Type of site
|Digital library index|
|Alexa rank||10,512 (As of 19 March 2019)|
|data: public domain|
source code: AGPLv3
Open Library is an online project intended to create "one web page for every book ever published". Created by Aaron Swartz,Brewster Kahle, Alexis Rossi, Anand Chitipothu, and Rebecca Malamud, Open Library is a project of the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization. It has been funded in part by grants from the California State Library and the Kahle/Austin Foundation. Open Library provides online access to many public domain and out-of-print books.
Its book information is collected from the Library of Congress, other libraries, and Amazon.com, as well as from user contributions through a wiki-like interface. If books are available in digital form, a button labeled "Read" appears next to its catalog listing. Digital copies of the contents of each scanned book are distributed as encrypted e-books (created from images of scanned pages), audiobooks and streaming audio (created from the page images using OCR and text-to-speech software), unencrypted images of full pages from OpenLibrary.org and Archive.org, and APIs for automated downloading of page images. Links to where books can be purchased or borrowed are also provided.
There are different entities in the database:
Open Library claims to have over 20 million records in its database. Tens of thousands of modern books have been made available from 150 libraries and publishers for ebook digital lending. Other books including in-print and in-copyright books have been scanned from copies in library collections, library discards, and donations, and are also available for lending in digital form. In total, the Open Library offers over 1.4 million books for digital lending.
Open Library began in 2006 with Aaron Swartz as the original engineer and leader of the Open Library's technical team. The project was led by George Oates from April 2009 to December 2011. Oates was responsible for a complete site redesign during her tenure. In 2015, the project was continued by Giovanni Damiola and then Brenton Cheng and Mek Karpeles in 2016.
The site was redesigned and relaunched in May 2010. Its codebase is on GitHub. The site uses Infobase, its own database framework based on PostgreSQL, and Infogami, its own Wiki engine written in Python. The source code to the site is published under the GNU Affero General Public License.
In the week of October 21, 2019, the Open Library website introduced a Book Sponsorship program, which according to Cory Doctorow, "lets you direct a cash donation to pay for the purchase and scanning of any books. In return, you are first in line to check that book out when it is available, and then anyone who holds an Open Library library card can check it out.". The feature was developed by Mek Karpeles, Tabish Shaikh, and other members of the community.
The website was relaunched adding ADA compliance and offering over 1 million modern and older books to the print disabled in May 2010 using the DAISY Digital Talking Book. Under certain provisions of United States copyright law, libraries are sometimes able to reproduce copyrighted works in formats accessible to users with disabilities.
The Open Library has justified its ability to offer full books as part of the first-sale doctrine and fair use law. The Open Library owns a physical copy of each book that they have made available, and thus argue that the lending out of one digital scan of the book in a controlled manner falls within the first-sale doctrine, a practice known as Controlled Digital Lending.
Since its launch, the Open Library has been accused of mass copyright violation, via the systematic distribution of in-print, in-copyright books by numerous groups, including the American Authors Guild, the British Society of Authors, the Australian Society of Authors, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the US National Writers Union, and a coalition of 37 national and international organizations of "writers, translators, photographers, and graphic artists; unions, organizations, and federations representing the creators of works included in published books; book publishers; and reproduction rights and public lending rights organizations". The UK Society of Authors threatened legal action unless the Open Library agreed to cease distribution of copyrighted works by 1 February 2019. Individual authors reported that Open Library had ignored multiple DMCA takedown notices until after they made a fuss on the Internet Archive blog.
The Open Library further came under criticism from the NWU and others when it created the National Emergency Library in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, which removed the waitlists and allowed any number of digital copies of a book to be borrowed via an encrypted file that would be unusable after two weeks, or accessed on the Web as an unencrypted image.