Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thing 21 - NetLibrary and Project Gutenberg

I've been using NetLibrary for some time now, through the service provided by my public library. Even though it has a nice book collection, the search interface is screaming to be improved. There is no way to limit, narrow or advance your search beyond the "keyword", and when you choose to browse by subject and select a category, i.e. "literature and fiction" you cannot search at all: you have to scroll down alphabetically. I know, it's free if your public library participates, and it's probably a start in a sense that something is better than nothing, but if NetLibrary is a project of OCLC I just can't believe such a library-oriented service can't do better. What I really like about their interface is the Favorites and Notes feature that allows you to store good books that you had found for later use. Giving the trouble it takes to find anything, once you have found it, there is no way you want to go through the process again. So click on "Add to Favorites" and listen/read this book months later. No matter how discontent, I am still using NetLibrary, which, I guess, is an indicator that it is a great value after all. Each audiobook comes in one file, but with more and more players having bookmarking feature, it's not a problem. Still, I would like to believe the improvements are on the way...

Project Gutenberg, on the other hand, is a non-commercial service brought to life by volunteers. It exists in a wiki space, so anyone can participate. There is a nice Advanced Search screen with lots of options, RSS feed to inform readers of latest editions, great selection of e- and audio- books, and many spin-off projects and services. Individuals and libraries could participate in an eBook creation, profreading, and archiving. There is Distributed Proofreaders to convert public domain books into eBooks, The CD an DVD Project that lets you generate custom CD's and DVD's of books, and, finally my favorite, the Digitized Sheet Music Project where volunteers have been putting together domain musical scores for anyone who wishes to study and perform classical music. Amazing what people could create without any commercial interest at heart! This is definitely a move toward that universal digital library, which up until now had only existed in our dreams and some Sci-Fi books.

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