Love to read? Then go ahead and buy as many books as you like. Experts from scholars to poets to tidying sensation Marie Kondo all insist that owning more books than you could possibly ever read says great things about your mind. The only constraints are the size of your bookshelf and your wallet. 

Except maybe that last one is as much of a constraint as you think.

Thanks to some hard work by the New York Public Library, there's a new way to get more titles for your to-read list for way less cash. 

It's not just the classics that are out of copyright. 

Everyone knows that some very old books are no longer under copyright and therefore available for free. That means you can get the likes of Shakespeare and Jane Eyre for little to nothing (depending on whether you're a sucker for a fancy cover). But according to a super helpful recent Vice article, most of us misunderstand exactly how many titles are actually in the public domain. 

"Prior to 1964, books had a 28-year copyright term. Extending it required authors or publishers to send in a separate form, and lots of people didn't end up doing that," reports Vice's Matthew Gault. 

Because of this administrative quirk, huge numbers of newer titles published during these years are actually available for free. The trouble, up to now, was that this information was stashed away in a hard-to-access Library of Congress database. But thanks to the heroes at the New York Public Library that's recently changed. 

"In a massive undertaking, the NYPL converted the registration and copyright information into an XML format. Now, the old copyrights are searchable and we know when, and if, they were renewed. Around 80 percent of all the books published from 1923 to 1964 are in the public domain, and lots of people had no idea until now," Gault continues. 

How to get more free books

That's awesome news for bibliophiles, but how exactly do you take advantage of this awesome development? A massive blog post from the NYPL has all the technical details of the project for those looking for an extremely deep dive, but as Gault explains, the basic process is that existing online resources like Project Gutenberg are using the NYPL's cleaned up data to update their offerings. Which is why the number of books on these sites has recently been exploding. 

To take advantage of the bonanza of newly available books, simply visit sites like Project Gutenberg, the Hathi Trust, or Standard Ebooks and get browsing. You can even check out Secretly Public Domain for some suggested highlights from the newly released books. But these aren't the only ways to access this goldmine of newly liberated knowledge. 

"Many libraries offer digital and audio books, for free, as a benefit of membership. Reading a classic or a new release can be a simple as getting a library card and downloading an app," Gault adds. 

So go ahead and expand your 'to read' list to even more massive proportions. Aren't libraries awesome?

Published on: Aug 20, 2019
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