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Project Gutenberg Digital Library Seeks To Spur Literacy
Library hopes to offer 1 million electronic books in 100 languages
By Jeffrey Thomas
USINFO Staff Writer
Washington – Thirty-six years ago, a student at the University of Illinois keyed the U.S. Declaration of Independence into a mainframe computer and offered it to others on the network that would become the Internet. Six users downloaded the file, inaugurating what its founder, Michael Hart, decided to call Project Gutenberg in honor of Johannes Gutenberg, the 15th-century German printer who started the movable type printing press revolution.
Using free computer time at his university, Hart keyed in the first 100 books himself and since has devoted his life to the project. Today, he often is described as someone who was a visionary ahead of his time; he has described himself as an “incurable romantic,” a “natural-born workaholic and idealist.” Hart grasped from the outset that his idea for a digital library could change the world, spurring literacy. Project Gutenberg became the first information provider on the Internet and is the oldest digital library with the largest single collection of free electronic books, or e-books.
Project Gutenberg gives away 3 million e-books a week from just one single site, www.ibiblio.org at the University of North Carolina, according to Hart. Most are books whose copyrights have expired in the United States, but there are also audio books, recorded music, sheet music, moving pictures and still pictures. The original video clip of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, just four hours before American astronaut Neil A. Armstrong became the first person to step on the moon, is part of the collection, for example.