PostedNovember 08, 2004
In 1971, before the Internet existed as we now know it, Michael Hart was a student at the University of Illinois with an operator's account on the Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the Materials Research Lab. His account allowed him more time at the computer than he knew what to do with, and Hart was encouraged to develop his own projects. He promptly typed in the Declaration of Independence and sent it to everyone on the network, yielding the first posting of an electronic text document. He immediately declared that the best future use for computers would be the archiving and retrieval of information, and founded Project Gutenberg to begin the work.
Over thirty years later, Project Gutenberg is the oldest archive of literature on the web, with over 13,000 free, downloadable titles in thirty-six languages. Each month, an extensive network of volunteers chooses, scans, and proofreads around five hundred new titles, including illustrated volumes, philosophy, literature, science, sheet music, and audio books. The archive, located at www.gutenberg.net, features more than 250 complete volumes of poetry, including works by William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Walt Whitman. Because most works are in the public domain--only a few are reprinted with permission--you won’t find anything contemporary here, but the breadth and variety more than makes up for it.
An extraordinary no-frills resource for students, teachers, poets and insomniacs, Project Gutenberg is part nuts-and-bolts pragmatism, part instant gratification, and part political philosophy. Among Hart’s many mission statements and manifestos on the site, you’ll find mottos such as "Break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy." The content depends on readers and volunteers, so if you’re miffed that they don’t have Ezra Pound’s Cantos, you’re invited to upload it yourself. But in the meantime, there are enough e-volumes on this site for a whole century of rainy days.