Unless you monitor the Internet almost continually, you are probably unaware of the huge number of books online including literally millions of books containing genealogical information. For example, if you go to Google Books and do a search for “genealogy” you will get over 6 million results. If you add the word family then you still get over 700,000 results. Even though there are some huge websites with digitized books, they are scattered around the Web and it takes some searching to find them. Some of the websites allow you read the book, right there on the website. Others offer PDF copies of the books. Some of the sites have multiple book formats for eReaders such as the iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android devices and other formats such as the Kindle. Many millions of these books are available for free, but there is also a growing trend to allow eBooks to be borrowed, just as you would borrow a book from a brick and mortar library.
First we need to understand the terminology. Digitized books are copies of paper books that have been scanned or photographed. The resultant images are combined into an eBook or electronic book. The images are stored in a variety of file types allowing the reader to read the book on a variety of electronic devices. Here are some of the file formats used for eBooks:
- PDF or Portable Document Format is a data file developed by Adobe Systems that is independent of any particular applications software. Although it was originally a proprietary format, it is presently freely available for any use. A PDF document has all of the information necessary to display text, fonts, and graphics.
- JPEG or Joint Photographic Experts Group, is a common method of storing photographs. Some eBooks are stored as a series of JPEG images and take the form of a book through software applications.
- ePub or electronic publication is a free, open eBook standard from the International Digital Publishing Forum. Files have the extension .epub.
- Kindle, a series of eBook readers developed by Amazon.com. Software developed by Amazon.com to read their eBooks is available for Microsoft Windows, iOS, BlackBerry, Mac OS X, Android, webOS, and Windows Phone.
- Daisy or Digital Accessible Information System is a standard used for digital talking books based on XML or Extensible Markup Language.
- Full Text is a method of converting printed books to computer readable ASCII text. Text versions of books lose all of their formatting and can be downloaded to any word processing program.
- DjVu is a file format designed to store scanned (digitized) documents with a combination of text, line art and photographs.
To read an eBook you need a physical device, such as a computer, smartphone, or tablet and the software to read the eBook’s file format. Most of the eBook publishing companies or those repositories scanning books, store the resultant scanned files in many formats to accommodate a wide range of devices. As you can see above with the Kindle example, if the company wishes to sell as many books as possible, it is in their interest to make the eBooks available in a wide range of formats. But there are still more eBook formats other than those listed above that may not have as wide an acceptance and will work with only a very specific type of software on a specific device.
There are some very large online resources with very extensive collections of digitized books or references to the location of the books. In searching for digitized books, use the search terms “books, digitized” as well as the subject such as genealogy. Here are some of the larger online resources.
Google Books is easily the largest collection of digitized materials on the Internet. Their offerings include books, magazines and scholarly journals among other types of printed matter. As you can see from my example at the beginning of this post, Google Books has a huge number of books. Books are presented in three different categories as follows:
- Free eBooks view — with the complete content searchable word by word. Books that are no longer subject to copyright claims.
- Snippet view — you can search for specific content but the view will only show a portion of the text. Books that are no longer in print and are still subject to copyright. These books may be available for sale or in a library.
- Preview view — Books that are still for sale and subject to a claim of copyright. The amount of the book shown varies with each book.
If a book is available in a library, when you search for the book, there will be a link on the left-side of the screen to “Find in a library.” Clicking on this link takes you to the next valuable site, WorldCat.org.
This huge online catalog has references to over a billion items in thousands of libraries around the world. If you search for an item, you have to look carefully, but WorldCat.org will give all editions, including any eBooks that may be available with a a link to the eBook repository. None of these websites are perfect. They may be a digitized version of a book online that does not show up in Google Books or in WorldCat.org.
This huge website has over 3 million digitized books, some of which are not available any place else on the Internet. The search engine associated with the site is not a good as it could be and you may wish to do a general Google search for books that will show up on this website. Archive.org has an associated website called the Open Library. The Open Library has over one million eBooks online with an active lending library. After registering, you can check out a book for a period of time and which time your copy expires and will have to be checked out again.
This online source of eBooks has over 5 million volumes. Some are readily available as out of copyright, but others will tell you where the book is available, usually at a university.
In addition to these huge online sources, you might check with your own public library. Many libraries are initiating online borrowing services. You download free software and then you can check out the books for the time period specified by the library.
This article was written by James Tanner
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