It’s a good thing I remembered my old friend and colleague Theo is a Rosicrucian. He asked me to evaluate this list of public domain websites. It’s helpful, but long, and I’m just about as susceptible to information overload as anyone else, even when there’s that frisson of “free stuff.”

It’s often hard to tell how p.d. literature sites supplement or enhance Project Gutenberg. If you have the specific title of an item, it may well be easier to Google it to find a downloadable copy. And many sites are amateurly designed, poorly organized, and/ or with no or unclear criteria on content. Why one novel or treatise and not another? Even if the main goal of a p.d. lit site is the provide a more eye-friendly ebook than PG does, I still want the contents summarized, classified and searchable in ways useful to patrons. At Theo’s suggestion, I started going through the list, and was immediately hit with the kind of problems described above.

Here are some questions to ask when evaluating these sites:

1. What are the criteria for inclusion? This one, none, but it says so at least and has some good content.

2. Does the site specialize in a particular genre, era, subject, audience, or type of publication?

3. Can one search or browse by the above-mentioned areas?

4. Is site’s purpose a moneymaker or school project? This is perfectly okay, but it’s likely to have been abandoned or have dead links by now. Example of time one.

5. Is it easily navigable and browsable, with more than just a search bar?

6. Does it have content other than books (speeches, articles) and how are these organized?

On the basis of these questions, I don’t recommend the first site listed-—little content or search ability, although it does purport to be easier on the eyes. The second is Project Gutenberg, where I got distracted by the children’s picture book section before moving on. The fourth was somewhat of an improvement, and includes Presidential speeches in addition to books, but it’s only organized by title or author and there’s no clear criteria for inclusion. The fifth has a nice essay on what defines a classic, but no content so far (it might be worth checking back).

I hit gold, at least low-carat (okay, I’m picky) with the sixth one, which has a lot of content and which is browsable not only by title and author, but also fiction, nonfiction, young readers, poetry, Shakespeare., short stories, drama, and classical. I would also send readers to seven for its browsable content by subject, with a cautionary note that The interactive activity like book discussion groups and reading logs no longer appears to exist.

The second site on the list is a university site (University of Pennsylvania), which lends it credibility. It’s by far not the only university site guiding viewers to various types of public domain material, but it is simply navigable and does provide many further resources on items other than books, such as serials and, in its features section, a “celebration of women writers” with its own subsections. I wouldn’t use it in a hurry, but it does have unusual content. Its subject index is happily specific. Out of curiosity, I thought of what might interest Theo, and I went to the alphabetical list of subject terms (not the alphabetical list by LOC number). I typed in “Rosi” in the subject box, and it took me to a list of about 40 items on Rosicrucianism.

Stay tuned for a further look down this list of public domain sites, as well as on one of the books that comes up on many of them, Jack London’s Call of the Wild.