eBooks: 1993 – The Online Books Page

by Marie Lebert on July 9, 2011

eBooks: 1993 - The Online Books Page

In 1993, John Mark Ockerbloom created The Online Books Page as “a website that facilitates access to books that are freely readable over the internet.”

The web was still in its infancy, with Mosaic as its first browser. John Mark Ockerbloom was a graduate student at the School of Computer Science (CS) of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).

Five years later, in September 1998, John Mark wrote: “I was the original webmaster here at CMU CS, and started our local web in 1993. The local web included pages pointing to various locally developed resources, and originally The Online Books Page was just one of these pages, containing pointers to some books put online by some of the people in our department. (Robert Stockton had made web versions of some of Project Gutenberg’s texts.) After a while, people started asking about books at other sites, and I noticed that a number of sites (not just Gutenberg, but also Wiretap and some other places) had books online, and that it would be useful to have some listing of all of them, so that you could go to one place to download or view books from all over the net. So that’s how my index got started.

I eventually gave up the webmaster job in 1996, but kept The Online Books Page, since by then I’d gotten very interested in the great potential the net had for making literature available to a wide audience. At this point there are so many books going online that I have a hard time keeping up. But I hope to keep up my online books works in some form or another. I am very excited about the potential of the internet as a mass communication medium in the coming years. I’d also like to stay involved, one way or another, in making books available to a wide audience for free via the net, whether I make this explicitly part of my professional career, or whether I just do it as a spare-time volunteer.” (NEF Interview)

In 1998, there was an index of 7,000 books that could be browsed by author, title or subject. There were also pointers to significant directories and archives of online texts, and to special exhibits.

As stated on the website at the time: “Along with books, The Online Books Page is also now listing major archives of serials (such as magazines, published journals, and newspapers) (…). Serials can be at least as important as books in library research. Serials are often the first places that new research and scholarship appear. They are sources for firsthand accounts of contemporary events and commentary. They are also often the first (and sometimes the only) place that quality literature appears. (For those who might still quibble about serials being listed on a ‘books page’, back issues of serials are often bound and reissued as hardbound ‘books’.)”

In 1999, after graduating from Carnegie Mellon with a Ph.D. in computer science, John Mark was hired as a digital library planner and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania Library. He also moved The Online Books Page there, kept it as clear and simple, and went on expanding it.

The Online Books Page offered links to 12,000 books in 1999, 20,000 books in 2003 (including 4,000 books published by women), 25,000 books in 2006, 30,000 books in 2008 (including 7,000 books from Project Gutenberg) and 35,000 books in 2010. The books “have been authored, placed online, and hosted by a wide variety of individuals and groups throughout the world”. The FAQ listed copyright information about most countries in the world, with links to further reading.

Copyright © 2011 Marie Lebert

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What Is A Web Book July 24, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Online Books Page-…I cannot say enough, what an inspiration for me!
I am in the infancy stage and just getting involved with something as well, after purchasing a Pandigital eReader.
Not the most advanced tool, but it is my first, and it has changed my life.
E books and web books are the way of the future, and I want to begin compiling, and writing, so thanks again for the inspiration.