Time for another online research trick of the trade—tracking down online books.
Suppose you have a book that you want to read, and suppose you want to read it online. Maybe you’re in a hurry and can’t spend the time to order a physical copy. Or maybe there are no physical copies to be had. Or maybe you prefer to read your books online so that you can easily search the text for exactly the information you’re looking for. Whatever your reasons, the time has come to see if the book you want is online. What are the odds it will be?
Fortunately, these days most major publishers produce e-book versions of most titles. You can generally buy them either straight from the publishers or through vendors like Indigo (Kobo) or Amazon (Kindle). Even better, libraries like Memorial University Libraries and the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Library extend their lending services online as well. And if you’re anything like me, consulting dozens and hundreds of books, you don’t want to be paying for them all!
So you have pretty good odds of finding a new book—especially if it’s from a major press. And you also have pretty good odds of finding a really notable book, like say Woman of Labrador, because again, publishers are eager to make their back catalogues available. But of course these books, like any books, don’t come free, and libraries don’t have all of them.
A curious contradiction exists in the world of online books, however. The items you’d expect to be least accessible digitally—books from before computers were invented—are actually often the most accessible. Because for decades now, individual volunteers and universities around the world have been scanning everything they can in their collections and putting them up online through various consortia, for open access, free of charge. The only catch is copyright.
Google Books scans first and asks questions later, so to speak, and regularly pushes the boundaries of copyright, which is why you can find many partially-uploaded books of recent books by simple Google searches. Reading these is a bit ethically questionable and it can be very frustrating in any case, since large sections are often omitted to appease potential complainants with claims of “fair use.”
Older books, however, are in the public domain, meaning that copyright has expired and Google, or anyone else, is free to share the books’ content online.
Two sites in particular are definitely worth checking out as access points. Note that it is always worth searching both, as their holdings are not exactly the same!
Happy reading. 🙂