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article imageWhy you need never buy another book

By Alexander Baron     Jul 10, 2011 in World
The African nation of Kenya has just announced the digitisation of its official Parliamentary record ("Hansard") from November 1959 to date. This is only the latest of many great on-line archives, and the best is yet to come.
In February 1927, a half hour trans-Atlantic phone call between the London office of music publisher Lawrence Wright and the Broadway office of lyricist Edgar Leslie cost nearly £150.
In 1990, Dr Robin Alston connected by computer from the British Library in London to OCLC in Dublin, Ohio at peak time for 13 minutes at a cost of £9.88.
Nowadays the cost has plummeted still further, and most of us think nothing of staying on-line via the Internet all day. This and the massive memory capacities of modern databases at ludicrously low prices has led to governments, institutions of learning, and all manner of private companies and individuals making vast archives available for the whole world at no cost. But where do you find the text you want?
Although a good starting place is Google or whatever search engine you use, it still helps to know where to search.
A lot of books and extracts from books can be found on Google Books, but there are some massive projects worldwide that are putting books on-line, and not all of them involve Google.
First and foremost there is the Internet Archive.
This truly gi-normous repository aims not only to archive the entire Internet at regular intervals (subject to protocol), but is digitising books on a grand scale. Anyone can sign up for a free account and contribute publications including audio and video (subject to copyright) but the Internet Archive is also scanning material on its own account; typically publications can be downloaded as PDFs or read on-line in text format (though sometimes the conversions from PDF are less than perfect).
Earlier this year, the Internet Archive began a project to digitise Balinese literature – all of it, which will make it the first modern culture to have its entire literature available on-line.
The Internet Archive is also participating in The Universal Library or Million Books Project along with the governments of India, China and Egypt.
Project Gutenberg was founded in 1971, and compiles books in the public domain for free distribution.
The British Library has recently reached a deal with Google to digitise a quarter of a million books from 1700-1870.
The Library Of Congress has also embarked on ambitious digitising projects, including a massive program of digital newspapers called Chronicling America.
For those who are content to study one book, the BibleGateway website boasts over a hundred versions, and can be searched in many languages, including Latin.
The Qur'an is likewise available on-line, and the Internet Sacred Text Archive includes texts from many of the world’s religions.
If you are spoilt for choice, the best place to begin a search for books, especially those of an official nature, is a national government, local government, Parliament or national archive website. These are also awash with statistics, reports and official journals like Hansard. The websites of national libraries and universities are also highly recommended, as are those of national and international bodies such as trades unions, and the professions.
The 19th-Century California Sheet Music Collection at Berkeley University contains scans from some 2700 editions published between 1852 and 1900, and links to similar collections.
Finally, some subscription databases are available through local libraries; for example, Westminster Libraries in London allows its members free access to NewsUK and similar paid services.
More about Kenya, Internet Archive, Hansard, British library, Library of congress
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