UPDATE 2015: The item below was written in 2009 and remains here only for posterity. At the time, desktop computers and netbooks (remember the fad for those small, cheap laptops?) were the only practical means of reading digital book facsimiles. It was before the advent of the iPad; the only mobile eReader was the first generation Kindle and that did not even have native PDF ability. The best mobile phone of the day was the iPhone 3GS and its screen was too small and too low-resolution for serious reading.
Today all mobile devices have available apps that can display PDF books, usually offering markup features such as highlighting, note-taking and multiple bookmarks that were not even available on most PDF desktop readers in 2009. There is no longer any need to split up a PDF into separate files or do any other somersaults to read a facsimile book on a mobile device.
The library section of the Comstock House website continues to grow with new titles added monthly. Many of these works remain difficult to find online; where possible, links to sources are provided allowing anyone to download – and often more importantly, search – these materials. Since 2009, however, both Google Books and Archive.Org have modified some of their file directory structures; for example, web addresses at Google used to begin as “images.google.com” but that no longer works; it now must be “books.google.com”. Simply replace “images” with “books” and the URL should work. Archive.Org address changes are more varied. I am correcting these errors as I find them.
Some titles are simply no longer available online because modern publishers have republished these public domain works and claimed a new copyright. Download any books that are important to you; do not expect them to always be available in the future.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE: The library section of the Comstock House website has been completely redesigned, which should make it easier for newcomers to understand and more functional for everyone, including us.
Now the library simply presents a topic index. Under each is a catalog of related e-books. Seen on the right for each entry is the “Comments” field, which contains a link to an Internet location where you can read the book on-line or download it. More topics will be added and refined as the number of e-books in the library (rapidly!) expands.
The previous version failed for multiple reasons, primarily because it tried to reinvent too many wheels. It started as a hierarchical index of e-books referenced by blog articles, but it wasn’t long before books less directly related, even works of fiction, were added to the mix (trust me: if you knew how hard it is to find a readable facsimile of Dickens’ “Little Dorrit,” you’d want to share the link, too). That concept also hinged on using a customized e-book reader that required hand-coding a special file for each and every document. Even if the bugs and quirks in the open-source software could be tolerated, tweaking all those initialization files was a significant detriment to adding new entries.
A far better solution began with switching to LibraryThing for the actual database. Almost all of our real library is already cataloged using this remarkable web site; I can now search electronic and paper book records interchangeably, which is increasingly how I view books — I no longer care if I have a fine-condition early edition of a physical book or an excellent high-resolution scan of same.
The quest for a better e-book reader ended by discovering FFView (Mac only), which is a versatile image viewer that was originally intended for displaying comic books. For the first time, I can now curl up with a mini-laptop and have the same experience reading an electronic book as with the dead-tree kind.* To be clear, for those not familiar with the e-book world: I am reading scanned images from actual old books, displayed about the same size as the original pages. This is NOT the same as using a device such as Amazon’s Kindle, which, in my opinion, is comparable to reading a Word document printed on soggy, grey cardboard.
Also now included in our LibraryThing catalog are high-resolution historic maps and photographs in JPEG 2000 or MrSid formats, which usually require a special viewer to display. I highly recommend ExpressView, available for both Mac and PC.