ACCESS | Asia 's Newspaper on Electronic Information Product & Service
September 2007 No.62  
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Raw Thought: announcing the Open Library


What are you supposed to feel about Aaron Swartz? He co-authored RSS, served on the W3C's RDF Core Working Group, helped the wonderful John Gruber design the amazing Markdown, and developed and gave away software like rss2email that many of us use every day... and then he graduated high school. He went to Stanford, naturally, at which point his already fascinating blog, Raw Thought, began alternating even more maddeningly between precocious, annoying, honest to the point of painfulness, and legitimately brilliant. A year into Stanford he dropped out, created Infogami for Paul Graham's YCombinator, then teamed up with Reddit's founders, developed, became a millionaire after Conde Nast bought Reddit, and then managed to get himself fired within a few weeks. He'll turn 21 in November, and in early celebration it seems he and Brewster Kahle are turning the library on its ear. Announcing the Open Library....So, what are you supposed to feel about Aaron Swartz? For me, personally, it seems to be a mix of jealousy, admiration, and gratitude. But mostly gratitude. Aaron, welcome to the library. How can I help you? Posted 16 July by Brett on

Early this year, when I [Aaron Swartz] left my job at Wired Digital, I thought I could look forward to months of lounging around San Francisco, reading books on the beach and drinking fine champagne and eating foie gras. Then I got a phone call. Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive was thinking of pursuing a project that I'd been trying to do literally for years. I thought long and hard about it and realized I couldn't pass this opportunity up. So I put aside my dreams of lavish living and once again threw myself into my work. Just as well, I suppose, since San Francisco's beaches are freezing cold, champagne has a disgusting taste, and foie gras is even worse. I thought of the smartest programmers and designers I knew and gave them a ring, sat down for coffee with them, threatened to fly out to their homes and knock on their doors. In the end, we got together an amazing group of people - all sworn to secrecy of course - and in the past few months we've put together what's probably the biggest project I ever worked on. So today I'm extraordinarily proud to announce the Open Library project. Our goal is to build the world's greatest library, then put it up on the Internet free for all to use and edit. Books are the place you go when you have something you want to share with the world - our planet's cultural legacy. And never has there been a bigger attempt to bring them all together. I hope you'll take a look and let me know what you think. And if this project excites you the way it excites me, I hope you'll join us. Source:

   About the Open Library

What if there was a library which held every book? Not every book on sale, or every important book, or even every book in English, but simply every book - a key part of our planet's cultural legacy.

First, the library must be on the Internet. No physical space could be as big or as universally accessible as a public web site. The site would be like Wikipedia—a public resource that anyone in any country could access and that others could rework into different formats.

Second, it must be grandly comprehensive. It would take catalog entries from every library and publisher and random Internet user who is willing to donate them. It would link to places where each book could be bought, borrowed, or downloaded. It would collect reviews and references and discussions and every other piece of data about the book it could get its hands on.

But most importantly, such a library must be fully open. Not simply "free to the people," as the grand banner across the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh proclaims, but a product of the people: letting them create and curate its catalog, contribute to its content, participate in its governance, and have full, free access to its data. In an era where library data and Internet databases are being run by money-seeking companies behind closed doors, it's more important than ever to be open.

So let us do just that: let us build the Open Library.

Earlier this year, a small group of people gathered at Internet Archive's San Francisco office to discuss whether this was possible. Could we build something so grand? We concluded that we could. We located a copy of the Library of Congress card catalog, phoned publishers and asked them for their data, created a brand new database infrastructure for handling millions of dynamic records, wrote a new type of wiki that lets users enter structured data, set up a search engine to look through it all, and made the resulting site look good.

We hooked it up to the Internet Archive's book scanning project, so that you can read the full text of all the out-of-copyright books they've made available. And we hope to add a print-on-demand feature, so that you can get nice paper copies of these scanned books, as well as a scan-on-demand feature, so you can fund the scanning of that out-of-copyright book you've always loved.

But we can only do so much on our own. Hopefully we've done enough to make it clear that this project is for real - not simply another pie-in-the-sky idea - but we need your help to make it a reality. So we're opening up the demo we've built so far, opening up the source code, opening up the mailing lists, and hoping you'll join us in building Open Library. It sure is going to be a fun ride. See the demo here. (Aaron Swartz and the Open Library team, 16 July 2007.)

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