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Project Gutenberg (PG) is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, as well as to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks." It was founded in 1971 by American writer Michael S. Hart and is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of books or individual stories in the public domain. All files can be accessed for free under an open format layout, available on almost any computer. As of 3 October 2015, Project Gutenberg had reached 50,000 items in its collection of free eBooks.
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Project Gutenberg is named after Johannes Gutenberg, who introduced book printing with movable type in Europe.
Michael S. Hart began Project Gutenberg in 1971 with the digitization of the United States Declaration of Independence. Hart, a student at the University of Illinois, obtained access to a Xerox Sigma Vmainframe computer in the university's Materials Research Lab. Through friendly operators, he received an account with a virtually unlimited amount of computer time; its value at that time has since been variously estimated at $100,000 or $100,000,000. Hart explained he wanted to "give back" this gift by doing something one could consider to be of great value. His initial goal was to make the 10,000 most consulted books available to the public at little or no charge by the end of the 20th century.
On July 4, 1971, after being inspired by a free printed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he decided to type the text into a computer, and to transmit it to other users on the computer network.
— Gregory B. Newby
This particular computer was one of the 15 nodes on ARPANET, the computer network that would become the Internet. Hart believed one day the general public would be able to access computers and decided to make works of literature available in electronic form for free. He used a copy of the United States Declaration of Independence in his backpack, and this became the first Project Gutenberg e-text. He named the project for Johannes Gutenberg, the fifteenth century German printer who propelled the movable typeprinting press revolution.
By the mid-1990s, Hart was running Project Gutenberg from Illinois Benedictine College. More volunteers had joined the effort. He manually entered all of the text until 1989 when image scanners and optical character recognition software improved and became more available, making book scanning more feasible. Hart later came to an arrangement with Carnegie Mellon University, which agreed to administer Project Gutenberg's finances. As the volume of e-texts increased, volunteers began to take over the project's day-to-day operations that Hart had run.
Italian volunteer Pietro Di Miceli developed and administered the first Project Gutenberg website and started the development of the Project online Catalog. In his ten years in this role (1994–2004), the Project web pages won a number of awards, often being featured in "best of the Web" listings, contributing to the project's popularity.
Hart died on 6 September 2011 at his home in Urbana, Illinois, at the age of 64.
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The text files use the format of plain text encoded in UTF-8 and are typically wrapped at 65–70 characters, with paragraphs separated by a double line break. In recent decades, the resulting relatively bland appearance and the lack of a markup possibility have often been perceived as a drawback of this format. Project Gutenberg attempts to address this by making many texts available in HTML, ePub, and PDF versions as well. HTML versions of older texts are autogenerated versions. Another not-for-profit project, Standard Ebooks, aims to address these issues with its collection of public domain titles that are formatted and styled. It corrects issues related to design and typography.
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Hart, Michael S. United States Declaration of Independence by United States. Project Gutenberg. Archived from the original on 26 January 2007. Retrieved 17 February 2007. "The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America by Thomas Jefferson" is the bold heading of the linked webpage twelve years later (6 June 2019). No author but Jefferson is identified, nor is Hart otherwise named. Officially this is Project Gutenberg Ebook #1 (assigned December 1993?), or the current index to multiple formats of the same.
What Ebook #1 actually contains is heavily annotated re-release of the first two e-texts that were released in December 1971 (as by Michael S. Hart?). For more information, open the HTML format, for instance, and search for "December" or "Michael".
^According to gutindex-2006Archived 13 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine, there were 1,653 new Project Gutenberg items posted in the first 33 weeks of 2006. This averages out to 50.09 per week. This does not include additions to affiliated projects.
^For a listing of the categorized books, see: "Category:Bookshelf". Project Gutenberg. 28 April 2007. Archived from the original on 11 July 2007. Retrieved 18 August 2007.
^Various Project Gutenberg FAQs allude to this. See, for example: "File Formats FAQ". Archived from the original on 2 November 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2012. You can view or edit ASCII text using just about every text editor or viewer in the world. Unicode is steadily gaining ground, with at least some support in every major operating system, but we're nowhere near the point where everyone can just open a text based on Unicode and read and edit it.