1 Comment

The Ebook Turns 50; FEF Monographs Fund.

On July 4, 1971, Michael Hart made the text of the Declaration of Independence available on the arpanet (which is now the Internet). Although books in digital form certainly existed before that, many of us regard the beginning of Project Gutenberg as the birth of the ebook.

We have a bit more than 6 months until Unglue.it turns 10 so we thought it appropriate to look at where we are.


As of the end of June, the Unglue.it database of free ebooks included 95,181 titles. We should be over 100,000 by the end of the year. Of these, 61,941 come from Project Gutenberg and 28,708 from the Directory of Open Access Books; 4,532 from other sources

4.83 million ebooks have been downloaded from Unglue.it; we’re currently on a 3 million per year pace. So that’s a few.

Development on Unglue.it continues. To date, our open development repo has racked up 6,932 commits, or code improvements. There’s lots that we’d love to do , but haven’t had the time. Let us know if you’d like to help out.

Helping scholars unglue their books

We’re pleased to announce The Free Ebook Foundation Open Access Monographs Fund.

Scholars write books to spread their ideas, so it makes sense to make them free and available. We refer to these books as “monographs” because they usually embody the scholarship of a single author. Already, over 28,000 of these books are available to download from the Unglue.it database. Sadly, many more books are locked up behind paywalls – not because their authors want to make money, but because the publishers of these books need to recoup the cost of editorial work and design. Many new books will remain unpublished because the publishers who are committed to Open Access have insufficient resources to publish all the books deserving of wider audiences.

As a small step towards addressing these needs, we’re offering donors a chance to help us unglue more of these monographs by donating to a special fund. The fund will be used to match contributions to qualified ungluing campaigns on Unglue.it. To participate, authors should first work with a publisher to establish a campaign target, and then create an ungluing campaign. To get started ungluing your peer-reviewed book, follow the steps at our right holder tools page. Our staff will verify that the book has been or will be peer-reviewed and advances scholarship, science and learning. Resources from the fund will be allocated to maximize the success of the eligible campaigns. If you’d rather donate to a specific campaign, just donate to the campaign directly.https://unglue.it/rightsholders/

For a concrete example of a scholar we’ll be assisting, check out “As the Bandit Will I Confess You“. The book, the first comprehensive, critical overview of the early Christian interpretation of the story of the “Good Thief” in Luke 23.39-43, is a revised version of the author’s PhD dissertation at the University of Virginia.

The author, Mark Bilby, now a Scholarly Communication Librarian in the California State University system, is a passionate advocate for Open Access. His hope is that a successful campaign will inspire other scholars to start similar campaigns to unglue their books into Open Access.

So if you haven’t gotten a fiftieth birthday present for the Ebook, we think a donation to the FEF Open Access Monographs fund would be the perfect gift!

70,000 Free Ebooks, 1.8 Million Served

70,681 and 1,853,832 as of November 1, 2019, but who’s counting?

It’s been a while since we’ve reported on our progress building the free ebook catalog of all free ebook catalogs, but yes, we’ve been busy. Since people ask, here are some statistics.

The two biggest components of the catalog are Project Gutenberg (56,986 works) via GITenberg and Directory of Open Access Books (9,747 works). That leaves 3,949 books that we’ve gathered from all over, and those are some of the most interesting one. Free Ebook aficionados may wonder about the ~3400 Gutenberg titles and ~12,000 DOAB titles we’re missing. In the case of Gutenberg we’re omitting a bunch of entries that aren’t books (yes, Gutenberg includes a million digits of pi). DOAB also has a lot of items that aren’t books or aren’t open-access enough for our purposes (we need to be able to serve them from Unglue.it).

Almost all of our catalog is available in PDF (70,507 titles), but EPUB version are available for 60,282 titles. 59,364 titles are available for Kindle. Half of our downloads are PDF, a third are EPUB and a sixth are for Kindle.

The licensing for our books is also interesting. Except for Project Gutenberg books which are 99.9% public domain (and thus no license applies.)


Ebook publishers really like the NC licenses, although CC BY is gaining popularity. I think the NC licenses are used so the publisher can make money on selling print copies.

Over three quarters of the books in our catalog are in English. German, French, Finnish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch and Spanish combine to make a fifth of the catalog,  80 languages are represented in all. These proportions definitely reflect the collection bias, not the prevalence of free ebooks in one language or another.


A catalog with 100,000 really-free ebooks seems attainable within one or two years. Our focus should be those books not covered by the huge scanned-book archives like Hathitrust and Internet Archive, the born digital, mission-oriented books. We’ve been working with Internet Archive and Internet-in-a-Box to make the catalog available in more ways, but there’s so much work to be done.

Time to do some fundraising, maybe.

57,000 free GITenberg ebooks are now in Unglue.it

booksplusgitOver the past month, the Free Ebook Foundation’s GITenberg program has rebuilt and refreshed over 57,000 ebooks from Project Gutenberg, and has loaded them into Unglue.it. These books are mostly in the Public Domain. They join our collection of about 7000 open-licensed books that are still in-copyright. As a result of the growth of our free ebook collection, we recently passed the million-downloads mark, including half a million reflowable EPUB or Kindle texts. Unglue.it metadata is automatically updated using a system devised by a team of students from Stevens Institute of Technology.

GITenberg is a prototype project that explores how Project Gutenberg might work if all the Gutenberg texts were on Github, so that tools like version control, continuous integration, and pull-request workflow tools could be put to work. We hope that Project Gutenberg can take advantage of what we’ve learned; work in that direction has begun but needs resources and volunteers.  Go check it out!

This influx of content has put some stress on Unglue.it’s search capability. We understand that users often want to filter out the “classic” books. This is now possible using our “no-Gutenberg” facet. We’re working on deploying a revamped, mobile friendly redesign of Unglue.it that we think you’ll like. (Another team of Stevens students worked on that!)

For more details see the blog post on Go To Hellman

Translating the Khasis’ hidden treasure

You probably have never heard of Soso Tham. We certainly hadn’t until a few weeks ago. You’ve probably never even heard of the Khasi people, 1.6 million of whom live in the foothills of the Himalaya. Soso Tham is the best known poet of the Khasi language. If you’ve never heard of the Khasi in the first place, that’s just an abstraction.

But imagine being poet Janet Hujon, who grew up in Shillong, the capital of the Meghalaya state in eastern India. She lives in England, where most folks, like us, probably haven’t heard of Khasi, Shillong, OR Maghalaya. She writes in English, but the stories she heard as a child continue to fire her imagination and the Khasi culture, as embodied in the poetry of Soso Tham, form the foundation of her world view and literary work. It must frustrate her that Soso Tham’s poetry is inaccessible to the English speaking world.

When you love a poem, you have to find a way to share it. At unglue.it, we’re all about sharing the writing we love, and Janet Hujon’s heart must be extra-extra large to for her take on the monumental task of finally sharing Soso Tham’s work with the rest of us.

We have the privilege of being able to help Janet and Open Book Publishers share her new translation of Tham’s masterpiece The Old Days of the Khasis with the world, under a Creative Commons license. The campaign ends midnight Friday (EDT), and already, $1,400 has been raised.

“I was motivated to write this book not only because ‘Tales of Darkness and Light’ is not widely known in English, but also because it is not well-known by many in India. There are those (who are not native speakers of Khasi) who recognise the poem’s greatness but they are few and far between, partly because Khasi is a minority language. Northeast India has ‘exotic’ connotations, because unlike the dominant Hindu and Muslim identities we did not have a script until relatively recently and were considered ‘backward’. Those old colonial prejudices towards the East have played a role in shaping the rest of India’s comparative ignorance of life in Northeast India and translating Tham’s work into English has, perhaps paradoxically, offered one way to address this issue.

What really made me take on the challenge to translate, however, was my late father’s belief that I should do it. The relatives of the poet also felt that my long association with English and the fact that I still speak my own language made me the ideal candidate to carry the torch! I hope the book will do justice to their faith in me.” 

— Janet Hujon, March 2018

If you want to learn more about the Khasi and their matrilineal society, you should watch this 20 minute documentary on YouTube.

To get a sample of Janet Hujon’s evocative poetry, here’s a selection of her poems (also Creative Commons licensed!)

To help us help Janet, go to https://unglue.it/work/291736/ and chip in.

Unglue.it has resumed crowdfunding

Government funding for the humanities, the arts, and education has come under attack. The President’s budget proposal announced in March would eliminate the NEH and NEA. The US Department of Education wants partners to develop open educational resources, but has no funding to support them. So when the Free Ebook Foundation’s strategic planning process began last year, it was clear that our most pressing challenge was to diversify funding mechanisms for free ebooks that advance the humanities, the arts, and education.

Guess what! That’s exactly why we built Unglue.it. In fact, the Foundation itself was created because we felt that Unglue.it could best succeed in its mission as part of a charitable non-profit organization. We’ve been working to revise and re-focus the platform, and so we’re resuming our efforts to raise money for new free ebook projects.

cover of jewish unions in americaThe first of these projects is “The Jewish Unions in America: Pages of History and Memories” an ebook from Open Book Publishers (OBP). A memoir of life as an immigrant worker in New York and originally published in Yiddish, it’s been brilliantly translated by Maurice Wolfthal and will soon be available to read for free online and in affordable print editions, because of OBP’s strong commitment to making works like this as available as possible. OBP usually manages to break even on books using a combination of sales, a library subscription service and grant funding here and there, but wants to be able to publish books on merit rather than funding availability. For this book, ungluers, including donors to the Foundation, will be the “here and there”.

To support this campaign, go to https://unglue.it/work/252946/ and click “Support”. Ungluers can now choose to make their support a tax-deductible donation rather than a pledge. Facebook users can donate in support of the campaign at the Free Ebook Foundation Facebook page, or share with their friends.

Ungluing campaigns for 2 other free ebook projects are being prepared, and we welcome new project submissions. We’re also exploring ways for donors to support groups or categories of books.