June 9, 2010

Open Library – Expand Your Reading List

Open Library is a rapidly expanding website with the goal of making every book that was ever published available to anyone, at any time. The creators behind the site are aiming to reach this goal by getting as many people involved as possible—letting users add books, descriptions, and details to the site’s growing catalog through a Wikipedia-style interface. In addition to the books that users contribute, Open Library features a database of millions of published books that users can read online, borrow from a local library, or buy from one of a handful of web-based retailers linked to on the Open Library site.

If your goal in using Open Library is to find a book to read, then get started by searching for a particular title or author. You can also browse through Open Library’s expansive database to find books organized by subject, place, person, or time period. When you click on a particular subject, you’ll be taken to a page showing the front covers of each book within that group, along with an interactive history graph that lets you narrow down the books you’re viewing by the time period when they were published. Once you find a book that looks interesting, click once to see a listing of all the different editions, along with a short description of what the book is all about. If the book you’ve selected is available in an ebook format, then you can read it online or download it as a PDF, plain text, Kindle, or ePub file.

Books that aren’t available to read online can be found in a nearby library by clicking on the Borrow tab. You can also choose to buy the book online, by clicking on one of the many retailers listed under the Buy tab in the right hand column. Users who are interested in contributing content to Open Library can help the site grow by adding their own book descriptions, excerpts, and tags. As Open Library continues to expand, there is no doubt it will become a go-to resource for anyone interested doing detailed research online.

Practical Uses:

  • Read a book for free online
  • Do research for a thesis paper without going to the library
  • Discover new books, then buy them from an online retailer
  • Find out of print editions of interesting books

Insider Tips:

  • Add your own information about any book to the system
  • Download ebooks to read on your Kindle
  • Search only for books that are available to read online
  • Use the link to find books in your local library

What we liked:

  • Open Library gives users access to books they might not be able to find in their local area
  • Ebooks are free to read
  • Database can be sorted in thousands of ways, to make finding new books easier
  • Open Library points you in the right direction to find hard copies of books that aren’t available to read online

What we didn’t like:

  • Comparatively few books are available in ebook format right now, although the number of available ebooks is growing every day


Company Info:

  • Launched: 2006 (Relaunched in May 2010)
  • Privately Held
  • Headquarters: San Francisco, California
  • Founded by: Internet Archive
  • Web site:


  • Free


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