Having purchased my Kindle (amidst some controversy among friends and acquaintances), I went looking for those books available for free download. Such books are pretty much pre-1923 and have no copyright.
Project Gutenberg is one of the best known resources for free on-line books. It was the brainchild of Michael Hart, who began the project in 1971. At that time there was no Internet, but there were computers, and Hart's mission was the computerized storage, retrieval, and searching of what was stored in libraries. You can read more about the history and philosophy of the project, and about Michael Hart, here.
Thousands of volunteers have contributed to the digitization of tens of thousands of books. As I was skimming through some of the website's material, I noticed a link to Distributed Proofreaders in the "Volunteering" section of Project Gutenberg's site map. Interested, I clicked on over.
Here's the concept:
Distributed Proofreaders provides a web-based method to ease the conversion of Public Domain books into e-books. By dividing the workload into individual pages, many volunteers can work on a book at the same time, which significantly speeds up the creation process.
During proofreading, volunteers are presented with a scanned page image and the corresponding OCR text on a single web page. This allows the text to be easily compared to the image, proofread, and sent back to the site. A second volunteer is then presented with the first volunteer's work and the same page image, verifies and corrects the work as necessary, and submits it back to the site. The book then similarly progresses through two formatting rounds using the same web interface.
Once all the pages have completed these steps, a post-processor carefully assembles them into an e-book, optionally makes it available to interested parties for 'smooth reading', and submits it to the Project Gutenberg archive.
Of course I registered right away, even before I was sure exactly how the interface works or had any familiarity with the proofreading guidelines (these ensure that everyone involved makes corrections in the same way). I was e-mailed a list of resources (a beginner's forum where I could ask questions; a FAQ; the guidelines, etc.). And so I dove in.
I've proofread maybe a dozen pages so far. The motto at DP is "a page a day," although you can decide for yourself when and how much you want to work on a book. When hundreds of people are each contributing a page a day, a book can come together relatively quickly. One page is not so hard to proofread, even when you're so new you have to keep checking the guidelines, nor is it time-consuming. It's a little strange to finish a page, then go on to another page that is not continuous with the one you've just worked on, but it's probably just as well. Get too invested in the story and you can miss something. Also, errors like a "the" at the end of one page repeated by a "the" at the beginning of the next are easy to miss. This way, that kind of error is avoided.
Beginners are given feedback on their work, which will be helpful. I need to know what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong.
It's fun for me (I know, I know!), and I like the idea that I'm helping the Project. There are other volunteer opportunities, so if this is something that might interest you or be important to you, visit the Project and investigate the possibilities.