Why pay for archived books on CD? Part One

26 06 2008

One of the reasons I started this blog was because of the number of people selling public domain books to unsuspecting victims for ridiculous prices.  I found a brief definition of public domain as “The status of publications, products, and processes that are not protected under patent or copyright.”  For those not in the know, here two facts to remember; books are considered public domain if they are published prior to 1923 or published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 without a copyright notice.

Unfortunately, there are people out there who are taking advantage of the lack of understanding as it pertains to books within the public domain.  This has hit home for me specifically as I have searched for books that would be of use for me in my genealogical research.  On more than one occasion I have been told of certain books that may assist me in my research, only to discover that the book was printed many years ago and the odds of obtaining a copy would be pretty tough.  What I originally thought would be the next step would be to purchase the book(s) on CD that I could simply browse from my computer.  I was wrong.  There may be some occasions where the only option is to pay for a book that has been digitized to CD, but for the most part you can find them for free online.  If you know where to look.

For instance, consider the three-volume History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men compiled by Duane Hamilton Hurd.  This is a fantastic resource for those looking to discover more in-depth information about the cities and towns within this historic county.  Each chapter is dedicated to a particular city or town and many names are provided within each.  This set could be of huge importance to someone who is researching their family tree back to Middlesex County in the 17th and 18th centuries.  If you were to look for a means to obtain these books, the chances are likely that you aren’t going to have immediate access to them via your local library and an interlibrary loan isn’t very plausible either.  These three volumes cover more than three thousand pages combined and were published between 1880 and 1890.  Doing a quick search online would give you links to several dealers who are offering the collection on CD in fully-searchable PDF format.  All for the low-low-low price of nearly thirty bucks, not including shipping.

However, did you know that with a little patience you could find this book in several formats for absolutely nothing?  It’s true – no catch, no fees, no nothing.  Being published in 1890 means that the books fall into the public domain, so odds are someone has already scanned the book and made it available in many number of formats.  I’d like to share two excellent resources for finding these public domain books which you can access for free at any time: Google Book Search and the Internet Archive Text Search.  By no means will this provide you with all your research needs, but it certainly will make a huge difference.

Part two of this article will delve into the steps necessary to find books via Google Book Search and part three will discuss the Internet Archive Text Search.