As I am sure has been heard around academic water coolers across the globe, the über pirate ebook site Library.nu shut down recently. The importance of this resource has been strongly stated by Christopher Kelty of UCLA; his argument is so cogent that I will not synthesize or summarize. Go read it, seriously.
I’ll add only two additional points to Kelty’s argument.
- The academic publishing industry seems so retrograde and criminally capitalist that they are now worse than the music and movie industries (who have finally given up on suing grandmothers, war vets, and the like). Not only are most music releases, and many movies and TV shows, available for download (for free, or ad-supported), it is increasingly common to receive a digital download voucher when you purchase the shrink-wrapped version. So, e.g., if you really love some band enough that you will shell out cash for a audiophile-quality 180g vinyl edition, they often let you download an MP3 copy for free. Likewise for HD Blu-ray movie disks. Having dual paper and digital copies of books is enormously valuable for a researcher. Until Library.nu shut down I was in the habit of locating the (pirated) PDF version of any book I purchased on paper (a non-insignificant number). In addition to carrying around most of my home library on my laptop, electronic copies permit non-destructive annotations, bibliometric and textual analysis, and full text search.
- Having an entire library of full-text searchable PDFs opens up a new kind of scholarship, especially valuable for interdisciplinary research. On my Mac I can enter a search term of interest, say, “representation” and I will be presented with a plethora of books and articles that I might not have ever thought to consult. Taking this to its logical conclusion, Library.nu performed full-text search indexing on all of their materials (where possible, given OCR limitations). When starting into a new field my first place of research would be Library.nu, where I would search for relevant keywords, and search returns come across the gamut of scholarship. This is powerful stuff, and opens up an entirely new type of research.