Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitise and archive cultural works. It was founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart and is the oldest digital library.

Through personal contacts Hart, then a student, had received an account with virtually unlimited computer time on a Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer in the University of Illinois’ Materials Research Lab. He wanted to give back something for this enormously valuable gift and did so by setting up a project that could also be considered as enormously valuable. He named the project after Johannes Gutenberg, the fifteenth-century German printer who propelled the movable type printing press revolution: the initial goal was to make the 10,000 most consulted books available to the public at little or no charge and to do so by the end of the 20th century. A copy of the United States Declaration of Independence became, in 1971, the first Project Gutenberg e-text.

Fortunately, the computer to which Hart had access was one of the 15 nodes on ARPANET, the network that subsequently became the Internet. Hart believed that one day the public would be able to access computers and decided to make works of literature available in electronic form for free.

Most items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books. The project tries to make these as free as possible, in long-lasting, open formats that can be used on almost any computer. In June 2018, Project Gutenberg reached 57,000 items in its collection.

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