Re-thinking Open Library’s Book Pages

by Mek Karpeles, Tabish Shaikh

We’ve redesigned our Book Pages: BeforeAfter.
Please share your feedback with us.

A web page for every book… This is the mission of Open Library: a free, inclusive, online digital library catalog which helps readers find information about any book ever published.

Millions of books in Open Library’s catalog have been made available to preview, read, or borrow using the Internet Archive’s controlled digital lending library. However, the catalog also features tens of millions of books which are yet to have previews and instead serve as resources that help patrons learn more about books, share lists of books they love, keep track of what they’re reading, and locate copies from bookstores and local libraries.

Thousands of new books are added into Open Library’s catalog every day. Like Wikipedia, thousands of edits are contributed by community librarians and volunteers across the globe. Open Library is a community effort and any patron who registers online for a free Internet Archive library card may participate.

Since its inception in 2006, a core tenant of Open Library’s service has been the notion of one web page for every book.

What is a book, exactly?

Before creating a page for every book, it’s important to have an understanding of what a book is to different classes of patrons.

It seems like a simple question. We know a book when we see one. But what if we see ten translations of, “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”. Are they the same book? Or more importantly, when is it convenient for us to consider them different books versus the same, or vice versa?

One does not simply define a book as an edition.

Even for expert librarians, the seemingly simple question, “what is a book” has a surprisingly difficult and nuanced array of answers. Librarians have even developed complex classification models like FRBR to help figure it out. Yes, we’re serious:


Perhaps the most correct answer is, a book is kind of like the Room of Requirement from Harry Potter; it’s whatever a reader needs it to be within the situation.

Sometimes “Harry Potter” is referred to as a book (even though it’s more accurately a Series; a logical grouping of similar works). Other times, “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” is referred to as a book (though it’s more precisely a Work; a logical grouping of similar editions). Other times still, the term book refers to the specific published version one is reading: e.g. “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince”, 2005 (English) ISBN 9780439785969. And of course there’s the distinction between the copy of this Edition sitting on your library’s shelf, and your personal copy which is annotated with your notes, marginalia, and is signed by your favorite author.

Do these semantics really matter?
Consider the following exchange with our local friendly librarian:

Us: Excuse me, do you have any copies of, “Return of the King” by J.R. R. Tolkien?

Librarian: Bonjour, yes! Are you looking for a specific edition?

Us: Whatever edition is available, I just want to read the book.

Librarian: Here you go!

Us: This is not the right book, it says, “Retour du Roi”. And where are the pictures and maps or Mordor? This isn’t the cover I remember.

For many, the fact that a book has a specific edition is inconsequential; often times multiple comparable editions could satisfy their requirements.

Our theory of change
Our theory is, when a patron asks for a book, they are often requesting a Work and wish to have have a “correct” Edition be inferred, such that the following questions are answered:

  1. Is it the right work?
  2. Is it in the right language?
  3. Is it available now for me to read?
  4. Is it available in the right format?
    • e.g. hardcover, softcover, online, offline, epub, pdf, daisy, audio…

This agrees with feedback we’ve received from readers:

A small poll of 38 patrons — what is important in a book page?

But hindsight is 2020. As a first step towards this direction, Open Library started simple: one page for every edition.

A Page for Every Edition

When first opened its virtual doors around 2007, patrons were able to search through thousands of books, like this 2001 edition of, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers.

Thanks to the Wayback Machine, we can see how Open Library edition pages looked in October, 2007

At first glance, this is great. This book page does a nice job of representing this edition’s metadata — everything from description to ISBN.

In the wild though, not every edition is a release of a different book. For instance, consider this Japanese edition and this Spanish edition which are both translations of the same English book, “The Da Vinci Code“. In 2007, all three of these editions would have been separate book pages on Open Library and none of them linked to each other. If you were to happen upon the Japanese version, you wouldn’t have had any way of knowing if there was also a Spanish version.

Searching and browsing using an Editions-based system can also be problematic and frustrating, especially when a search term matches a book with hundreds of published editions. Imagine searching for the title “Tempest“, while looking for the Star Wars book by Troy Denning and having to scroll through 650+ editions of William Shakespeare, “Tempest” (sorry, we know this page loads slowly!) .

Search results from the original 2007 Open Library are polluted with scores of results for the same book, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain.

The challenges of an edition-based system are exemplified well by searching for books by Dave Eggers using the 2007 version of Open Library. One must wade through a deluge of titles, many reappearing multiple times as different editions of the same book, making it difficult to explore different titles.

If only there were a way to get all the benefits of an Edition Page but also have a way to roll-up similar editions into logical groups to help patrons to search for and differentiate books at a Work-level.

Adding Works

In March 2010, the Open Library team, led by the wonderful George Oates, helped address this problem with a redesign which introduced the concept of Works — i.e. logical groupings of similar editions.

In this design, the Japanese edition, the Spanish edition, and the English edition of, “The Da Vinci Code” from before all appear in a tidy editions table on a single Work Page. Now, a patron could perform a search for a work of interest, navigate to a Work Page, and then choose a relevant matching edition from the table. Clicking on an edition brought the reader to an Edition Page with information about that specific book.

Overall, this was a big step forward for Open Library patrons who were clamoring for a more organized way to find books.

This new design was a big step forward in making it easier to find the right general work. It also surfaced additional challenges and opportunities. For instance:

  1. Once the patron lands on the Editions Page, they lose the ability to easily view or switch to different editions.
  2. Some patrons reported confusion on the Work Page concerning which representative book cover was being displayed.
  3. Also on the Work Page, for books with longer descriptions, the editions table became pushed far below the fold and readers that were newer to the site reported difficulty discovering if editions were available to read or borrow.
  4. Managing two separate designs (for the Work Page & Edition Page) added cognitive load to some patrons who reported getting lost, and to developers who had to maintaining these designs.

For the average reader, the terms Work and Edition can confuse their experience. It is especially jarring when throughout the Open Library experience, a reader may either be dropped into a Work page or an Edition page. From the Editions Page, there was no way to see a list of alternative editions without changing pages to go to the Work Page. And on the Work Page, a reader would have to go to the Editions Page in order to learn more about that specific title and decide if it’s the one they want to read.

Again, our theory is: often times a patron requests a Work and wants the/a “correct” Edition to be inferred.

With the Editions-only model, a reader may have to wade through hundreds of irrelevant editions of books they’re not interested in. With the new Work pages, readers still had to perform the challenging task of deciding which edition was right for them.

Combining the best of both worlds

To simply this experience for readers, this week we released a new type of Book Page (see figure B, below) which combines the affordances of the Work and Edition Pages into a single view where readers may find all, neatly organized information about a work and about a specific edition at the same time, on the same page. Two pages become one:

By default, the Book Page attempts to automatically feature the “best” (previewable, available) edition of a book and places an editions table front-and-center to enable readers to quickly switch which edition is selected.

  • Editions table. We added a new search box to enable patrons to find relevant editions without reloading.
  • Navigation tabs. We have bucketed the work’s information into an “Overview” tab and the current Edition’s information in the “This Edition” tab. The tab bar always sticks to the top of the page for easy access to different sections of the page.
  • Expandable descriptions. In previous designs, long text descriptions made it difficult to see all important book information at a glance. There are now “Read more” links to expand and collapse long descriptions.
  • Clearer buttons. All the favorite actions of readers such as borrowing, searching inside, adding books to reading log, and rating books has all been grouped together and moved right below the book cover. It’s hopefully more clear now that the “Want to Read”
  • Load times. We know page speed is a priority for readers. The new Books Page should be significantly faster (and we’re still working on it).

Here is that same 2007 Book Page “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers brought to you with 2020 vision.

What’s staying the same.
We tried to change as little as possible and were careful not to remove existing functionality:

  • URLs: Developers and partners will be happy to hear that /works and /books urls and APIs will continue to work as expected without change. Both the work and edition pages will simply appear to use the same consistent design.
  • Lists: While admittedly slightly less convenient, you can still add Works to Lists by clicking the “Use this Work” checkbox as shown below. By default, Lists will use Editions.

Please share your feedback with us

We would love your feedback on what you like about our new Book Page and what you wish were different.

  1. Please take a moment to let us know what you think using this Google Form
  2. Tweet feedback to @openlibrary
  3. Is something broken on the Books Page? Please let us know @ or open an issue on github.

Thank you to Jim Shelton, Brenton Cheng, Jeff Kaplan, Lisa (@seabelis), Charles Horn, Nolan Windham, and countless others who provided design and product feedback to make this effort possible. And Sahar Massachi for providing feedback on this post.

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Reading Logs: Going Public & Helping Book Lovers Share

Hi book lovers,

Starting 2020-05-26, Reading Logs for new Open Library accounts will be public by default. Readers may go here to view or manage their Reading Log privacy preferences. This will not affect the privacy of your reading history — only books which you explicitly mark as Want to Read, Currently Reading, or Already Read on Open Library. The Reading Logs of patrons who signed up for Open Library accounts prior to this date will remain private until they choose to update their settings here. New users may also set their Reading Logs to private using this same link.

Open Library has consistently valued two principles: openness and reader privacy. As an open source, public library, we feel strongly about creating a warm, welcoming ecosystem which promotes sharing, diversity, and openness. We’re stronger, together, when we work as a community. At the same time, Open Library is dedicated to providing a secure, safe, and judgement-free service for those who rely on reader privacy. We take our responsibility as a library strongly to safeguard what books you’re reading and borrowing, unless you decide to share this information.

Since 2010, has offered public reading lists to help patrons organize and share books they love. Since then, readers have published more than 130,000 public lists.

Over the last 10 years since we introduced lists, we noticed thousands of readers creating bespoke lists called “want to read” or “already read” or “favorite books“. We also noticed many popular reading services offer special personal lists which help patrons keep track of the books they are reading.

In response, at the end of 2017, Open Library launched a new Reading Log feature; a special type of list which lets readers keep track of books they Want to Read, books they’re Currently Reading, and books they’ve Already Read.

Since introducing the Reading Log, 943K unique readers have added books to their Reading Log 1.8M times.

When we first launched this feature, we didn’t know how the community would use it and so to be conservative, we made the Reading Log private by default. One point of feedback we consistently get from our patrons is, they wish it were easier to share their Reading Log with their friends. Lists on Open Library are already public. So are favorites on At the same time, it’s important for us to keep our promise to readers. We know some patrons may prefer setting their Reading Logs to be private, and we respect this.

Based on this feedback, and in the service of living up to the name “Open Library”, starting 2020-05-26, Reading Logs for new Open Library accounts will be public by default. Readers who create new accounts may go here to view or manage their Reading Log privacy preferences. Again, if you are an existing Open Library patron, your Reading Log will remain private unless you have already, or until you explicitly, update your settings here.

We hope many in the community will join us in making Open Library a more open ecosystem where book lovers can discover and share titles. While some platforms only offer a public Reading Log, Open Library is committed to continue offering a private setting for our patrons. As an organization which wears the motto, “Universal Access to All Knowledge” on its sleeves, we decided transitioning to public-by-default for new accounts better aligns with the spirit of working together to craft the World’s library together, and ultimately is a better outcome towards serving our broader community.

Open Library is constantly evolving and we exist to serve our patrons and our community. If you have strong opinions, we want to hear from you. Please send an email to Please try to be kind, we’re doing the best we can to make the right decisions with feedback from more than 3,000,000 readers like you. If you’d like to get involved and help, check our volunteer page or explore Open Library on github.

P.S. We’ve heard feedback that readers would like to be able to add notes to their reading log books, keep track of their place, and check-in the pages they’ve read, and we hope we’ll be able to address some of these wishes in a later post.


The Open Library Team

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To the World: Introducing Brad Rubenstein

by Mek & Pallavi Devaraj

This is the first installment of an interview series called, “To the World” which goes behind the scenes to explore what inspires authors to write and share their work with the world.

In this interview, we receive a master class on effective project management by Brad Rubenstein, co-author of Risk Up Front.

Introducing Brad Rubenstein

Image result for Brad RubensteinBrad Rubenstein has been, at times, a software developer and systems architect, a classical musician, a project manager, and a theatre and indie film producer. Most recently, he is co-author, with Adam Josephs, of the project management bible, Risk Up Front: Managing Projects in a Complex World (RUF). RUF is a treasure trove of resources Brad and Adam produced as a reference guide for their clients at Celerity Consulting, a boutique project management consulting firm. In his free cycles, Brad volunteers as an advisor for Open Library, where his book has been put to use countless times.

Growing up in Southeast Asian, Brad describes himself as a third culture kid.

“My childhood was in Thailand and Indonesia”, Brad says, “I came back to the United States to study computer science, just as Silicon Valley was taking off.”

After finishing a PhD at U.C. Berkeley, Brad cut his teeth in Silicon Valley as an early employee at Sun Microsystems. In the ’90s, he moved to New York to design and develop the distributed trading and risk management infrastructure employed by Goldman Sachs as they automated their operations. Since leaving Goldman in 2000, Brad transitioned into a project coaching and team building role as a co-founder of Celerity consulting where he has spent nearly two decades sharing his expertise with a wide variety of for-profit and non-profit organizations on how to get things done.

“Nothing teaches you how to run complex projects better than actually running complex projects.”

So, you’ve done projects all your life and for the first time you are being asked to do a project which is bigger than a single person can do. Maybe the solution is not obvious. It’s too complex to keep in your head or it requires you to make difficult choices.

One of the most important assets a project manager can bring to the table is wisdom and experience from having gone through many projects and seeing where things went wrong or right. But someone who is new to project management may not have these first hand experiences to call upon. The first question many of us have is, “Where do I start?”

“Teams are much more comfortable solving the problems they know how to solve.”

Many of us instinctively start by tackling the problems we know how to solve and trying to build momentum. Instead of letting ourselves get blocked, there is an impulse to move fast and break things; to follow the path of least resistance and get something working. Maybe this means working on the easy stuff first, or getting the difficult stuff out of the way, or maybe even ramping up on the most interesting stuff.

“It’s unnatural, but critical,” Brad advises, “for project teams to talk about how their project might get derailed and proactively mitigate those risks early, rather than letting them strike later when changes are most expensive. Although projects seem to have a logical order in which it makes sense to get the pieces done, we encourage teams to focus on doing the risky parts first, which sometimes takes a bit of creativity (and scaffolding).”

“You can’t do a risk-reward trade-off if the risks are hidden in your blind spot.”

Many teams, especially startups in Silicon Valley, feel pressure to move quickly and are more open to taking risks. Brad suggests this may be fallacy:

“When people talk about risk and reward, there is a presupposition that one understands what the risks are in order to take them. The Risk Up Front method focuses on helping teams become aware of the risks in the first place, so they can make sensible decisions about how to prioritize and mitigate them. As you come up with a list of risks articulated in a way that moves the team to take action, you might choose to leave them and place your bets. The trouble is when teams are blindsided by an expensive risk late in the game that they wouldn’t have taken had they known about it earlier.”

“The fact that an individual knows something is different than a team knowing something.”

We asked Brad how someone who is new to project management is supposed to magically be able to anticipate what could go wrong on a project.

“There’s a better question a project manager in this situation might ask”, Brad says, “How do I create the space in my team to reliably surface the things that might go wrong? This space does not happen by accident. You have to make it happen.”

Whether you’re new to project management or a veteran, Brad emphasizes the value of leveraging the experience and expertise of ones teammates. The wisdom of the whole team is greater than the sum of its parts. So what does Risk Up Front look like and how does it happen?

Brad explains, “Many engineers may be familiar with the concept of an Agile stand-up. In Risk Up Front we have Weekly Accountability Meetings (WAM) where the project’s full cross-functional team accounts for their progress, commits to what they’ll do next week, and matches this with what they’ve finished, so the team can ensure commitments are being kept and forward progress is being made.”

A key element of the WAM is a Risk Review where a crucial question is posed to each member of the team in turn:

“What is the most likely reason this project will fail?”

Going around on a regular basis and asking this one question creates the space to uncover hidden issues and moves the team to act.”, Brad says. “A central part of RUF is making sure the right questions get asked.”

“If your project has too many risks, it’s time to evaluate your Project Definition.”

We wondered what advice Brad would give to a team if they discover their project has too many high risks:

“In Risk Up Front, projects begin with a series of Definition Meetings that force the team to arrive at a mutual agreement as to how they will trade off the 5 W’s — who, what, why, when, and why-not (i.e. the risks) of the project, in order to settle on a project that the team can commit to deliver. A lot bends during these discussions. You might change what you decide to build, change who you build it for. All of these choices will have consequences and risk profiles. Perhaps building for one audience means building fewer components which might mean less risk. The outcome of such a meeting is a project definition statement whose risks your team is comfortable accepting.”

“Are you afraid something is going to go wrong?”

Something we imagine Brad gets asked frequently is, what are early warning signs, before a disaster occurs, that might clue someone in that they need his help? Brad tells us that Celerity is commonly brought into a project after a big disaster.

“People who are new to managing big projects may not know they need something like Risk Up Front and thus don’t call us at the beginning. Looking on the bright side, one advantage of this is that teams in this situation are often malleable and willing to put new processes in place after something has gone awry.”

Brad mentions that recognizing small process failures early on, such as not rigorously following through on commitments, falling behind schedule, or experiencing integration issues of the work product of teammates, are great opportunities to use techniques from the book to course correct.

“4 principles, 4 pieces of paper, and 2 meetings.”

Risk Up Front includes 4 documents with instructions, including a Risk Action Plan, to help teams methodically surface risks out of blind-spots through targeted conversation.

Brad notes, “It is the process of negotiating the elements of these documents within the team that is valuable, not the documents themselves. In a sense, the paperwork is the booby prize. We want to keep it as simple as possible.”

Successful projects depend more on your team’s behavior than on their project tools.”

There are a lot of books about project management out there. We wondered what motivated Brad and Adam to write Risk Up Front.

Although certain tools and methods are more appropriate for certain types of projects and teams, we repeatedly see projects with first-class tools and methods get into trouble. On the flip side, we’ve seen complex projects succeed with the barest of project management tools — often no more than a few spreadsheets, lists, and documents.
p. xvi Risk Up Front

Image result for risk up front“The prosaic reason is that it makes teaching our method to teams a lot easier (they can use the book as a reference), and my favorite work is with the teams themselves. But we do get calls from individuals in far-off places telling us they’re using RUF for projects that have never crossed our paths before, which is very gratifying.”

Before writing “Risk Up Front”, we wondered if there was a book Brad turned to for answers.

“When I was in college, I had to facilitate large and boisterous board meetings run according to Roberts Rules of Order, and that was an education. At the time, I read How to Make Meetings Work (Michael Doyle, David Strauss, 1976), and that made a big impression.  The skills I learned about facilitating meetings, helping people in the meeting actually get something done, have served me well.”

“Every project is different in the details, but people are people”

We ask Brad, if he were to invest time in another guide, if he would go deeper into risk mitigation or focus on demystifying another complimentary area of project management:

“The book [RUF] is very good at laying out the philosophy and why it hangs together. There’s a difference between presenting theory and facilitating practice. For example, we describe in detail how to do a weekly accountability meeting and yet it’s not easy for people having read the book to run a weekly accountability meeting because it takes practice and thought to line everything up and turn it into a routine. I think simplified checklists of instructions and suggestions would make it easier for readers to use our documents and put the theory of Risk Up Front into practice.”

The simple but powerful idea of formalizing a project management methodology into easily applicable checklists is an idea which is celebrated in Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto, and a prospect that is very exciting to the Open Library Team.

Risk Up Front & Open Library

We ask Brad how he became an advisor to the Open Library project:

“I met Mek Karpeles, who heads up the Open Library project, earlier in 2019, at a Grand Re-opening of the Public Domain celebration hosted by the Internet Archive in San Francisco. He was one of the presenters. I had just finished my book, and was exploring what was next for me. He was looking for someone to help get the process of wrangling their open source development workflow, along with a group of enthusiastic volunteers, running more smoothly. Mek had big plans for new features at Open Library, including a Book Sponsorship project, that would allow Open Library users to help underwrite the acquisition of new books that others could borrow directly from their web site. I was fascinated by it, and it seemed like a fun and interesting place to plug in. Mek offered to scan in a copy of Risk Up Front himself (in return for my autograph on the frontispiece), and add it to the library.”

You can read more about Open Library’s Book Sponsorship program on Open Library’s blog or learn how to participate here:

“I am a big fan of libraries, and is the biggest library.  So I’m thrilled [for my work to be available on the website].”

Brad remarks that he is drawn to the importance of Open Library’s long term vision, “[…] to make all the published works of humankind available to everyone in the world.” A vision he hopes will long outlast his work, and even those of the current core team. In order for this to be true, Brad believes the right architectures and a culture need to be in place to keep patrons and contributors excited about their progress toward this vision. Open Library is also a great case study of “Risk Up Front” and an opportunity for Brad to apply the lessons of his book directly to help a team faced with big decisions and challenges. For instance, like meeting the difficulties of coordinating a geographically distributed team like Open Library’s.

We asked Mek Karpeles, Open Library’s program lead and Brad’s mentee, if he’s found Brad’s book applicable to problems Open Library faces:

For me and Open Library, I have to admit, it was as simple as, “how do I run a meeting?”. How many times have I taken notes at a meeting and never opened them up again? This was a clear indicator that my notes or meetings are not structured correctly, but I had never asked why. As our advisor, Brad directed us to ask fundamental questions we had taken for granted. Like, “Who are these meeting minutes for and what purpose do they serve?”.

Each of our community calls now starts with short updates from each teammate. As soon as a point seems too long, we add it to a list of Open Mic topics we’ll discuss after the updates are finished. And we have a section in our notes dedicated to decisions and action items. Brad’s book has a great template for understanding what an action item is; what will be delivered, who owns it, and by when (explicitly not how). We take our notes in google docs and use the comment feature to assign each decision to a member of our team. Sometimes, these involve a next step of creating issues on our GitHub bug tracker. Brad’s book helped us keep our weekly meeting useful.

The Risk Up Front book includes a handful of Project Documents and templates which represented hidden opportunities for us. The ‘Team List” document — having an inventory of stakeholders and the projects they lead — in particular was a big win for us. The exercise helped us realize the benefits of delegation by encouraging members of the community to publicly step up and commit to owning parts of the project, and at the same time helping community members know where to direct their questions. We have our Team List posted publicly on our wiki.

Beyond the Book

Outside of being an expert project manager and an author, we wondered how Brad would like to be remembered:

“I don’t want to bill myself these days as an expert project manager (any more than the coach of the basketball team is necessarily the best basketball player). I have fallen into the coaching role, which helps me develop my skills in listening and noticing what stands in the way of people being great, along with some strategies for helping people get that stuff out of their way. Many folks do that with individuals – I’m focused on doing it for groups or teams. My passion is for getting things that are stuck, unstuck. In the unlikely event that I’m going to become famous, I guess I’d hope to be famous for that.”

As a final question, we asked Brad, what is one thing you wish more of the world knew or thought about more? And why is this important to you or us?

“Tough question. Groups of people can accomplish great things that no single person can accomplish, and they can also spin horribly out of control in ways an individual never would. In this particular moment, it seems valuable to keep both these things in mind.”

Thank you

Open Library offers a deep thank you to Brad Rubenstein for his contributions to Open Library, his commitment to sharing knowledge, and for his patience answering our questions.

If you liked these tips and are interested in putting Brad and Adam’s process into practice, pick up a copy of Risk Up Front and let us know what you think by tweeting @RiskUpFront.

Want to hear more from Brad? Check out this other interview on Green Planet Blue Planet:

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Scan On Demand: Building the World’s Open Library, Together

By Omar Rafik El-Sabrout & Mek

Earlier this week, Open Library’s Mek Karpeles, Internet Archive Summer of Code fellow Tabish Shaikh, and members of the community announced the launch of a new Book Sponsorship program which, explains, “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.”

So far, the program has been met by enthusiasm by readers and authors who are eager to play a role in shaping the world’s largest online digital library.

One generous reader, Tom in Yokohama, Japan, explains why he choose to sponsor a book:

“I saw the blog post about sponsoring books and I thought it was a wonderful idea. The book I sponsored is one I enjoyed as a child. I’m not likely to read it again, but I am happy to make it available to others who might want to read it. (Several other books in the same series are checked out, so there must be interest!)”

Author, VM (Vicky) Brasseur, went so far as to make sure we received a signed copy of her work with a heartwarming message to her readers.

Other authors were quick to join on board, going so far as to offer sponsoring their own works for posterity.

The news was even touted by one of our favorite popular science fiction authors, Cory Doctorow:

Calculating the True Value of A Library that is Free

From an article posted by Omar Rafik El-Sabrout at

We live in the era of Venmo and CashApp, when after a nice meal with friends, you no longer have to argue over who will pick up the bill. On the surface, this is an extremely promising way to keep people from accidentally going into debt with each other. But it also reinforces interactions that are extremely transactional. The old idea of “I’ll get you back next time” is part of the give and take that members of a close community engage in. In our transactional present, people don’t have to rely on the idea of trust–trusting the butcher at the farmer’s market won’t price gouge me, trusting my friend will pay me back. People aren’t learning that you can vote by caring, by putting your money behind something that matters to you. At a moment when “you get what you pay for” is the capitalist norm, enter the Internet Archive, which today is asking you to make an investment in community-wide sharing.

A new program at encourages you to “put your money behind something that matters to you:” sponsoring a book so everyone can read and borrow it online for free.

The Internet Archive, which runs the Open Library project, is working to create a vast network of online book lending in order to make all books accessible to all people. Open Library cares about the input of its readers. As Open librarian and Internet Archive Software Engineer Mek Karpeles describes, “Open Library’s theory is that readers deserve a say in what’s on their bookshelves,” which is why he and his team have created a new Book Sponsorship feature.

A blue box on the book page lets you know that this is a book you can sponsor. With your donation, we will buy the book, digitize it, store it, and make the ebook available for borrowing–first by you.

Founded on the idea that a library ought to have books that “reflect [a] community’s needs and values,” Book Sponsorship allows any of the more than two and a half-million users of Open Library to #saveabook. This is a natural follow-up to the long standing “Want to Read” functionality whereby a reader can indicate a book is missing from the Archive that they wish to read.

You can contribute just $11.32 to make sure this book from Marley Dias’ #1000BlackGirlBooks list is available for all.

With our new book sponsorship program, readers are given the option to put money towards directly sponsoring the acquisition of a particular book, after which the Internet Archive will digitize, store, and make the ebook available for lending–for free. Among other possibilities, this would allow people to combat the lack of representation of young black protagonists that Marley Dias, creator of the #1000BlackGirlBooks, found at her school and local library. We currently feature almost 400 of the #1000BlackGirlBooks on and with your support, we can buy and digitize all of them.

When people are given the opportunity to be generous in an obligation-free way, we find that typically brings out their desire to do good.

By giving people a say and making them feel represented, they become more invested. The care that comes from the investment of individuals is what eventually creates a community, and our hope is that the Open Library community will use this feature to help disenfranchised patrons gain access to materials that would enrich their education. When people are given the opportunity to be generous in an obligation-free way, we find that typically brings out their desire to do good. It’s relatively easy to put a price on a book, to calculate printing costs and publishing costs, but what’s harder to determine is the value of giving a gift. If you’re interested in sponsoring a book, either for yourself or for someone else, just click on a Sponsor an eBook button or visit to learn more.

Go to to learn more about how to #saveabook
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2018 A Year of Victories!

Happy holidays & Happy New Year, readers! We are thrilled to announce 2018 has been an unprecedented year for and a great time to be a book-lover. Without skipping a beat, we can honestly say we owe our progress to you, our dedicated community of volunteer developers, designers, and librarians. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating as we recap our 2018 achievements:

Highlighted Victories

New Features

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

In 2018, 45 members of our community helped fix over 300 issues, contributing over 100,000 lines of code improvements to and eliminating 95,000 lines of old code.

October was an especially monumental month for our community. Thanks to the organizational efforts of Salman Shah and Tabish Shaikh, Open Library participated in the Hacktoberfest challenge, attracting attention and interest from all around the globe. During this period, 22 members of our community submitted 125 bug fixes and improvements.

The Faces of Open Library

Of the many deserving, we’re proud to feature Charles Horn for his contributions to our Open Library. Charles dedicated three years volunteering as a core developer on before enthusiastically joining Internet Archive as a full-time staff member this year. Charles has written bots responsible for correcting catalog data for millions of books and tens of thousands of authors. Not only has Charles been a foundational member of the community, running stand-ups and performing code reviews, he’s also designed technology which allows us to fight spam and has designed plumbing which allows millions of new book records to flow into our catalog.

Drini Cami sprung into action during a time when the Open Library’s future was most uncertain and he has left an enormous impact. Drini has written mission critical code to improve our search systems, he’s written code to merge catalog records, fixed thousands of records, worked on linking Open Library records to Wikidata, repaired our Docker build on countless occasions, and has been a critical adviser towards making sure we make the right decisions for our users. We can’t speak highly enough about Drini and our gratitude for the positive energy he’s brought to our Open Library. 

Jon Robson has nearly single-handedly brought order to Open Library’s once sprawling front-end. In just a handful of weeks, Jon has re-organized over 20,000 lines of code and eliminated 1,000 unneeded lines in the process! He is the author and maintainer of Open Library’s Design Pattern Library — the one-stop resource for understanding Open Library’s front-end components. Jon brings with him a wealth of experience in nurturing communities and designing front-end systems that he has earned while leading mobile design efforts at Wikipedia. We all feel extremely lucky and grateful Jon is in on team Open Access! 

Tabish Shaikh is one of Open Library’s most dedicated Open Library contributors, attending community calls at 12am. He’s brought an infectious enthusiasm and passion to the project and has made major contributions, including leading a redesign of our website footer, designing a mobile login experience, making numerous front-end fixes with Jon, and helping with Hacktoberfest coordination.

Salman Shah was Open Library’s 2018 resident Google Summer of Coder and community evangelist. In addition to importing thousands of new book records into Open Library, he also has been a driving force in organizing Hacktoberfest and improving our documentation. He’s a key reason so many volunteers have flocked to Open Library to help make a lasting difference.


“On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog”. For several years, LeadSongDog has anonymously championed better experiences for our users, opening more than 40 issues and participating in discussion for twice that number. Few people have consistently poured their energy into improving Open Library — we’re so grateful and lucky for LeadSongDog’s librarian expertise and conviction.


Lisa Seaberg (@seabelis), is not only an amazingly prolific Open Librarian, but one of our trusted designers for the website. Lisa fixed hundreds of Open Library book records, has redesigned our logo, and actively participates in design conversation within our github issues.



Tom Morris is one of our longest-time contributors of Open Library. He serves as a champion for high-quality metadata, linked data standards, and better search for our readers. Tom has been instrumental during our Community Calls, advising us to make the right decisions for our patrons.



Christian Clauss is leading the initiative to migrate Open Library to Python 3 by the end of 2019. He’s already made incredible progress towards this goal. Because of his work, Open Library will be more secure, faster, and easier to develop.



Gerard Meijssen, one of our liaisons from the wikidata community, has coordinated efforts which have helped Open Library merge over 90,000 duplicate authors in our catalog. He has also been a champion for internationalization (i18n).



James Ford paved the way for further design progress on Open Library by consolidating tens of colors in our pallet to a manageable handful, and converting them to less css.




You can thank Maura Church for adding average star ratings and reading log summary statistics to all of our books:




Galen Mancino collaborated with the Open Library team on the Book Widget feature which you can read more about here! In addition to his love for books, Galen is passionate about sustainable and local economic growth, revitalization, and how technology can bring us there.



Oh hi, I’m I feel extremely privileged to serve as a Citizen of the World for the Internet Archive’s Open Library community. In 2018, I contributed thousands of high-fives and hundreds of code reviews to support our amazing community. I’m proud to work with such a capable and passionate group of champions of open access. I’m hopeful, together, we can create a universal library, run by and for the people.

… And over 40 others including Num170r, html5cat, thefifthisa, linkel, GLBW, Alexis Rossi, Jessamyn West, et al who have no less significantly worked tirelessly to make Open Library an inclusive, safe, useful place where readers can thrive!

Thank you and here’s to a wonderful 2019!

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