If you’re looking for an older book—one for which the copyright has lapsed—you may be able to get it instantly, free of charge, and in a format that can be keyword-searched faster than you can say “keyword search.” Many factors determine whether an item is in the public domain, but as a very general rule of thumb, if you’re looking for an item that was published before 1923, or an ephemeral item like a pamphlet, there’s a good chance you can find it online.
A good place to start is the Internet Archive's massive collection of online texts. Just type a couple of keywords to search for a title and/or author, click the edition you want to see, and choose a format. Formats include pdf, plain text, ePub, Kindle, or Daisy.
If you have a slow Internet connection, or if you intend to cut-and-paste text from the book into your research notes, choose the full-text format. The book will open as a plain-text document. The file size will be smaller than the other formats, so it will load faster.
To do a keyword search within the book, use your browser’s “find” feature. This is usually on the top toolbar: click Edit and then Find.
Be aware that keyword searching is only as good as the optical character recognition that was performed during the scanning of the book. That’s why you’ll come across pages that contain gobbledy-gook, and why you shouldn't rely solely on keyword searching. Use your traditional strategies and skills, and take a good look at the book's index and table of contents, etc. However, in spite of the gobbledy-gook, keyword searching may turn up instances of your search term that you’d have missed in a traditional search. For example, you may find your search term in a footnote or advertisement. It pays to use both methods.
For a “you are there” experience, which feels like flipping through the pages of a library book, try the read online format. You can click anywhere on the screen to turn the pages, or drag the slider across the bottom of the screen to jump around in the book.
Search Type a word into the box in the top right-hand corner. Orange pointers will appear along the bottom of the screen to show you where the word appears. You can hover over a pointer to see the word in context, and click the pointer to jump to the correct page.
Listen If your eyes get tired, you can click the speaker icon, and the computer will read the text aloud to you.
Download To save the book to your computer or mobile device, click the i (information) button and choose your preferred format.
The read online format is beautiful and powerful—well worth exploring. To get you started, here are three books about the history of our region. Just click to open a book and start reading.
- Machar, Agnes M. The Story of Old Kingston. Toronto: Musson Book Co, 1908.
- Smith, William L. The Pioneers of Old Ontario. Toronto: G.N. Morang, 1923.
- Rideau Waterway Guide : By Boat and Car through the Rideau Lakes and the Rideau Canal, Complete with Maps and Tour Information. Ottawa : Robert Haig Publishing Company, .
A longer list of these clickable titles will be posted in a few weeks. Please stay tuned!
View the complete list of Present from the Past posts. It's like a KFPL reference collection for your desktop--the next-best thing to being here!