One of the problems of living at the edges of empire as I do, is that often you want to have access to older books that are hard to come by. Anything from about 1870 is pretty easy to get, but if you want to access older material, it gets troublesome. Some of it is only available on microfilm or microfiche, and finding readers is annoying. Mostly, it isn’t available at all.
The Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris has the Gallica project which allows you to download as PDF some of the treasures in its microfiche store, which has been very useful – I got the facsimile of Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae there (12th edition), for example, but English translations are difficult.
Now Google Books offers a “full view” search facility which means that you can download as PDF older out of copyright texts. My first choice was Erasmus Darwin’s Temple of Nature. But the real value is that you can search for mentions of your favourite author among other works, say, to see how well Linnaeus was received in the technical, educational and popular literature of the early 19th century. Every man his own historian…
Elsewhere on the electronic publishing front, Oxford Journals have announced that they will be continuing the Open Access experiment in which authors, or their institutions, can pay up front a fee of £1500 to allow their articles to be accessed by nonsubscribers free of cost. The uptake has varied, depending on the funding arrangements of the disciplines concerned. The Public Library of Science already makes articles free to nonsubscribers for a similar fee to the authors.