Project Gutenberg – Using Volunteer Transcriptionists to Make eBooks Available for Free

Once upon a time, public libraries made books available for free to the masses. This revolutionary concept helped spread education and culture to the “lower classes” or those who couldn’t afford a formal education. And now the Project Gutenberg is doing the same thing for eBooks by utilizing volunteer transcriptionists.

The project takes published books that have an expired copyright and makes them available for free by letting the public download them on e-readers like Kindle and iPad. Classics such as the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Les Miserables, Pride and Prejudice and The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes are all currently available, and according to the project’s website about 10 new books a day are released. They couldn’t do any of this though without the thousands of volunteer transcriptionists that have signed up to help them though.

volunteer transcriptionists

Project Gutenberg asks users to donate to the project in one of two ways: with money or time. The project uses OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to convert the hard copies of books to digital text. This program “reads” the hard copy and produces a digital equivalent. Because the automated program isn’t 100% accurate (much like voice recognition or other computer-based transcription systems,) the site then puts the digital copy through at least two rounds of human proofreading to catch all of their errors. Volunteer transcriptionists and proofreaders are given the original copy and the digital copy side-by-side, and asked to correct the automated digital copy. The site then publishes the book in e-reader format and releases it on their site to the public.

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