Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Open Library Project

The Open Library project has opened its virtual demo doors.

"What if there was a library which held every book? Not every book on sale, or every important book, or even every book in English, but simply every book—a key part of our planet's cultural legacy.

First, the library must be on the Internet. No physical space could be as big or as universally accessible as a public web site. The site would be like Wikipedia—a public resource that anyone in any country could access and that others could rework into different formats.

Second, it must be grandly comprehensive. It would take catalog entries from every library and publisher and random Internet user who is willing to donate them. It would link to places where each book could be bought, borrowed, or downloaded. It would collect reviews and references and discussions and every other piece of data about the book it could get its hands on.

But most importantly, such a library must be fully open. Not simply "free to the people," as the grand banner across the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh proclaims, but a product of the people: letting them create and curate its catalog, contribute to its content, participate in its governance, and have full, free access to its data. In an era where library data and Internet databases are being run by money-seeking companies behind closed doors, it's more important than ever to be open.

So let us do just that: let us build the Open Library.

Earlier this year, a small group of people gathered at Internet Archive's San Francisco office to discuss whether this was possible. Could we build something so grand? We concluded that we could. We located a copy of the Library of Congress card catalog, phoned publishers and asked them for their data, created a brand new database infrastructure for handling millions of dynamic records, wrote a new type of wiki that lets users enter structured data, set up a search engine to look through it all, and made the resulting site look good.

We hooked it up to the Internet Archive's book scanning project, so that you can read the full text of all the out-of-copyright books they've made available. And we hope to add a print-on-demand feature, so that you can get nice paper copies of these scanned books, as well as a scan-on-demand feature, so you can fund the scanning of that out-of-copyright book you've always loved.

But we can only do so much on our own. Hopefully we've done enough to make it clear that this project is for real—not simply another pie-in-the-sky idea—but we need your help to make it a reality. So we're opening up the demo we've built so far, opening up the source code, opening up the mailing lists, and hoping you'll join us in building Open Library. It sure is going to be a fun ride."

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