08 December 2011

Project Gutenberg

Most people don't know that I've been volunteering as a proofreader for Project Gutenberg for around a year now. I've been doing it on a casual basis--whenever I have some spare time on weekends and such.  This online volunteer community where I belong is called Distributed Proofreaders, and our task is to proofread and convert public domain books into e-books. After multiple rounds of proofreading, formatting and post-processing, these books are finally submitted to the Project Gutenberg (PG) archive to be preserved--forever, we hope!

I infinitely prefer the sensation of holding and reading a book in printed form, but I have to admit that the idea of preserving a literary work--into something even as terribly modern as an e-book--is still a task both sacred and profound.  Although we don't see ourselves regressing into a book-burning society (God forbid) anytime soon, I secretly would like to think that Project Gutenberg exists not just to make books available to everyone for free, but to ensure that there's a Plan B in the highly improbable but not completely impossible event of the printed book becoming extinct or outlawed some day. (Hey, if you've read Fahrenheit 451, you'd be paranoid, too.)

Distributed Proofreaders (DP)'s concept is simple: to speed up the conversion of thousands and thousands of books into digital form, volunteers can work together on a book at the same time.  That way, a book can be proofread and submitted into the PG archive faster than if it were just a one person-one book assignment.  Workload is divided into pages; all the community asks of you is to edit at least a page a day.  More than one, if you can.  My best day ever was when I did 15 pages straight.  One can't proofread too much in one sitting (unless you're used to it) due to eye fatigue and a subsequently increased likelihood of committing proofreading errors.

Just some really nice overall stats found on the site

The objective isn't to correct or change the meaning of the text at all (what a big no-no) but to proofread and format it in such a way to make it ready for e-book conversion.  We're not talking about just exporting books into PDF and such.  The e-book formatting process isn't as simple as that.

This online project is such a completely organized system, with all the proofreading and formatting guidelines listed down.  There's even a handy one-pager guide for quick reference. Every newbie starts off at the Proofreading Round 1 (P1, for short) level, and has to work his/her way up to the next levels.  To graduate from P1 alone, you need to proofread a minimum of 300 pages AND pass a proofreading quiz.  I like how I can see my personal stats on the DP site--stats such as my overall ranking (my kingdom for a top 10 spot in DP someday!), how many pages I've completed per day, which book projects I've worked on, and how many more pages to go in order for me to move up to the next level.

But the best thing about this project, really, is that I get to read while editing.  DP volunteers are encouraged to work on just around five pages per book and then move on to another book. This is a wise strategy, because you need to have everyone focusing on getting batches of books ready for e-book conversion. Plus, one needs to try out different types of texts in order to be more exposed to various proofreading challenges. But even if editing five pages per book would mean just literally reading snippets of a text, I find the task enjoyable.  It's like reading all these mini stories in one sitting.

Besides, volunteers have the freedom to choose which books they can edit. I normally go for the English novels on the list, with a history book now and then. An unforgettable piece I worked on was Edmund Spenser's poem 'The Shepheard's Calendar.' What a handful. (Click on the screenshot below for a better view.)

It's a nice feeling to get an email notification from DP every time a book I've worked on in the past has been submitted to the Project Gutenberg archive.  Not every person downloading and reading that novel on his/her e-reader device would realize that dozens of individuals actually proofread and transformed it into an e-book that he/she could enjoy.  I always feel like I gave birth somehow (along with the rest of the volunteers) and sent a book out into the digital space for it to be forever preserved and appreciated.    
I like to think it's the romantic modern-day equivalent of monks copying and illustrating these manuscripts commissioned by kings and influential individuals in their time.

A labor so sacred and profound.

1 comment:

  1. Great work Gina! And you write about it really well. I love the idea of you scribbling away in a cloister like a medieval monk. Yeah, I've read Fahrenheit 451 - the temperature at which paper burns if I remember right? I think Chairman Mao was the latest practitioner of that dark art. You should proofread some Confucian poetry just to get him back.