If you browse the shelves of any large library, most of what you'll find there is not available online. Even in this amazing electronic age of ours, this is still a fundamental truth — most content in print is on paper, and cannot yet be found online.
There are efforts afoot to change this, most notably Google's noble, ambitious, tortured, and controversial effort to put entire university libraries online. But this project, if it ever comes to pass, will be many, many years in the making.
In the mean time, though, there are substantial chunks of the world of printed books that are finding their way online. The beauty of these sites is not only easy access to the books, but the fact that you can search the entire content of the texts at a whim.
For a casual browser, this is a nice convenience for searching out a forgotten quote or passage. For a professional researcher, it is an essential tool. Without access to full-text book searches, I would guess about 25% of the Google Answers questions that I answer would go unanswered.
The two biggest and best known resources of full-text book searches are Amazon.com's A9 site — far and away, the best and deepest online book resource on the internet — and, Google Books, which is making a valiant effort at catching up.
There are many others, though. I've mentioned before three of my favorites, the Making of America, Project Gutenberg, and Questia, all of which are rich sources for historical and other ebooks.
The Making of America and Gutenberg sites are totally free. Questia, though a subscription service, allows free searching, and shows brief snippets of the results. Most of the resources listed below are totally free, but a few are subscription sites that nevertheless, allow full-text searching for free, even if showing only a limited result without a subscription.
Here, then in no particular order, are some other resources worth checking out:
Taylor & Francis' eBookstore has over 10,000 books in its online collection of diverse, mostly scholarly, topics. A search returns only a brief snippet from the book's content, but full pages can be seen for limited viewing
Ebrary has a hard-to-find, hard-to-understand search function for its 20,000-volume (and growing) online library of assorted books. There's no topical theme here…think of ebrary as an online bookstore catering to a diverse clientele. To search ebrary, you need to go through the odd steps of registering AND opening an account with a minimum $5.00 balance…however, you don't need to actually spend the five bucks.
I'll mention NetLibrary just because it's a biggie, but (two thumbs down) you can't search it without subscription access, despite netlibrary's supposed goal of making information more readily available to the world at large.
There are many smaller collections, some of general interest, and some with a very narrow speciality. Finding them can be tricky…Here are a few that I've come across:
A small collection of 19th Century schoolbooks in the United States.
HEARTH stands for the Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition and History, and that's just what you'll find…about a thousand Home Ec books and related materials.
EServer Online Books Collection–Assorted fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
Books Online from the University of Toronto has almost 1,000 assorted titles, mostly early 1900's vintage.
I'm sure everyone will want to visit the Distributed Digital Library of Mathematical Monographs…full-text monographs from Cornell, UMich, and the State and University Library in Göttingen.
Cornell also offers Historical Monographs and a site devoted entirely to books (more than 3,000…wow!) about the history of witchcraft.
Bartleby is a terrific resource for classic reference books, literature and verse, things like Bullfinch's Mythology,
Roget's Thesaurus, Robert's Rules, and Bartlett's Quotations, just to drop a few names.
University of Virgina offers over 2,100 ebooks “…including classic British and American fiction, major authors, children's literature, American history, Shakespeare, African-American documents, the Bible, and much more.”
And the University of California has a different sort of offering — eScholarship Editions of almost 2,000 books from its academic presses, although only a small subset are fully available to the public.
Haven't really used this source yet, but I guess Posner was some rich guy who collected and eventualy digitized rare books, including more than six hundred “…landmark titles of the history of western science, beautifully produced books on decorative arts and fine sets of literature.”
For Classics, head to The Online Medieval and Classical Library, “…a collection of some of the most important literary works of Classical and Medieval civilization…”
Australia's got some e-content books at this University of Adelaide collection.
And so does Ireland , via CELT, the Corpus of Electronic Texts, which “…brings the wealth of Irish literary and historical culture to the Internet, for the use and benefit of everyone worldwide. It has a searchable online database consisting of contemporary and historical texts from many areas, including literature and the other arts.”
For science and science policy, turn to The National Academies Press collection of more than 3,000 titles…a clumsy interface (and deliberately so, if you ask me), but who could ask for better content?
The Electronic Open Stacks at the University of Chicago appears to have a rich collection, though I haven't really made use of it yet, myself.
But enough with the scholarly stuff. To get yer blood pumping, check out the pulp fiction at Dime Novels and Penny Dreadfuls. There are only a few available, but they include some doubtless classics such as:
Nick Carter, Detective: The Solution of a Remarkable Case,
by a celebrated author
Jesse James, the Outlaw,
by W. B. Lawson
Deadwood Dick's Doom; or, Calamity Jane's Last Adventure,
by Edward L. Wheeler
Have fun, everyone. Here's hoping for a rapid outbreak of peace in the world.
pafalafaga David Sarokin