About The Contents Project

The Contents Project began because I've always advocated that people read what they collect. I know that some folks like to keep their collections in pristine condition—they don't want their books marked up with ugly eye tracks. Then too, some folks will never find acceptable copies of certain works, but are still curious about what the more obscure writers in the Modern Library had to say. (Who is Lafcadio Hearn, anyway?) Providing links to Modern Library titles archived on the Web lets folks sample lots of titles that they under ordinary circumstances might never see; and since some archives provide ancillary material about a given work or writer, it lets readers investigate beyond the borders that they might ordinarily set for themselves.

All Online Book Archives Are Not Created Equal

There are lots of locations on the Web that host complete or partial text versions of works in the public domain. How they segment the text, availability of ancillary information, and how easy they are to deal with all go to determine whether ModernLib links to them.

Project Gutenberg, one of the oldest such sites housing perhaps the largest collection on the Web, is also the most primitive: When you go to a Gutenberg archive, the entire work—or a huge chunk of it—is downloaded to your computer in a single text file. Some of these files have over a million characters in them! Usually there are no graphics and little (if any) ancillary information.

Other sites present a chapter-based table of contents so that only a small portion of the work is downloaded to your computer as you call for it. One of the cleanest sites for this kind of archive is the University of Virginia. The site loads quickly, and the information is presented in manageable chunks. Again, usually there are no graphics and little ancillary information.

Some sites have lots of information presented in easily digestible segments but present challenges of their own. Bartleby also is ToC-based and sometimes has ancillary information, but has annoying pop-ups. Bibliomania has ancillary information but is terribly slow to load.

The best sites are usually those that specialize in one author or author team (Gilbert & Sullivan) or even in one work (Hamlet). Typically these sites have the complete text accessible through a table of contents and tons of ancillary information. These are the ones I try to find for ModernLib.

ModernLib's Priorities

Wherever possible, the links you'll find on ModernLib go to the cleanest, fastest-loading sites offering complete texts in easily downloadable segments. But it's often necessary to make compromises. Sometimes there's no choice—only one site (at least the only one I can find) has the complete text. Sometimes two or more sites have the complete text and at least one offers segmented downloads, but neither has additional information. So it goes.

Here in order of priority ("1" being the highest) are the criteria used to determine what document to link to:

  1. Apparent permanence on the Web
  2. Complete text
  3. Manageable segmentation (chapter by chapter if possible)
  4. Ancillary information
  5. Illustrated editions
  6. Modern Library translations or editions on which the ML edition is based
  7. Fast loads
  8. No advertising banners or pop-ups
  9. Way to keep track of where you are in your reading (book marks)
  10. Tickles the fancy of Your Managing Editor

So a site with the complete text will have priority over one that has partial text but chapter loading; a site with complete text, chapter loading and ancillary information will be chosen over one that has the first two criteria but not the third, and so on. (Truth be told, everything from #5 on is a judgment call, mostly based on #10.)

I try to indicate those links that are especially time-consuming and memory-intensive with a note such as large segment. And since a new page opens when you go to an offsite link, you can continue to roam around ModernLib while you're waiting for the book to become available.

Got a Better one?

I couldn't find links to the contents of some books. Many are not yet in the public domain, some are too obscure to ever be digitized, and I just flat outmissed some. And I need better choices for some of the links already made. I'm working on it.

If you know of a better site than the one ModernLib is currently using—that is, one that uses more of the items in the Priorities list in a better way— or if you find a link to a missing text, please let me know.

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