Microsoft’s new online books

Last week, on the CWDG email list, friend Tonia (Teej) Smith sent the membership a link to Microsoft’s new online historic books site.  Not knowing the depth of what was on the site, it took me a couple days to get around to checking it out.  When I did, I was astonished.

Microsoft has digitized seemingly thousands of books from the 19th and 20th century (copyrights expired) on this site.  I was amazed at the rather obscure books that are on there in addition to the more well-known ones.  In the Civil War genre, one will find quite a few rarer books, even including pamphlets of speeches, etc.  Want a copy of the multivolume Pennsylvania at Gettysburg?  It’s on there.  I think nearly every regimental history in print is on the site, or probably will be soon.  Seems as though the entire Library of Congress is digitized.  Among this new site, the Making of America digitization, and the plethora of websites that have digitzed historical newspapers online, students and researchers have just about as much available through their computers as a trip to the LOC or any of the historical library repositories.

All of this brings me back to something I posted about earlier, regarding book reprints and the manually-bound copies of books that I had put together in the past.  When the multitude of book reprints started coming out over the past several years, it began eliminating the need (and the high expense) for me to copy rarer books and put them in binders for use in my research and writing.  I could buy a $30 or $60 reprint, replacing the $100+ I’d have in a single book xerox copy.  Over the past couple years I began throwing away those manually bound copies of books as I bought the respective reprints.

Well, thank goodness I saved the binders, because Microsoft’s site is causing me to fill them up again.  I’ve been finding many books on there that simply aren’t in reprint.  And, the digital images of the books are superior to the often-bad copies I’ve previously had of them.  So in some cases I’m printing off new copies to replace my old ones.  And in other cases, I only previously had copies of a few pages out of some books (say, for instance, a part dealing with a particular campaign or individual) to save time and money, or because that’s all I was interested in at the time.  Now, I’m able to print off the entire book.

And all it’s costing is the paper and toner in my high-speed laser printer… maybe a couple bucks total for a 200-page book.  It’s never been this cheap or quick to have a book in hand.  To copy the book myself, or have my researcher do it, would go right back to the more than $100 investment.

And what this means for the historical world in general is that all of these wonderful resources are being opened up to everyone, which is a terrific thing indeed.  Many, many more folks will have access to those previously-scarce primary sources, which will generate a whole new interest in them.  There’s a good search feature on the site, and besides books there are images, maps and more available.  When you click on a book result, it will take you to a searchable page to see images of the book’s pages, and then you can download the entire book and print what you want – or save it in your hard drive or to disc.  The images of the book and its pages are in full color, too, and they’re extremely high quality.

Check the site out.  Try all sorts of specific and non-specific search key words, and you’ll be amazed what you find.

Microsoft online book site

Published in: on December 22, 2006 at 11:19 am  Comments (6)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. J.D.,

    This is truly an amazing tool. I started putting together a “regimental bibliography” of the Petersburg Campaign last year, and most of the OOP books I have listed are available for download! The internet is truly a wonderful, wonderful tool. Looks like I’ll have to go to an office supply store and pick up my own collection of binders. I think I’m gonna need a lot of printer ink cartridges as well… 😉

    Brett S.

  2. I have had several ink jet printers and they have never, ever given me anywhere near the supposed “approx. 500 pages”. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten anything approaching even 200 pages from a single cartridge. Laser printers would have to be the way to go for this, I would venture to guess.

  3. Thanks for the tip. I’ll have to look into this a little closer before starting to go crazy with printing. At the very least, I can download and store these until I’m ready to print and read.

    Brett S.

  4. Our laser printer is very quick (about 6 pages per minute)… but one tip is to set your printing properties to print two pages of the book to a sheet. Of course, make sure that the print isn’t so small that you can’t read it. Then 3-hole punch them and bind them.

    A 300-page book, therefore, will only take 150 sheets.


  5. J.D.,

    I’m not quite sure what you mean. It sounds like you are printing only on one side of a piece of paper. Rather than print two pages on one side, why not set the printer to print page 1 on one side of a sheet, page 2 on the opposite side, etc.? Does the print bleed through and make it hard to read?


  6. Hey Brett,

    Yes – I print two pages on one side. My printer doesn’t have the capability to print on both sides. I could set the print program to print only every other page, then re-load the sheets and print the other pages on the backs, but that would be too much trouble 🙂

    As I mentioned, though, you should only print two pages to a sheet when the book pages are smaller – otherwise the print would come out too small to read. I just printed a book this afternoon which had large-size pages and smaller original type size, so I printed it only one page to a sheet. Otherwise I’d need a magnifying glass to read it. Fortunately, though, I only had to print about 50 pages so it’s not too huge of a file.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: