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Magazines > Information Today > May 2004
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Information Today

Vol. 21 No. 5 — May 2004

Project Gutenberg Progresses
By Paula Hane

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 the world.

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 feasible

3. Be responsive to error reports and able to modify works when errors
are found

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 (

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

Project Gutenberg's
Distributed Proofreaders

Project Gutenberg of Australia

Projekt Gutenberg-DE

Project Gutenberg EU
(European countries)

Project Gutenberg Canada (coming soon)
Contact James Linden;
mailing list at

Project Gutenberg 2

World eBook Library

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-books—that's 11 weeks compared to about 26 years.

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.

PG 2

Hart and John S. Guagliardo, founder and executive director of the World eBook Library (WEL), co-founded the new initiative, known—for now—as 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 2—The 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 obsolescence.

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, said: "Unfortunately, Michael [Hart] didn't help when he bypassed the core volunteers to hand out the 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 Online."

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 collections—something 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, 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 indefinitely—any 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 developments.

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 e-mails:

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 (]

Paula J. Hane is Information Today, Inc.'s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks. Her e-mail address is
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