Publishers Corner: Resurrecting Old Books: A Short Introduction to the Mormon Texts Project

by Ben Crowder

We’re a bookish people. In this dispensation alone we’ve got the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and thousands upon thousands of other Latter-day Saint books — doctrine and theology, history, fiction, poetry, you name it.

A lot of those books are out of copyright — anything published before 1923 in the U.S. is in the public domain — and the goal of the Mormon Texts Project is to make the texts of these old books available for free online. We’re publishing ebook editions in plain text (on Project Gutenberg), EPUB, and Kindle formats.

Why we’re doing this

Like Jefferson, I can’t live without books. I also can’t live without the gospel. As I’ve read these old books and have seen the faith of the early members of the Church, I’ve felt more light shine down into my life, fortifying my testimony and determination to serve the Lord. These books have also turned my heart to my spiritual ancestors, helping me feel a stronger kinship with them. That’s why these books matter, at least to me.

We want to make these books accessible to all members of the Church, even if they don’t have an LDS bookstore nearby, even if all they can afford is half an hour at an internet cafe, even if they’re blind (screenreaders like plain text).

Which books make the cut

Our selection criteria is pre-1923 pro-Mormon books. We only want out-of-copyright books for obvious reasons, and we’re not interested in anti-Mormon lit.

To this point we’ve mostly been doing doctrinal and historical works, but we recently released B. H. Roberts’ novel Corianton, and we’re putting the finishing touches on Orson F. Whitney’s epic poem Elias.

I should add that we’re not just doing English books. Right now we’re in the middle of proofing Voz de amonestacion (the Spanish translation of Parley P. Pratt’s A Voice of Warning), and once we get some people on board who can read Fraktur, we’ll do the German edition as well.

The process

Originally we planned to scan and OCR the books ourselves, but so far Google Books and the Internet Archive have everything we’ve wanted to do, so at the moment we’re just doing the text correction.

We take the page images and OCRed text and load it all into a web app I wrote called Unbindery. Our volunteers get a page at a time and compare the text to the page image, fixing any errors and reformatting the text per our guidelines (which are mostly Project Gutenberg’s guidelines).

After all the pages are done, I do a final review of the text and make sure everything’s the way it needs to be, then make the EPUB/Kindle editions and submit the text to Project Gutenberg. (The decision to do EPUB/Kindle editions is relatively new, by the way, so we haven’t yet gone back and converted our previous releases. But we will.)

Some of you are aware of Distributed Proofreaders and may be wondering why we didn’t just go with them. Design. That’s why. PGDP’s interface isn’t exactly the epitome of good design, and I wanted something clean and beautiful that our volunteers would enjoy using. (We’re also using Unbindery for Project Gutenberg Thailand, which one of my mission friends and I run.)

Getting the books

Everything is available on the Mormon Texts Project page. You can follow us on Twitter and or subscribe to the RSS feed for new releases. We’re always happy to have more volunteers, too.

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4 Responses to Publishers Corner: Resurrecting Old Books: A Short Introduction to the Mormon Texts Project

  1. Scott Hales says:

    I think this is great work you’re doing. Without knowing about this project, I started reading “Corianton” this past Sunday and it turned out to be better written than I expected. Roberts is certainly not an adherent to the “show-don’t-tell” approach to fiction writing, but he’s not without talent.

    I think it’s too bad that early home literature isn’t read that much today–although, when you consider how much Mormon critics from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s put it down it’s not surprising that it isn’t. I know I was led to believe that it wasn’t worth reading until about a year ago when I talked to some people doing research on it.

    So, good work. I look forward to future titles. Any chance of putting Emmeline B. Wells’s serial novel “Hephzibah” into book form for the first time?

  2. Th. says:

    .

    This is important stuff. Thanks, Ben. One more reason to get me that Nook…..

  3. Ben Crowder says:

    Thanks. :) I’ve added “Hephzibah” to our list and we’ve started work on it, so yes, expect it sometime in the near future.

  4. James Goldberg says:

    Hooray for Ben! Cool project.

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