Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Online books

The other day I was looking for a chess book and I googled it. This was unusual for me, as I usually go straight to a chess retailer and search for the books there. Google produced a result which was unexpected to me and that was it's own google books site. I'd never really looked at Google books before but I was rather amazed at the amount of books they have. Apparently Google Books has scanned over 30 million books and put them online.

There have been problems with this service, the most notable being copyright infringement. I have to admit, that I'm unsure of the issues here. We have public libraries which freely lend copyrighted material to members of the library, and in some respects, services like Google Books appears as an online version of a library. But digitizing books and making them freely available online can only damage the livelihood of authors. Authors who will hardly bother to waste their time and effort just to see their material freely distributed with no recompense.

There are resources online which seek to digitize non copyrighted material, works that are old or in the public domain. Project Gutenberg is one such resource with nearly 50.000 titles to download.

However, the mother of all online resources is the Internet Archive. I looked at it earlier today and was astounded by the amount of material they have. There are nearly 5 million books, nearly 4000 films, , over 100,000 concert recordings and many other services such as collections of NASA images, web archives with approaching 50 billion pages, educational resources including lectures and supplementary materials, and a mass of historical software.

I downloaded an interesting little book by the chess player Hugh Kennedy from 1876. "Waifs and Strays" has some personal reminiscences by Kennedy of some players of the day and is an amusing portrait of chess players. In the first couple of pages, Kennedy talks about snobbishness in chess, wondering,

" is it that we constantly see persons of upright character, faultless manners, and whose tempers are proof against every common trial, the moment they set themselves behind a chess board, undergoing a kind of metempsychosis, and becoming the reverse of their normal selves - unjust, rude and quarrelsome - in a word, unmitigated snobs?"

I'll be reading through this gem and looking for more timeless truisms in its pages.

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