21st Century Books

Voice Card  -  Volume 22  -  Paul Card Number 6  -  Thu, Oct 31, 1991 9:45 PM

Technology - 10,000 books into electronic form, distributed at next to no cost

{The Wall Street Journal, 29-Oct-91, p. A1}:

For 20 years, Michael Hart has been typing away in solitary obscurity, stockpiling books on floppy disks, CD-ROMs, optical disks and the hard drives of the 30-or-so computers that clutter his 100-year-old brick home in Urbana, Ill. The systems analyst is the father of Project Gutenberg, an ambitious and possibly quixotic scheme to copy the text of 10,000 books into electronic form and distribute them at next to no cost. His target: the 100 million computers he believes will be out there waiting by the turn of the century.

In 44-year-old Mr. Hart's utopia, the classics should be accessible to anyone at the stroke of a computer key. "I want a world where this stuff is available," he says. "Where you can walk into a public library and get 90% of the information you need copied on a disk you don't have to return."

He now has about 1,000 texts in various stages of planning, typing, proofing and copyright analysis. So far, two dozen titles - including "Moby Dick" and "The Song of Hiawatha" - have been released, at the current rate of one per month. He plans to double the output every year to meet his 2001 goal of 10,000 books.

Production is picking up, thanks to electronic text-scanning devices and a worldwide cadre of about 40 volunteers - mostly scholars, librarians and other professionals - who help turn printed matter into digital text. His monthly Project Gutenberg newsletter - with items on new releases, the codes for obtaining texts, and the like - goes out to about 10,000 computer addresses, and from there, into the electronic ether.

Unlike most electronic texts available on the market, he explains, Gutenberg's aren't tied to specific hardware or software. So besides being free, they can be read by any machine. Mr. Hart restricts himself to works in the public domain.