of all websites. Simply type in your favorite website and you can see snapshots that website has looked like over the years.

There are also sites featuring free books for viewing on specific topics. For example, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library provides e-books for free viewing or inexpensive downloading focusing on classic works of Christian theology.

Other sites are more academic in nature.

The HathiTrust Digital Library has digitized the collections of many large academic research libraries throughout the United States and Europe. While the collection may not be geared toward popular reading, the site can be especially valuable for researching a variety of topics.

A similar site for academic research is the Digital Public Library of America. This site provides access to a variety of collections and includes digitized images of both texts as well as photographs, moving images, and sounds. The goal of the DPLA is to bring together digital collections throughout the United States.

A similar site to the DPLA is the South Carolina Digital Library. The SCDL makes available for free texts, images, sounds, and oral histories from over 40 cultural heritage institutions from throughout the state such as colleges and universities, cities, libraries, and museums.

Finally, Wikipedia, while not usually considered a scholarly source, does provide a much more comprehensive list of website offering free e-books.

All sites listed in this article are linked from the Carnegie Library’s digital resources page available on our website.

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