January 12, 2005

California Digital Library Books

by Nick Montfort · , 2:23 am

A post on ifMUD alerted me to the slim but intriguing public book selection that the California Digital Library has made freely available for online reading. Personally, my interest in this history-heavy, literature-heavy selection was piqued by The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley and by Christopher Beach’s book ABC of Influence: Ezra Pound and the Remaking of American Poetic Tradition. I was about ready to start reading one of these, in fact…

Unfortunately, my attempts to fetch a whole book using the GNU utility wget met with some difficulties. (If I’m going to read a book, I don’t want to have to keep my browser window open all the time or restrict myself to reading in areas with wireless connectivity. Hell, I’ve even whacked the whole Unknown site; I’m certainly going to want to have a copy of a book that I’m reading on disk.) After struggling to figure out how I could command this utility to retrieve a book for me for offline perusal, I found that there’s a robots.txt file prohibiting the automated fetching of those pages. You can order wget to ignore the robots.txt file, but the whole reason I’m attracted to these books in the first place is that they’re made freely available for me to read – I’m not looking to get some “warez” copies of these books in violation of UC Digital Library policy, just have a copy for my personal use that I can read. I could, I suppose, go through and manually download all the sections of those two books. But my enthusiasm has been deflated. I understand that university presses are timid about making access to their books really easy, but – not meaning to bite the eHand that feeds me or look a gift library in the stacks – I do hope that projects like this will follow the lead of PENNSound and make their public online materials easily downloadable.