Since I was old enough to hold a book, I have been an avid reader. Our living room and all of the bedrooms in my house have at least one wall covered by a filled bookshelf. All of my children were brought up with a love of books and reading, a love that has been passed on to their children. On a regular basis, I purchase books for myself and my family from the local bookstores, as well as online sources such as Amazon and Better World Books (my personal favorite). For the past few years, I have been supplementing my physical book purchases with digital book purchases, purchasing titles that can be read on my computers or smartphone.
In past columns I had written about the vast libraries of free books available from Google (books.google.com), and Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org ). While there is obviously some redundancy and overlap in titles between all of the resources, I have been downloading or viewing online countless free books from other resources including the Open Library, and the free libraries available from Amazon for its Kindle reader and Barnes & Noble for its Nook reader.
The Open Library (OpenLibrary.org) has an extensive library of well over a million electronic books available (precisely 1,191,271 titles available as I type this). Registration on the site is required for access, but registration is free and very easy; no personal information is required. The Open Library offers much more than just free books, it also offers other interesting services to its members. Open Library has over a million titles labeled with a green, open book “Read online” icon, which indicates that the titles are available to all for free. An orange lock “Daisy” icon indicates a title is one of the more than 250,000 modern e-books available in the “Protected DAISY” format for the “U.S. print-disabled community.” A green book “Borrow” icon indicates a book is one of the 10,000 titles that can be borrowed by anyone from the Open Library, limited to one copy at a time, for up to two weeks. This same “Borrow” icon also indicates books that might be available to be lent to other libraries.
The Open Library is fully searchable with a variety of available search options. I did a simple search limited to e-books with the word “nursing” and had 1,842 hits. The default display sorts the results by relevance, but the display can also be sorted by “ Most Editions,” “First Published,” or “Most Recent.” The results were about evenly split between titles available to anyone to read, or titles are restricted to the “U.S. print-disabled community.” Being especially fond of antique books, I selected a readable version of “The Nurse” written by Luigi Tansillo and first published in 1800. Clicking on the title opened the menu displaying the available options for this particular book. For “The Nurse,” there were several options presented. Being somewhat ethnocentric, I selected the third edition published in English in 1804, rather than the second edition published in Italian in 1800. I first selected the “Read Online” option, which opened a Web based reader; this displayed images of each page of the book, along with simple and intuitive controls. One helpful feature was a speaker icon on the top-right corner of the display, which would read each page using a computerized speech synthesis, much like a traditional audio book. Other options available included the ability to download the book in a wide selection of digital formats including PDF, plain text, DAISY, ePub, DjVu, MOBI and “Send to Kindle.” With more than a million other free e-book titles available in a variety of formats, there is likely to be something available for everybody.
It is hard to watch TV, read a magazine, or listen to the radio without hearing an advertisement for Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s Nook series of digital e-readers. While those tablet-like digital devices are enormously popular, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble) offer a wide assortment of free apps (applications) for almost all computers and smart devices. On my Android smartphone and all of my PCs, I have downloaded and installed (free) both the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook apps. While I can purchase millions of titles with either the Kindle or Nook apps, it is worthwhile to know that both Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer a large library of free books and other publications for download. As I type this, I currently have about 100 free books already downloaded to my smartphone, an available personable library to keep me occupied and entertained for many hours.
Amazon has an extensive library of more than 60,000 free Kindle formatted e-books available for download; while most are permanently available once downloaded, Kindle also offers a free “lending library” of thousands of other titles for its “Amazon Prime” members. Many websites, such as Open Library, also offer their collection of free titles in Kindle format. The website FreeStuffTimes.com recently published a listing of its 99 favorite free Kindle e-books available from Amazon; this listing is available at freestufftimes.com/99-free-kindle-ebook-downloads.
Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader is offering Amazon’s Kindle some stiff competition in the e-reader market place. Barnes and Noble offers free versions of the Nook reader for almost all platforms and operating systems, including a variety of tablets, smartphones, computers and “NOOK for Web,” which can be used in any Internet Web browser. Barnes & Noble offers its nook users a huge assortment of free e-books and Nook apps; while many of the available books are full versions, many others are listed as “Special Free Previews,” which only include a limited number of chapters rather than an entire book. As I type this, Barnes & Noble is offering 1,842,036 free e-books (full editions), free apps for the Nook, and “Special Free Previews.” One tip that I use to find the free Nook e-books of personal interest is to select a category in the “Nook Books” directory, and then sort by price, with the lowest prices first — the free Nook e-books rise to the top of the list.
With millions of free e-books available in a variety of formats that can be viewed on almost all modern computers, tablets and smart devices, there is no valid reason why we cannot be a more literate and educated society. These free e-books are readily available, so take advantage of the knowledge and entertainment that they may provide.