Before there was Google Books there was Project Gutenberg. In fact, the Gutenberg project hasn’t disappeared and I think it is as important as ever. I have already blogged about my frustrations with Google Books and I can only hope that some of the concerns I discussed will be resolved in the future. In the meantime, there are over 18,000 books in the public domain which you can directly download from Project Gutenberg in a whole range of fields, including some of the greatest classics of literature, philosophy, etc. Since you can download full copies of the book for viewing and searching on your machine (or in my case, I install them on my Palm PDA for reading on the road) you aren’t confined to an online interface like Google or Amazon’s on-screen picture-per-page or restricted in any other way.
The project continues to add new public domain books to its collection and this process, done with the help of many volunteers, includes the careful proof reading of OCR scanned books. These are eventually distributed by the project in text, html, and other formats after they have been checked for errors.
The project is always looking for donations to help them out. However, I just learned that now anyone can directly help in the proofreading process by becoming one of the project’s Distributed Proofreaders. Simply log into the site, browse the projects currently available for work in whatever stage of the process you want to contribute (first and second proofreading rounds, formatting round, etc.) and do a page or two or more when you have a moment free. The interface keeps track of what books you have proofread pages from in the past and is very simple to use. I’m currently proofreading a book on “Church History” published back in 1892 but there are many books in all fields out there waiting to be worked on!