Over the past decades a lot of interesting books have been written about computing history. Some of them are still in print despite having been written a decade or two or three ago, but many of them are not. And then there are quite a bunch that never made it over the Atlantic so they are impossible to get from a second hand book store in Europe. One can of course order them in the US and have them shipped, but that usually costs more than the book itself and takes a long time. And in addition, I prefer electronic copies as I find them more convenient to read. But now I found a source that fixes all of this!
Recently, I sat in a university library searching for copy of ‘The Computer Pioneers’ written by David Ritchie in 1986. They did have a copy of the book but only in their extended off-site archive which meant I would have had to wait for 2 days. Before making a retrieval request, I searched the Internet to see if, by chance, a PDF is available somewhere. I’ve done this a number of times before and sometimes was lucky to find something on web sites of computer enthusiasts, but it was only this time that I stumbled over the Internet Archive’s Open Library, which offered an electronic copy for immediate reading. A subsequent search showed that they had at least another ten ‘ancient’ books available for electronic reading that are also on my reading list. I was of aware of the Internet Archive in general for many years and I even donated to them occasionally before but I had no idea they had such an extensive library of books that can either be downloaded or ‘lent’ for three weeks as DRM encrypted PDF files.
Most of the books I found were immediately available, only three of them were currently borrowed by someone. But I was the first in line for all of them, so I would have to wait for 21 days at most. As the library only owns a single copy, this means there are very few people that are interested in these books. Hm, I guess reading old books about computing history really is a ‘very special topic’. But then I kind of knew that already.