Either a classmate or my professor recently linked to an article about the inclusion of online, freely available books in library collections and their catalogs. Unfortunately, search in our online education environment is difficult, and so I’m not able to credit the referrer or reference the article at this time. My impression of the article was that libraries are not consistently incorporating these resources into their collections and catalogs. I am not aware of any central location that libraries might find these resources, in all their forms (i.e. Open Access, Public Domain, Creative Commons licensed, etc.), facilitating their inclusion. Selection aids exist for other resources and assist librarians in the time-consuming task of selection. Perhaps, selection aids for freely available digitized books would be helpful.

I searched online a bit to determine if the libraries that I use are incorporating some of these books and to see if I could find any selection aids specific to this group of resources. I looked for three books, that I found freely available online, in my local library catalog, in my university catalog, and in WorldCat.

All three catalogs offered online access to Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (found in the Open Library, Project Gutenberg, and HathiTrust) that is in the Public Domain. I then looked for Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (found in the CC Wiki). The physical book was cataloged in my local library, it was not in my university library (though another book of Doctorow’s was available in print), and WorldCat linked to an e-book in Library and Archives Canada Electronic Collection. Finally, I searched for the book, Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution, freely available from O’Reilly Open Books. WorldCat was the only catalog with the title, and it had an e-book listing. Open Library, HathiTrust, nor Project Gutenberg provided access to this book. Of course the exclusion of any of these materials from my local public library and from my university library could be attributed to other reasons. It is possible that the books did not meet other selection criteria.

The Hilton C. Buley Library at Southern Connecticut University lists Open Access resources including books. Several of the resources, such as Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and The Online Books Page, provide RSS feeds that might be useful to any librarians interested in adding these books to their collection. The Internet Archive Text allows user ratings that could aid in selection. Project Gutenberg lists the top 100 most downloaded books and authors. And, some of the resources are subject or area specific. Librarians working in areas like young adult or children might select resources available from Literature for Children. Librarians selecting for particular subjects like agriculture or environment and sustainability could find materials in the United Nations University Publications.

There may be some copyright issues to consider with some forms of these freely available books, though. Looking at the University of Michigan’s treatment of the O’Reilly book mentioned earlier, it looks like this issue may be avoided by merely linking to the online version, thus avoiding the “copy.”