Project Gutenberg.

An ebook reader propped against a stack of books.

Is there anything more heartwarming than a kid who wants a better life finding that life in a library? Some kid whose parents both had to work second-shift, so he cracked open books to learn the things that his parents couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t teach him. How many children found a sledgehammer and demolished the dam their zealous parents put between them and the world at a library? Just me? I think not.

Fewer than 10% of Americans go to the library weekly. Nearly 60% rarely or never go. As important as libraries are, there are lot of people who aren’t making it the library regularly. Fortunately, there are resources that just didn’t exist when I was a kid. One of the most important of these resources is the public domain ebook provider, Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg can never replace a library. Only public domain books are available for starters. But no library can replace Project Gutenberg either. You don’t need to travel to a specific building or have a laminated plastic key to get in. You don’t need a specialized device or app to check out an ebook, and no digital gremlin will steal away your access away after a time limit is up.

Project Gutenberg is just an idea. That idea is brought to life by by the hard work of volunteers who believe in it. Fifty new books hit the digital shelves at Project Gutenberg every day, and a decentralized team of volunteers makes it happen. Do you owe a debt to the freely available knowledge that you had access to? Give back. There are a few great ways to get involved with Project Gutenberg.

Ways to get involved

You don’t have to have a lot of time or a lot of money to help. A few pages per day or a few bucks here and there can make a big difference.


Have an eye for detail? Become a proofreader. Proofreaders carefully go over scans one page at a time and look for mistakes and inconsistencies. You don’t already have to be a pro; they have a complete training program complete with mentorship for your first project. You don’t have to memorize all the rules. They have easy-to-use documentation.

Smooth Reading

Smooth readers read the book from start to finish after it’s proofread and formatted. Writers from Alan Moore to Lee Child recommend reading widely and even randomly from time to time. Smooth readers get to read interesting books they might never find otherwise. If a smooth reader spot any errors left over from proofing or formatting, they report it so that it can be fixed before the title goes live. For all the details, check out the Smooth Reading wiki page.

Whether or not you volunteer, there’s another easy way to help the books keep flowing to Project Gutenberg: funding. They have an entire wiki page with all the ways to donate. Even with a volunteer workforce, there is infrastructure to maintain. Without that infrastructure, the whole system breaks down. Consider donating today.