The Chronicle of Higher Education
The Wired Campus

July 19, 2007

The Open Library Makes Its Online Debut

“Imagine a library that collected all the world’s information about all the world’s books and made it available for everyone to view and update,” write members of the Internet Archive’s Open Content Alliance. “We’re building that library.”

And now the alliance has put a demo version of that library online. The Open Library is meant to serve as a vast digital card catalog, and Web surfers will be able to edit entries, much like in Wikipedia. The repository will also collect books in the public domain, a mission that will bring the library into competition with Google’s much-publicized book-scanning service.

Some critics of the Google project have high hopes for the Open Library, which seems more eager to embrace the ideals of Web 2.0. “If all goes well,” writes Ben Vershbow of if:book, “it’s conceivable that this could become the main destination on the Web for people looking for information in and about books.” That’s still a big if: The library will rely heavily on contributions from unpaid volunteers.

But the Open Library has at least one thing going for it, according to Mr. Vershbow: “On presentation of public-domain texts, they already have Google beat.” The library offers books in a number of different file formats, including a “flip book” tool that attempts to simulate the experience of rifling through a hardbound tome. “This sort of re-enactment of paper functionality is perhaps too literal,” writes Mr. Vershbow, but he admits that it makes for a pretty decent reading experience.

The Open Library plans to unveil a fuller site in October, and project officials will have to do plenty of work to meet that deadline. They plan to create an entry for every book ever published, not just digitized books in the public domain. —Brock Read

Posted on Thursday July 19, 2007 | Permalink |


  1. Uhhhh… this site has been up (unchanged) for a LONG time, like a couple of years! Check out the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive (who created the Open Library).*/

    — David    Jul 20, 06:30 AM    #

  2. Sounds like an interesting and ambitous project. How will they deal with items NOT in the publisc domain though?

    — Rob    Jul 20, 08:20 AM    #

  3. There already is a global library catalog of books by OCLC called World Cat

    Search a book, enter your zip code to find the closest library. Many libraries already link to the full text of books in public domain.

    Libraries are not dead!

    — Ron    Jul 20, 09:20 AM    #

  4. An interesting idea but I really don’t understand why they feel this is anything new. Most people have some access to some library and most libraries offer remote access to a wide world of digital resources. And those resources are not just in the pubic domain. Nor are they being tinkered with by amateurs. Today’s librarians are not wedded to one building or collection and they are working harder than ever to open up the access to those resources.

    — Christine Godin    Jul 20, 09:24 AM    #

  5. David — the book scanning project has been up for a couple of years under the “open library” name. What’s new is discussed on the demo site:

    — T Scott    Jul 20, 09:24 AM    #

  6. The comments seem more interesting than the article!

    As for OCLC, it is a 40 year old technology used to prepare cards for a card catalog. It contains bibliographic information for only a small percentage of what has been published. It needs a major overhaul, but there is too much money invested in it…both by libraries and by vendors that provide interfaces for it.

    Of course libraries are not dead…it just depends on how you define a library.

    As for the project discussed in the article, I believe that when libraries delegate their responsibility to provide free access to information, to the likes of google, there is a great risk to society that free access could be compromised. You can have all of the information anyone would want, but unless a search engine points you in that direction, nobody will know it is there. Today, the name of the game is not bibliographic control, but information navigation. And those who understand that best are the likes of google and yahoo.

    Unless libraries, in the traditional sense, are willing to realign their priorities, they will not have the capitalization to adapt to the digital information environment. They have already waited too long and, from my perspective, have abdicated their responsibility to society.

    — Karl Miller    Jul 20, 10:44 AM    #

  7. Readers of this blog entry may be interested in a screencast I recorded on the basics of Open Library. The URL is

    — Peter Murray    Jul 20, 11:35 AM    #

  8. I guess the open library is closed right now. Thank goodness when the local campus or public library is open, it’s open. No computer is necessary and you can borrow the book to read at the beach, in a hammock or under a tree…

    — Jeanmarie    Jul 24, 06:39 PM    #

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