Digital books and libraries: Anyone want to buy a printing press?

Open and free access to literature and other writings has long been considered essential to education and to the maintenance of an open society. Increasingly, people are wanting to obtain their information online. This is particularly true of students, especially those living in parts of the world where obtaining print copies of books is difficult and/or time consuming (e.g., in many Caribbean countries). In parallel with the open source movement, there is an open resource movement, i.e., making books, articles, and other repositories of knowledge open to all to access, change, add to and publish online.

The Internet Archive is a non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library, with the purpose of offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format. View a movie that was commissioned by Internet Archive for the 2007 Open Content Alliance meeting held on October 17, 2007.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United States Library of Congress have just signed a pact paving the way for the creation of a World Digital Library to provide resources to educators and contribute to scholarly research.

"The World Digital Library will make available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from cultures around the world, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, architectural drawings, and other significant cultural materials."

Many other libraries have risen to this challenge, some using Greenstone - a suite of open-source software for building and distributing digital library collections. It provides a new way of organizing information and publishing it on the Internet or on CD-ROM. Greenstone is produced by the New Zealand Digital Library Project at the University of Waikato, and developed and distributed in cooperation with UNESCO and the Human Info NGO.

Many publishers, book sellers and information cybermediaries have also responded. Here are a few examples:

The Online Books Page by the University of Pennsylvania provides a listing of over 25,000 free books on the Web. Books-On-Line is a directory of books that are posted on the net and available for downloading, mostly at no charge. Google Book Search is a project in which many public and university libraries have partnered with Google so as to make their library holdings searchable, and wherever possible available online.

iChapters.com sells new print textbooks, eBooks, eChapters (individual digital chapters) plus print and digital study tools. All of the iChapters.com digital products are downloadable, accessible via the web and can printed out.

eBooks.com is a popular digital book store with a large range of ebooks available for immediate download, including the following: Business eBooks; Media eBooks; Education eBooks; Technology eBooks; Social Science eBooks; Reference eBooks; Law eBooks.

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