Distributed Proofreading

Doing my part to preserve history and get out-of-copyright books into digital format.

Distributed ProofreadersAbout a month ago, before I left home for the summer, I stumbled upon the Distributed Proofreaders Web site. The best way to describe the site is to echo the text on its home page under Site Concept:

Distributed Proofreaders provides a web-based method to ease the conversion of Public Domain books into e-books. By dividing the workload into individual pages, many volunteers can work on a book at the same time, which significantly speeds up the creation process.

Here’s how it works. Someone, somewhere scans printed book pages into a computer as images. OCR software is applied to translate the text into machine-readable text characters. Then volunteer proofreaders step in and compare the original scanned pages to the editable text. Proofreaders follow a set of proofing guidelines to ensure consistency as they modify the translated text. Each page passes through a series of steps that eventually turns all of a book’s pages into a single text document. That document is then released as a free ebook in a variety of formats via Project Gutenberg.

I became a volunteer. So far, I’ve proofed 14 pages. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot — and it’s not — but if 100 people each proofed 14 pages a week, 1,400 pages a week would be proofed. That’s what the “distributed” in Distributed Proofreading is all about.

The good part about being a proofreader — other that warm, fuzzy feeling you get from helping to make the world a better place — is that you get to read lots of old books about topics that interest you. The day I joined, I proofread two pages of a New York newspaper account of World War I. It was fascinating. Today, I proofread 12 pages of a biography of Benjamin Franklin, who I believe is the greatest American who ever lived. (There is a lot to be learned from Franklin’s life and writings.)

Why am I blogging about this? Well, I’m hoping that other folks will embrace this project and donate an hour or two a week (or a month) to proofreading pages. The more folks who work on this project, the more quickly these great old books and other pieces of literature will get into free digital format for readers and students to enjoy.

Want to help ebooks thrive? Give distributed proofreading a try.

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