The Project Gutenberg FAQ - VV-WD

Walter Debeuf


Quite by chance I became aware of PG when I was surfing and looking for interesting sites. I vaguely knew the name because I had heard of the Project a long time ago. After reading the "History and Philosophy of PG", I immediately became wildly enthusiastic about it. This was what I had been looking for for years, a meaningful use of my PC, and because I am a fervent lover of good literature, I didn't hesitate to contact the founders of the Project. I made a suggestion that I should work on French and Dutch e-texts. The very same day I received an answer from PG in which they told me they were very pleased with my contribution but that I had to keep in mind that all books must be free of copyright and published before 1923.

This wasn't so great. . . . After I browsed in the "Help And FAQ" of the PG site, I read that I didn't have to worry about all that, because they are willing to do all the clearance!

On my own bookshelf I found an old book of Jules Renard, "Poil de Carotte". It seemed old enough to me, but I couldn't find any copyright notations. So, I mailed to Mr Hart all the information I found on the title page and the verso, and asked him what he thought about it. The next day I received his answer, he wrote: "We still have to prove this edition was pre-1923, so I am forwarding to our authority on such copyright research." This authority is Ms. Dianne Bean who mailed me a few days later very pleasantly that I could start typing, because the copyright issues had been resolved. She asked me to send a "TP&V" (a photocopy of the title page and verso) of the book to Mr. Hart, because they need that for legal reasons.

But something wasn't very clear to me concerning the format I had to use. In the "FAQ" they spoke about "plain vanilla ASCII", something I never had heard about in my life! In "How to Volunteer, PG Volunteers' Board" Mr. Jim Tinsley answered all kind of questions about all kinds of problems people have when they start volunteering. So I did the same and sent him my question. I received an extensive answer about all kind of formats in the "ISO 8859 Alphabet Soup" and he recommended me to use "Codepage 1252" which is very common in Windows. Here are the addresses which Jim sent to me:

"If you are interested in the differences, I recommend the excellent web page

I chose a French book, first because I had it already on my bookshelf, and secondly because I wanted to perfect my knowledge of the French language and typing seemed the right way to do it. When copying an author's text, you are very close to it. You also have to pay full attention to the spelling of the words. Gradually you come under the spell of the story and you forget that you are typing . . . Nevertheless, it is hard work, especially when it is not your native language, and therefore you shouldn't try to rush it. At first I started with two or three pages a day, which means that you would need about two months typing for an average book. But good typists can do it more quickly.

I can only applaud the aim of PG, to put books available on the net as much as possible and without cost, for every one in the whole world. I love to co-operate with it.

In the meantime there are thousands and thousands of books in the PG-collection, and that makes it a little difficult to find other examples which are free of copyright, because they must be from before 1923. Since I've got the "PG-bug" it's a challenge for me to find suitable copies, and I look for them high and low. I can buy a few books for a song and I take them home as a trophy, looking forward to the work which is waiting for me . . .

In libraries you can find old publications which you can find nowhere else.

It's amazing how fascinating old books can be and how much you can learn from them. For the moment I'm working on "Pecheur d'Islande" by Pierre Loti, in which I get acquainted with an old tradition of fishermen, very interesting. Without PG I would probably never have read this. There must be still a lot of little treasures in some old and dusty attics, waiting to be born again by the magic touch of a PG-volunteer.

If you do it, no compensation or payment is waiting, but . . . doing something disinterested and unselfish gives you a good feeling.