Monday, 25 August 2008

Doing My Bit For Posterity

I have been a student with the Open University for nearly nine years now, and have found it to be one of the things that has helped me keep going during the difficult times in the last 10 years. The OU has an excellent online library which has many databases, ejournals, and ebooks, and I have been a frequent user of the library, particularly when I was doing my post-graduate courses. It is so useful that I even use it when I have the need of a dictionary. After all, it gives me access to the full Oxford English Dictionary online. While I was trawling through the library a few days ago (I was looking for a particular ebook) I came across something called Project Gutenberg which is attempting to make as many books available electronically as it can.

Project Gutenberg is staffed by volunteers; they are constantly looking for proofreaders, and as proofreading is something that I have some experience of I decided to volunteer. Half an hour later the formalities had been completed, and I was let loose on the huge number of books that were in the stage known as Proofreading 1. They have certain books that are set aside for Beginners and after doing a few pages of these books, you progress onto books for Newcomers. You are limited to the number of pages that you can do in each of these sections so that there are always pages available for new volunteers.

The majority of books are in English, but there are also books in French, German, Portuguese, and even Gaelic, waiting to be proofread. It's all done online, and in Proofreading 1, all you are doing is ensuring that the pages that have been through the OCR match up to photocopies of the original pages. Proofreading 1, just asks you to do a character check, and some very simple formatting (inserting blank lines between paragraphs). The books are all old, and cover a multitude of subjects.

So why do I do it? Well, I think that reading is something that we should all do, and education is something that we should all benefit from. By doing my little bit for this project I am helping to ensure that books that are not easily accessible to the ordinary student can be there electronically for the future. Constant use of the original books will cause damage over the years, and it is difficult to find relevant material without going through the entire book. If a book is available electronically, it means that many people can access it at the same time, remotely, and carry out searches easily.

How much does it cost me? A couple of hours a day, and the electricity to power the computer, which would probably be running anyway. But the rewards are huge, because even though I know that there are hundreds of thousands of pages waiting to be proofread and formatted at the moment, each one that I do helps towards preserving another book for posterity, and allowing it to be available for generations to come.

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