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.