Project Gutenberg Progresses
By Paula Hane
In 1971, Michael Hart typed the text of the U.S. Declaration of Independence
into a mainframe computer at the University of Illinois, creating the first
electronic book. This was the start of Project Gutenberg (PG), an ambitious
effort to develop a free public library of 10,000 public-domain e-books. Progress
was slow at first, but things have definitely picked up in recent years. In
the first 11 weeks of 2004, Project Gutenberg added 313 new e-books. It took
from 1971 to 1997 to produce the first 313 e-booksthat's 11 weeks
compared to about 26 years.
Project Gutenberg Partners
[Author's Note: This draft text was supplied by Gregory Newby.
It's subject to revision.]
As an entity, Project Gutenberg refers to Project Gutenberg of the
United States, founded by Michael Hart and operating with the support
of the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation. As a concept, Project
Gutenberg is larger, more unlimited, open to like-minded projects around
All projects that use the Project Gutenberg name, or that claim to
be Project Gutenberg Partners, should share the Mission and Definition
of Project Gutenberg, plus:
1. Allow unlimited distribution of all their content (as permissible
under copyright or other legal constraints)
2. Provide at least one editable format for each work, whenever
3. Be responsive to error reports and able to modify works when
4. Make all content available in electronic form without fees
or limitations, other than copyright or other legal restrictions requested
by the copyright holders or donors, and in accordance with the principles
of the Project Gutenberg "small print" license (http://gutenberg.org/license).
Partner projects need to get permission from both Michael Hart (trademark
owner) and the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation before using
the Project Gutenberg name.
Project Gutenberg of Australia
Project Gutenberg EU
Project Gutenberg Canada (coming soon)
Contact James Linden firstname.lastname@example.org;
mailing list at http://lists.pglaf.org
Project Gutenberg 2
World eBook Library
In October 2003, Project Gutenberg added the 10,000th e-book to its collection.
Hart then boldly announced a new goal: "We want to grow the collection to 1
million free e-books and distribute them to 1 billion people for a total of
1 quadrillion e-books to be given away by the end of the year 2015."
Hart has been working on PG for 33 years. Amazingly, he's still excited about
the project's direction and goals. Hart doesn't think small, to say the least.
In a recent phone call, he told me: "I want Project Gutenberg to be here 1,000
years from now. We were getting conservative and needed to regenerate and try
new approaches to keep growing."
We talked about those new approaches. In fact, what had triggered my phone
call to Hart in late March was hearing about Project Gutenberg 2, a resource
that's offering text versions of books for free but selling Adobe PDF files
of e-books. How can it use the PG name in this way? And doesn't it violate
the spirit of what PG is all about? Things started buzzing at the public Project
Gutenberg volunteers' discussion list, gutvol-d. When a bit of flak ensued,
I started checking it out. In the process, I was brought up-to-date on PG's
status and plans.
Hart and John S. Guagliardo, founder and executive director of the World
eBook Library (WEL), co-founded the new initiative, knownfor nowas
Project Gutenberg 2. Hart owns the trademark to the Project Gutenberg name
and gave permission for its use. The goal of PG 2 is to provide the online
community with free or inexpensive access to intellectual properties from around
the world. Guagliardo says: "PG 2 is a chapter of the World eBook Library....
Our hope is that this joint venture will improve preservation and access of
public-domain classic works of literature."
The co-founders say that PG 2 came from the need to include existing e-book
collections, such as those found in schools, universities, and professional
and religious organizations. Many such e-books do not fall into the acceptable
criteria of Project Gutenberg. "For those books, PG 2 was created to find a
home. PG 2 is a consortium of collections. Our vision is to create an additional
portal where a broader variety of intellectual objects may be accessed."
The World eBook Library, founded in 1996, claims to be "the world's largest
e-book provider." WEL's mission is "to serve the public [and] aid students
and educators by providing both free public access and an enhanced membership
section to the world's most complete collection of electronic texts, books,
and documents online as well as offer a variety of services and resources that
support and strengthen the instructional programs of education, elementary
through post-baccalaureate studies."
The first implementation of PG 2 included a member-supported section: Subscriptions
were charged to individuals and institutions for access to the PDF files. At
press time, Guagliardo announced that PG 2 would no longer have a membership
section or promote PDF e-books.
The appearance of the site and its labeling as "Project Gutenberg 2The
Next Millennium" caused considerable reverberations in the PG world. Use of
the number "2" connotes version 2.0 of an earlier version 1.0. In addition,
since "2" is the designated successor to an original, it implies the original's
Several issues appear to have rankled the loyal, hardworking group of PG
volunteers, some of whom put in 10 to 40 or more hours a week. David Rothman,
coordinator of TeleRead.org, said: "Unfortunately, Michael [Hart] didn't help
when he bypassed the core volunteers to hand out the projectgutenberg.info
domain to the mysterious World eBook Library. I remain baffled why Gutenberg
couldn't treat WEL like any other partner as opposed to letting it use the
Gutenberg 2 name on that choice parcel of Internet real estate. Sites like
Blackmask distribute Gutenberg-originated books while avoiding any chance
of confusion with the actual PG. All the disclaimers in the world on the Gutenberg
2 site won't do any good."
While Rothman was critical of doling out the domain and trademarked name,
PG 2's promotion of the proprietary Adobe PDF ("Adobe is the ultimate anti-ASCII"),
and PG's management problems under Hart, he also praised what Hart has accomplished. "Michael
Hart is long overdue for a MacArthur [Fellows] genius award for his
vision of thousands of free books on the Net. I can't imagine life without
public-domain e-books from Gutenberg and other essential sites like Blackmask
Responding to requests for clarification and to the grumbling, Hart said
on the list: "PGII is still most certainly 'under construction' and has still
not been announced to the public." He offered this explanation: "[T]here is
no intention on anyone's part for PGII to do anything outside the goals we
have always had, other than the expansion into various other languages and
formats and to be a collection of collections, relying on permissions given
for each of these collectionssomething Greg Newby and I are not willing
for PG to do. Not to mention that PGII was never intended to replace PG ...
but only to provide more assistance to our goals. This will all appear in the
disclaimer for PGII."
Notice the change in Hart's e-mail response above from "PG 2" to the Roman
numeral version, "PGII." Even this seems subject to debate. In fact, every
time I checked the PG 2 site, it was different. As of mid-April, the relationships
among PG 2, PG, and the World eBook Library were definitely a work in progress,
with both Hart and Guagliardo promising revised mission statements and clarification.
Everyone involved seems to want the various identity and organizational issues
to be resolved so that PG can move on. One loyal volunteer wrote to me: "PG
is having some growing pains. We hope that PG will be able to address these
items and continue its mission." Other volunteers are still insistent that
granting permission for the PG 2 name and domain use was a big mistake.
At press time, Hart and Gregory Newby of the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive
Foundation had requested four specific changes for PG 2: separating PG 2 from
the World eBook Library (with no fee-based arrangements at http://projectgutenberg.info),
attaching the proper license information to all PG materials (which had been
botched), subscribing to the gutvol-d list and participating in discussions,
and writing a clear statement of purpose for PG 2, including how it's different
than PG. Guagliardo has agreed to implement these changes. Stay tuned, since
additional changes seem likely.
The Future of PG
Hart based the Project Gutenberg concept on the premise that electronic data
stored in a computer can be reproduced indefinitelyany number of copies
can be made. Therefore, it's conceivable that anyone in the world can access
an e-text. The decision was made to use the simplest, easiest format available:
the "plain vanilla" or ASCII format to ensure access and readability. PG is
made up entirely of volunteers who work on producing these ASCII texts.
Hart earnestly believes that public-domain content is the best possible path
to creating greater opportunities for worldwide literacy. He calls his efforts
to bring electronic libraries to the masses "a neo-industrial revolution."
So given this stance, many question why Hart continues to retain trademark
rights to the Project Gutenberg name. Why not assign it to the foundation that
supports PG? The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation (PGLAF), a not-for-profit
corporation, was formed in 2000 to operate as the legal entity that supports
Project Gutenberg. PGLAF receives donations (most of them, unfortunately, fairly
small), employs Hart and part-time office staff, and maintains organizational
records. Newby volunteers as PGLAF's CEO and works on many of PG's technology
Interestingly, Newby informed me of some important changes afoot for PG.
These updates are optimistically expected to be rolled out this month. A new
conversion capability (now in test mode) will let PG users download texts in
whichever format they want, including PDF. He also said: "Part of the effort
will be to have our e-books 'born as XML' rather than plain text or HTML. That
will let us more easily create other formats on demand."
Newby also said that PG has been offering the ability to download some files
via a P2P option (over a peer-to-peer network), but it has not been announced.
This capability will be expanded in the future. Newby is excited about this,
saying that it will extend the availability of files to people who wouldn't
know to look for a text at Project Gutenberg.
In addition, PG periodically generates CD and DVD image files (ISO files).
PG has been giving away CDs and DVDs; a volunteer mails them out for free on
request. The August 2003 "Best of Gutenberg" CD contains more than 600 e-books.
About 9,400 e-books dating up to December 2003 are available on DVD. Soon,
according to Newby, PG will offer an on-the-fly option, allowing users to download
an ISO file and make their own discs.
Newby did say that PG needs to seriously address "what it takes" to be a
Project Gutenberg partner and to use the PG trademark for a partner project. "I
hope this discussion will help us in the future and also help to shape PG 2
and its relationship to PG." (See the sidebar "Project Gutenberg Partners.")
Hart Has Heart
Despite the swirling controversies and calls for change, Hart remains focused
on numbers and projected goals. He now says: "The future mission of Project
Gutenberg is to create 10 million e-books and translate them into 100 different
languages for 15 percent of the world." Here's an example of how he ends his
As of April 14, 2004
~12,322 FreeBooks at:
~7,678 to go to 20,000
We are ~1/5 of the way
from 10,000 to 20,000.
In addition, Hart described the following initiatives: "Project Gutenberg
of Europe has been founded to this end, and Project Gutenberg of Canada is
being founded as I write this. These are being added to Project Gutenberg of
Australia. Project Gutenberg of Europe will likely be adding individual Project
Gutenberg groups in each of the European nations and will create new e-books
in some 50 languages."
He continued: "We hope to also create such projects in Africa, Asia, and
other regions. In particular, we hope to create projects by which e-books can
reach the masses via digital radio links to solar-powered PDAs. In addition,
Project Gutenberg will be adding more multimedia e-books: paintings, sculptures,
music, audio e-books, movies, etc., along with a wider variety of text formats."
As Barbara Quint, editor of Searcher, said to me after reading some
Gutenberg texts: "It struck me how noble, how wonderful, how great-spirited
the people who made this all possible were. The time, the tedium, the labor
it would take to render a book digital from a print copy." Further, she noted, "It's
all a reminder of how much of what is the best on the Web and the Net comes
from the kindness of strangers."
[Author's Note: Volunteers can help the project by proofreading text,
a page at a time, at Project Gutenberg's Distributed Proofreaders (http://www.pgdp.net).]
Paula J. Hane is Information Today, Inc.'s news bureau chief
and editor of NewsBreaks. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.