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Project Gutenberg, abbreviated as PG, is a volunteer effort to digitize, archive and distribute cultural works. Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books. The project tries to make these as free as possible, in long-lasting, open formats that can be used on almost any computer. As of December 2007, Project Gutenberg claimed over Template:Num PG books items in its collection. Project Gutenberg is affiliated with many projects that are independent organizations which share the same ideals, and have been given permission to use the Project Gutenberg trademark.
Wherever possible, the releases are available in plain text, but other formats are included, such as HTML. The majority of releases are in English language, but many non-English works are also available. There are multiple affiliated projects that are providing additional content, including regional-based or language-specific works. Project Gutenberg is also closely affiliated with Distributed Proofreaders, an internet-based community for proof-reading scanned texts.
Project Gutenberg was started by Michael Hart in 1971. Hart, a student at the University of Illinois, obtained access to a Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer in the university's Materials Research Lab. Through friendly operators, he received an account with a virtually unlimited amount of computer time; its value at that time has since been variously estimated at $100,000 or $100,000,000. Hart has said he wanted to "give back" this gift by doing something that could be considered to be of great value. His initial goal was to make the 10,000 most consulted books available to the public at little or no charge, and to do so by the end of the 20th century.
This particular computer was one of the 15 nodes on the computer network that would become the Internet. Hart believed that computers would one day be accessible to the general public and decided to make works of literature available in electronic form for free. He used a copy of the United States Declaration of Independence in his backpack, and this became the first Project Gutenberg e-text. He named the project after Johannes Gutenberg, the fifteenth century German printer who propelled the movable type printing press revolution.
By the mid-1990s, Hart was running Project Gutenberg from Illinois Benedictine College. More volunteers had joined the effort. All of the text was entered manually up until 1989 when image scanners and optical character recognition software improved and became more widely available, which made book scanning more feasible. Hart later came to an arrangement with Carnegie Mellon University, which agreed to administer Project Gutenberg's finances. As the volume of e-texts increased, volunteers began to take over the project's day-to-day operations that Hart had run.
Pietro Di Miceli, an Italian volunteer, developed and administered the first Project Gutenberg website and started the development of the Project online Catalog. In his ten years in this role (1994–2004), the Project web pages won a number of awards, often being featured in "best of the Web" listings, and contributing to the project's popularity.
In 2000, a non-profit corporation, the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, Inc. was chartered in Mississippi to handle the project's legal needs. Donations to it are tax-deductible. Long-time Project Gutenberg volunteer Gregory Newby became the foundation's first CEO.
Charles Franks also founded Distributed Proofreaders (DP) in 2000, which allowed the proofreading of scanned texts to be distributed among many volunteers over the Internet. This effort greatly increased the number and variety of texts being added to Project Gutenberg, as well as making it easier for new volunteers to start contributing. DP became officially affiliated with Project Gutenberg in 2002. As of 2007, the 10,000+ DP-contributed books comprised almost half of the nearly Template:Num PG books books in Project Gutenberg.
Starting in 2004, an improved online catalog made Project Gutenberg content easier to browse, access and hyperlink. Project Gutenberg is now hosted by ibiblio at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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As of December 2007, Project Gutenberg claimed over Template:Num PG books items in its collection, with an average of over fifty new e-books being added each week. These are primarily works of literature from the Western cultural tradition. In addition to literature such as novels, poetry, short stories and drama, Project Gutenberg also has cookbooks, reference works and issues of periodicals. The Project Gutenberg collection also has a few non-text items such as audio files and music notation files.
Most releases are in English, but there are also significant numbers in many other languages. As of July 2007, the non-English languages most represented are (in order): French (1,053 files), German (451), Finnish (396), Dutch (279) and Spanish (155).
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Other formats may be released as well when submitted by volunteers. The most common non-ASCII format is HTML, which allows markup and illustrations to be included. Some project members and users have requested more advanced formats, believing them to be much easier to read. But some formats that are not easily editable, such as PDF, are generally not considered to fit in with the goals of Project Gutenberg (although a few have been added to the collection). For years, there has been discussion of using some type of XML, although progress on that has been slow.
Michael Hart said in 2004, "The mission of Project Gutenberg is simple: 'To encourage the creation and distribution of ebooks.'" His goal is, "to provide as many e-books in as many formats as possible for the entire world to read in as many languages as possible." Likewise, a project slogan is to "break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy", because its volunteers aim to continue spreading public literacy and appreciation for the literary heritage just as public libraries began to do in the late 19th century.
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Project Gutenberg has been criticized for lack of scholarly rigor in its e-texts: for example, there is usually inadequate information about the edition used and often omission of original prefaces. However, John Mark Ockerbloom of the University of Pennsylvania noted that PG is responsive about addressing errors once they are identified, and the texts now include specific source edition citations. In many cases the editions also are not the most current scholarly editions, for these later editions are not usually in the public domain.
While the works in Project Gutenberg represent a valuable sample of publications that span several centuries, there are some issues of concern for linguistic analysis. Some content may have been modified by the transcriber because of editorial changes or corrections (such as to correct for obvious proofsetter or printing errors). The spelling may also have been modified to conform with current practices. This can mean that the works may be problematic when searching for older grammatical usage. Finally the collected works can be weighted heavily toward certain authors (such as Charles Dickens), while others are barely represented.
In March 2004, a new initiative was begun by Michael Hart and John S. Guagliardo to provide low-cost intellectual properties. The initial name for this project was Project Gutenberg 2 (PG II), which created controversy among PG volunteers because of the re-use of the project's trademarked name for a commercial venture.
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- Thomas, Jeffrey (July 20, 2007). "Project Gutenberg Digital Library Seeks To Spur Literacy". U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Information Programs. Retrieved 2007-08-20.
- Hart, Michael S. (August 1992). "Gutenberg:The History and Philosophy of Project Gutenberg". Retrieved 2006-12-05.
- Day, B. H.; Wortman, W. A. (2000). Literature in English: A Guide for Librarians in the Digital Age. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries. pp. p. 170. ISBN 0838980813.
- Vara, Vauhini. "Project Gutenberg Fears No Google", Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2005. Retrieved on 2007-08-15.
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- Hane, Paula (2004). "Project Gutenberg Progresses". Information Today. 21 (5). Retrieved 2007-08-20.
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- Martha L. Brogan, Daphnée Rentfrow (2005). A Kaleidoscope of Digital American Literature. New York: Digital Library Federation. ISBN 1933645288.
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- Staff (2005). "Project Gutenberg Europe". EUnet Yugoslavia. Retrieved 2007-08-20.
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