Recently, I’ve been doing research on public domain fiction by Texas authors. I’m already committed to scanning two books for Project Gutenburg (a literary essay collection by Sainte-Beuve and Indulekha by O. Chandumenon). Indulekha is regarded as a one of the first Malayam novels ever to be translated into English and is considered a classic (a newer translation was published only last month). Surprisingly, a lot of books like that just haven’t made it to Project Gutenberg. Yes, the big names are represented on Gutenberg, and chances are that every single bit of writing by well-known authors are there (including their shopping list). Much less certain are literary works that went out of print or were never rereleased. Fortunately, the sophistication of online databases makes it easy to locate these kinds of books and to request them via Interlibrary loan (using the WorldCat international library database).
From there, it’s just a matter of scanning, uploading and waiting for it to be processed by the Gutenburg proofreaders. (Here is a more complete description of the Gutenburg workflow ) The hardest part is just finding out what’s out there and what’s worth restoring.
Two excellent reference guides to Texas Literature are: Classics of Texas Fiction by James Ward Lee and The 50+ Best Books on Texas by A.C. Greene. Here’s a small collection of online classic Texas texts. Imagine my sheer delight to find J. Frank Dobie’s annotated bibliography, Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest completely online. And also Mike Cox’s series of book reviews and literary essays on classic Texas fiction. I don’t pretend to have any special background in history or any special love for Texas (I’d sooner be reading something by a Botswana author), but it’s hard to ignore the obligation to retrieve the literary souls of writers long gone from this world. If I as a Texas writer am not going to assume the obligation, then who is?
Interestingly, some people are trying to scan books with digital cameras instead of scanners. Apparently, it’s better to use a tripod, turn off the flash and use external lighting. The quality of the OCR might be poor, but it’s within the realm of possibility.