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NetLibrary and The Online Books Page are two excellent services for searching for and reading online books, offering access free of charge.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about ebrary, a company offering thousands of full text books with no limit on how much you can read for a very low cost. For example, you can search and view about 20,000 books and pay about a $.25 a page to print or copy.

Today I want to focus on another service called NetLibrary (a division of OCLC) that has been around for several years. The company just passed a milestone, having digitized more than 100,000 titles, most of which is new content.

Additionally, NetLibrary offers ebooks, audiobooks and even some ejournals online. The books are available full text and in some cases can be printed and annotated. Of course, all of the content is fully searchable. NetLibrary has added more than 20,000 new titles in 2005 alone.

So, where does the material come from? NetLibrary works with more than 400 publishers. Here's a list of those publishing partners.

So where and how can you access this material? Unlike ebrary and other services, NetLibrary doesn't offer a program for individual users, but rather provides its services through more than 13,000 libraries around the world. For example, the San Francisco Public Library offers a collection of NetLibrary materials that you "virtually" check out from the collection.

As I've said many times before, NetLibrary and many other databases are accessible for free from home, dorm, office, or anywhere else with a web connection. All you need is a library card from a library that offers NetLibrary services.

Here's an article with more about what's accessible. From ebooks, to audio books, to full text journals and more. Every library offers a different collection of NetLibrary materials just like every physical library offers its own collection of physical books, magazines and other content.

This fall, NetLibrary will debut several tools that you can learn more about here and see a screen shot of the interface. It will offer automatic summarization, something that we're likely to see more and more of in the future from all databases. More demos covering NetLibrary's services are available here.

Want to see what NetLibrary looks like? Here are a couple of NetLibrary screen shots. First, a search results page. Second, a page from an actual book via NetLibrary.

Finding Public Domain Books Online

I once again want to mention the incredible browsable and searchable database with the deceptively misleading name The Online Books Page (OBP). This service, which catalogs books in the public domain (including Project Gutenberg materials) has been edited by John Mark Ockerbloom since 1993. The OBP currently lists more than 25,000 titles.

Listings can be searched or browsed by authors, titles and subjects.

The amount of material added on a daily basis is quite amazing. An RSS feed of new listings is also available.

Finally, John mentions that he is adding some public domain books from Google Book Search. He has also added the "first demo batch" of books from the Open Library, sponsored by the Open Content Alliance.

When I'm asked to name some of the most impressive tools on the open web, the OBP is consistently near the top of the list. For more about this incredible service, see my SearchDay article What if Amazon Were Free?

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