Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Free eBooks and Library eBooks for Non-Residents


This image shows the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine from 1912. The entire early run of the journal has been digitized on Google Books. This is an illustration of the tremendous number of digitized materials online.

One of the dramatic changes in the availability of books generally, is the proliferation of eBooks. It is very likely, whether you know it or not, that a public library in your city, county, state, or even your country has an eBook program. A website called the MobileRead Wiki is attempting to keep a list of the eBook sources around the world. This is only one of many websites that have lists of eBook resources. The MobileRead Wiki seems to be a little out-dated but is still useful.

The eBook resources fall into two general categories: eBooks that are downloadable either for free or payment and eBooks that can be checked out of a virtual library and read on your computer or a variety of devices. The procedures for downloading and reading eBooks is still a little complicated, but the process is becoming less complicated as time goes by. As genealogists, we need to be aware that many valuable genealogical resources have been swept up into the eBook online inventory. Whenever you find a printed resource, be it book, magazine, journal or whatever, it makes sense to spend a few minutes determining whether or not the publication is available someplace online.

Even if your own public library has no eBook access or that access is limited to just a few eBooks, you can now obtain a library card for online use from a number of libraries across the country. There is a blog called the eBook Reader that had an article listing some libraries that offer library cards to non-residents, usually for a fee. The post is entitled, "Library eBooks for Non-Residents: Where to Get eBooks if Your Library is Lacking." This article is only a starting place. You need to investigate other libraries that offer the same service by searching online. The number of books offered by the different libraries varies considerably from a few dozen to tens of thousands.

The huge online library catalog, WorldCat.org, is a good place to start searching for online materials that may be available in eBook format. If you find an item in WorldCat.org, there may be a link to view all editions and formats. For example, the entry for the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine shows the following in a screenshot:


You can click on the image to see the detail. Even though in this particular case, there are two separate electronic versions of the Journal listed, there may or may not be more electronic versions than shown in WorldCat.org. It is always a good idea to search for more electronic copies of any document, source, book, journal or any other type of material. Google Books had the copy of the 1912 Journal in the image above. But in looking at WorldCat.org, I found there was also a copy of the journal in the HathiTrust.org.

 I had a recent discussion about a smaller public library in a small community that was open only a few hours a week. I am certain that these smaller libraries are struggling to maintain staffing and funding. One of the major challenges of the smaller libraries is offering an attractive inventory of books and other materials. In some instances, by adding e-book access, these small libraries can dramatically expand their offerings without either increasing the number of hours they are open or their staff. But in my opinion, the smaller entirely paper-based libraries are likely to disappear from the competition of online availability. The smaller libraries will be unable to provide any material that is not readily available online for free.

As I have discussed in past posts, libraries are facing a major role change. The larger libraries are finding that their services are more directed towards providing computers and training than merely checking out books and other materials.

Of course, a major obstacle to the availability of online materials are our archaic and entirely outdated copyright laws. Rather than enforcing the original goals of copyright law, copyrights are presently used by huge corporations to maintain market share and control. This is not to say, that the individual authors do not benefit from copyright laws, but the existing laws are in direct opposition to the movements making online materials more freely available. Even though the laws create obstacles, there are recent innovative ways of increasing library distribution of electronic materials. One of the larger of these is Overdrive.com.

This is a topic that will directly affect genealogists and the way that we do research. We are already confronted with vast amounts of original source material. In addition, vast numbers of books are becoming digitized and freely available including many titles directly related to genealogical research. Last night, I spent some time helping a friend download a copy of the journal at the beginning of this post. Unless genealogist jump into the fray and begin using the vast amount of electronic information that is available, they will be left behind just as the smaller libraries.

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