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New to the Open Library? — Learn how it works
Last edited by Jessamyn West
November 9, 2012 | History

About Open Library


What is Open Library?

Our goal is to provide a page on the web for every book ever published.

At its heart, Open Library is a catalog. The project began in November 2007 and has been inhaling catalog records from some of the biggest libraries in the world ever since. We have well over 20 million edition records online, provide access to 1.7 million scanned versions of books, and link to external sources like WorldCat and Amazon when we can. The secondary goal is to get you as close to the actual document you're looking for as we can, whether that is a scanned version courtesy of the Internet Archive, or a link to Powell's where you can purchase your own copy.

On a slightly more technical note, apart from that page being an online representation of a library catalog card, Open Library also gives people a URI for a work, an edition or author or other book-ish resource that can be used as a pointer and connector for information about books; a [Uniform Resource Identifier][1] indeed.

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Yes, please do! Our parent organization, the Internet Archive, accepts donations of physical books, so, if you have books you'd like to donate, please visit our Book Drive page for instructions.

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I wrote a book, and I have it in digital form. Can I make it readable on Open Library?

Yes! You can upload your book to the Internet Archive (www.archive.org). Then you will need to add the ID that you give it there to your Open Library record as its Internet Archive ID. This will animate the "read" buttons. See further instructions at www.archive.org.

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How can I contribute information to Open Library?

If you've ever read a book, you can help build the Library. All you need to do is hit the EDIT button and start filling in the gaps.

We seek all sorts of details, from what the book is about to information about the physical appearance of the book itself (size, format, number of pages, and things like that).

Another sort of information we're very interested to collect is anything that connects Open Library records to other book sites out there on the Web. The easiest way to do this is to collect what are called "identifiers". If you're a software developer, you might be interested to read a bit more in our Developers FAQ below.

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I have a book that I think might be worth something. Can you tell me what it's worth?

Unfortunately, we can not. We have no expertise in the valuation of books. You should try to find a website that specializes in used or rare books. Most communities have a used or rare book dealer, and they tend to be incredibly knowledgeable about old books. If you don't know of one, just ask at your favorite bookshop. You can also search for the book on a site like bookfinder.com, to see if there are copies of the book on the market. The prices there will give you some sense of the book's value, but the value of rare books can only be determined by physical inspection.

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Where can I see what other people are up to?

There's a ton of activity across Open Library each day, whether it's a visitor updating one of our entries or a bot making a bunch of batch updates. We've tried to make it so you can keep an eye on what's going in a few different ways:

  • Check out the "Around The Library" list on the footer of every page
  • Click on the "Recently" link at the top of the page to watch how the place is being updated
  • Click on any person's account name to see what they've been up to
  • On a per item basis, you can also delve into revision history. We note the last edit at the top of editable pages. You can view revision history as well, and even revert a record to a previous revision if you deem it superior. (That reversion would be noted against your history.)

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Should I create an Open Library account?

Good question. Anyone can edit Open Library, including anonymous patrons. However, if you want to build a meaningful profile and gain trust in the community, you really should create an account. Also, it is possible that we may release features in the future that are only available to registered users. We invite you to join in the fun!

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Can you put me in touch with an author?

No. The Open Library team doesn't have any specific contact with any of the authors who have a (somewhat automated) presence on Open Library, nor do we collect contact information, so we are unable to help you get in touch with them.

Just as every patron on Open Library has his or her own page, every author has his or her own page as well. Author pages provide background information and usually contain a link to the author's website. For example, here is Cory Doctorow's page on Open Library.

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I found a very old book in my basement. Do you want it?

You're welcome to [donate books to the Internet Archive through our Book Drive program][2].

If you are an organization with a collection of material that you would like to donate to the Internet Archive (a registered library in the State of California), please send an email query to: info at archive.org.

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I'm trying to find an obscure book to buy. Can you help?

No, we cannot. Try www.bookfinder.com.

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Can you tell me more about a particular book?

No. Everything we know is already on our site.

The hope is that people who are familiar with a book will help improve the record for that book. Some of our entries only have a title and author. If you see a gap in our records, we would love you to help make our records richer. Just click "edit."

So, in essence, what you see is what you get on Open Library, and everyone (signed in or not) is encouraged to enrich a record with additional information from which we can all benefit.

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Can I buy books from Open Library?

No. We don't have any books to sell, but we provide links, when possible, to online booksellers that might have the book (new or used). We also link to the worldcat.org website, that has a library locator tool for help in finding a copy of the book to borrow. If you find a book on Open Library that you would like to buy and there is no active bookstore link, try the website bookfinder.com, which will search the Web for copies of that book for sale and at what price.

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Can you send me a copy of a book?

No. But, you can download any eBook that we have available as full text in a variety of formats. Currently we offer over 1.7 million public domain books in PDF, ePub, Daisy, DjVu and ASCII text through our affiliation with the Internet Archive.

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How is the Open Library different from Project Gutenberg?

[Project Gutenberg][5] "is the place where you can download over 30,000 free ebooks to read on your PC, iPhone, Kindle, Sony Reader or other portable device." Open Library's goal is to list every book -- whether in-print or out-of-print, available at a bookstore or a library, scanned or typed in as text. In other words, we provide access to all of Project Gutenberg's books but we have hundreds of thousands of others as well.

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Have you heard of WorldCat? How is Open Library different?

Yes! We try to link through to [WorldCat][6] wherever possible to help you find a book you can actually borrow from a library near you.

A major difference between [OCLC][7] and the Open Library is that OCLC is building a catalog to share among libraries, while Open Library is building a catalog to share freely and openly with the public, with the hope that this will get more people involved in using libraries and, in the long run, generate new data that will be useful to the library community.

The Internet Archive and OCLC have discussed working together, and hopefully this will yield a joint project, but nothing has been finalized yet. The plans for Open Library have been actively shared with OCLC and its records are available to OCLC.

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What is the difference between "Works" and "Editions"?

Open Library has two levels of book records: the Work level and the Edition level. The Work level record is the governing record and it will list Editions below it. An example of a Work is "Huckleberry Finn." An example of an Edition is the 1945 Modern Library Edition of "Huckleberry Finn." The Work level record will have a different ID, which ends in a W. Each edition level record will have its own ID; all edition level records end with the letter M.

If you want to add a general description of a book (e.g., what it is about) -- which we greatly encourage -- please do so at the Work level.

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History Created November 9, 2012 · 23 revisions

November 9, 2016 Edited by Jessamyn West Edited without comment.
July 1, 2016 Edited by Jessamyn West added reversion link
March 14, 2016 Edited by Jessamyn West typo fix
February 22, 2016 Edited by Jessamyn West tightened up language
November 9, 2012 Created by Dana Gee created About Open Library page