Thursday, 6 December 2007

Free E-Books

Hopefully many of you have now made use of the growing collection of ebooks which are available through E-Book Library (EBL) via Athens. However, several students have asked about Google Books in recent months, so this is the topic of today's post.

Google Books is a project which aims to digitise and make available the contents of millions of books from a number of sources, including several famous academic libraries - you can read more about the project here. While this sounds wonderful, there are restrictions in place; most of the titles you find will only offer a very limited preview of their contents, as copyright law means that Google is unable to freely share this material with anyone who wants to use it, and this situation is unlikely to change any time soon. As most students usually want full text items which they can use straight away, this is obviously a major problem.

Having said that, the site could possibly be useful if you have an interest in the early years (or any subject for that matter) from a historical perspective. This is because older titles are often no longer copyright protected - explaining it in detail would take a while! - and so have entered the public domain, which means that they can be freely distributed. For example, while preparing this post, I was able to access the full text of an 1855 book entitled Practical Education; an 1861 edition of the American Journal of Education; an 1860 book entitled Infant Feeding and its Influence on Life.

Half of the fun is never quite knowing what you're going to stumble across, but it's also fascinating to compare the methods prescribed over a hundred years ago with today's established practice. If you have any trouble viewing any of the books you've found, downloading them in full from the link in the top-right hand corner of the screen seems to fix the problem.

A similar, albeit much smaller-scale project is the Project Gutenberg website, which focusses purely on books which are out of copyright. Unlike Google Books, this site concentrates on titles from more well-known authors. So next time you're asked to find out about John Dewey, why not access a free copy of his 1916 work Democracy and Education? Or you could take a look at a 1919 anthology entitled Cambridge Essays on Education. Titles such as these should provide you with an excellent historical understanding of how our views on childhood and education have developed over the decades.

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