If you have ever read a classic book in an electronic format, especially if you didn’t have to pay for it, there’s a good chance you were enjoying the fruits of Project Gutenberg. Since the early 1970s, Project Gutenberg has been converting out-of-copyright texts into electronic formats and making them freely available. Unlike more recent mass-digitization projects like Google Books which preserve huge numbers of titles en masse but have limited quality control, Project Gutenberg books get an individual human touch — errors are corrected, often creating a product more accurate than the original printed version, and formatting is adjusted to allow comfortable reading on practically any device.
Volunteer labor is one of the ways Project Gutenberg manages to release so many titles in spite of the huge effort involved in formatting each book. The Distributed Proofreaders Project provides an interface where volunteers can view one page at a time of a digitized book and conveniently correct errors in the computer-generated text. It’s structured a bit like a game — as readers proofread more pages, they can gain new ranks which allow them to participate in more and more advanced stages of the correction and formatting process. Friendly competition and an emphasis on mentoring have formed a large, diverse community around the project.
The Digital Library has decided to try working with this community to improve the quality of some of the books in our online collection. The first title, History of the Catholic Church in Paterson, N.J., has just entered the first stage of proofreading. If you are interested in helping with this collaboration, you can find a quick tutorial on distributed proofreading here. If there is a particular title in our collection that you would like to see given the Gutenberg treatment, please let us know in the comments.