With more books becoming available online, copyright-free, building an online library has never been easier.

Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the movable type printing press made mass publication possible and gave birth to public libraries. Knowledge and information was not the domain of a select few but was accessible to anyone who could read.

While public libraries offered books, their budgets limited the amount of books they could buy or lend. There were politics, biases and language issues when it came to acquiring books. Then came the Green movement, which made many feel guilty about reading books because trees were destroyed. The recycling argument made one wonder whether hardcover, paperbacks will altogether disappear.

But the advent of the Internet and e-books changed all that. Now you have millions of websites that offer free e-books, films, audio-books and feature films legally as copyright expires. It all started with Michael Stern Hart. His vision was to be able to carry the entire Library of Congress in a laptop. Thus began Project Gutenberg. With freeware concept being a big hit in the 1970s and 1980s, it soon had hundreds of e-books online. Today, Project Gutenberg has over 50,000 volunteers and offers free e-books, music, films, videos, and audio-books in over 100 languages!

Given the number of these websites, it is actually easier to build a multimedia library on your computer than wait for your local public library to acquire a title. This has even pushed booksellers like Amazon.com to list free e-books for download every day or publishers like HarperCollins to give away brand new books every month.

What about copyright violation, one might ask. Most of those up for free download are in the public domain, which means that they don’t have a copyright notice any more or the publisher or the author didn’t bother to renew the copyright. In addition, copyright laws and definition of intellectual property rights vary from country to country. Even authors worldwide list brand new titles for free promotion on Amazon apart from other bookseller websites and by publishers every day. So you can now not just own a book but also a library legally. What is important is that an average person gets to have a personal library for free!

Since this increases access to information and knowledge, it is extremely important. Take countries in Asia or Africa for example. Most schools and colleges don’t have well stocked libraries or computers. In India, considered an IT powerhouse, less than 10 per cent of the population has personal computers. Just imagine, one computer in each school or even village with Internet access, will be able to download over two million e-books for free. Some of the books can be printed and distributed. For the illiterate masses, you have audio e-books, which can help them acquire knowledge as it is reads out to them in their own language. No school or college needs to worry about not having enough books for its library.

The possibilities are endless if you are a social entrepreneur. There will never be a person who can claim he or she cannot afford an education. Websites like Coursera.org offers free university courses and give one a certificate of completion from various universities. You can interact with the professor and fellow students from your home. There is no limitation on the subjects, so you can be an engineer taking a course in psychology or a doctor taking a course in classical music, a kid learning about Artificial Intelligence from Stanford… the possibilities are endless. This means virtual universities where there is no course fee, just a course completion certificate from an accredited university! Best of all, you get to add the videos, audio and e-books of the course to your personal library. If you just like reading, have fun and happy reading, watching or listening, whichever is your preferred format.

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