How Does Your Garden Glow?

February 2, 2016


I love a garden. It touches and woos your senses. With sounds of rustling leaves, tools crunching into the soil, birds arguing over the spoils, bees buzzing the blossoms, rain spattering on broad leaves. Earthy scents, freshly turned earth, mint, broken leaves, flowers, spices. The textures of the leaves, soft, fuzzy, prickly, cool and smooth. Tastes … crackling radishes, firm tomatoes and squash, crisp lettuce and onions, freshly dug potatoes, strawberries right off the plant and won from the maurading and eager wildlife. You have to check to be sure the berries are ripe … often … wouldn’t do to serve others less than perfect berries. A well-kept garden is a beautiful thing.

Distributed Proofreaders has a discussion thread just for talking about our gardens. You’ll read what is growing in which parts of the world. What is failing and what is trying to take over.


Additionally, and more importantly, DP has books about gardening. Books for children, books for those wanting to start and for those who, for want of a better term, want to dig deeper. One of my favourites has to be one we are working on right now from the classic Mary Frances series, The Mary Frances Garden Book, by Jane Eayre Fryer. Not only does this children’s book have beautiful illustrations and a fun narrative, it also has an actual picture of a plain garden that you cut out. Then, for each season, there are additional cut-outs with tabs that you tape on the back of the garden. Then you can fold them over the plain garden to show how the garden could look in full bloom. The book tells you to not cut it up but to trace the pictures. Thanks to the modern wonders of the Internet, though, you can print those pages out in their full glory and color!

plaingarden springgarden
Plain garden Spring garden

This is just one of the books on gardening for children soon to be available on Project  Gutenberg. A few more ready for your reading pleasure are:

daddy_garden gardening4lgirls childrens_book_garden
Howard R. Garis
Olive Hyde Foster
Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick
Mrs. Paynter

Obviously there are also books on gardening without cartoon drawings. If you are  interested in how to make things grow, here are just a few:

Or if you are more interested in a scientific approach, try one of these:

The sun is rising, the birds are starting to sing … open a book and come walk with me in a garden.


 This post was contributed by a DP volunteer.

The life of a book at Distributed Proofreaders

January 1, 2016

This post walks through the life of a book at DP from its beginnings as a physical book to its final form as a beautiful ePub, using Uncle Wiggily’s Auto Sled by Howard Roger Garis, recently posted to Project Gutenberg (eBook number 50405), as a study.

Aside: I didn’t help with this particular book in any way, but rather selected it based on its length, language, beautiful illustrations, and wonderful example of a final ePub.


Selecting a book

The process begins when a volunteer (usually referred to as a Content Provider) finds a book they want as an eBook. They first have to get a clearance from Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation (PGLAF) that the book is in the public domain, and legal to be reproduced. and Project Gutenberg are both in the United States and thus must adhere to US Copyright law. DP and PG sites hosted in other countries are able to work on and host books that are in the public domain in their respective countries, but aren’t in the public domain in the US.

Figuring out if a book is in the public domain can be oddly complicated — which is why we leave it to the professionals at PGLAF — but a general rule of thumb is that if it was published in the US before 1923, it’s probably in the public domain in the US.

Uncle Wiggily’s is copyright 1922, so just barely under the wire.

Getting the initial text

After receiving clearance, the volunteer either scans the book in or finds the page images from Google BooksThe Internet Archive (usually through their OpenLibrary site), or a slew of other image providers. The images will likely need some level of cleaning to deskew or despeckle them after being scanned in. The images are then run through OCR software to get an initial, raw copy of the text.

Page images of Uncle Wiggily’s were obtained from Google Books.

Note that Google Books and The Internet Archive stop here — eBooks you download from them contain only the text obtained from OCR. PDFs contain the page images with the underlying OCR available for selection and searching. The Internet Archive provides an ePub format, but it’s of the raw OCR text — not a pleasant reading experience.

At DP, this is just the first step in the process of refining and creating an eBook.

Loading the book into DP

Once the page images and text are available, a Project Manager will take up the mantle and guide the book (referred to as a project) through DP. Note that the Project Manager may have acted as Content Provider as well, may have been asked by the Content Provider to manage the book, or may have found the project on one of DP’s internal lists of available scans ready for adoption.

Either way, the Project Manager will create a new project at DP for the book (e.g., Uncle Wiggily’s project page). They’ll fill in a slew of metadata about the project so that proofreaders will be able to find it. This includes information like the name, author, the language the book is written in, and its genre. They will then add the page images and text.

Unleash the proofreaders!

Up until now the process hasn’t been very distributed and may, in fact, have all be done by a single individual. But now that the book has been loaded and is ready for proofreading, many people can work on it at once.

The book starts out in P1, the first proofreading round. Proofreading volunteers can select any book available in this round and start proofreading pages. How they select which project to work on is completely up to them. They might browse the list of all available projects in the round or search for those matching a specific genre and/or language.

Once they find a project and click on ‘Start Proofreading,’ they are presented with an interface that shows the page image and the text. Their job is straightforward: make the text match the image and follow some basic proofreading guidelines. After they make whatever changes they think are necessary to the text, they save the page and can either get a new page from the project or stop proofreading. Other volunteers may be working on the book at the same time, each on a separate page.

After all pages have been proofread, the project is moved into two other proofreading rounds in series: P2 and P3. While any volunteer can proofread books in P1, the subsequent rounds have entrance criteria to ensure each level has ever-increasing proofreading experience and critical eyes.

The time it takes to go through the proofreading rounds can vary from minutes to years depending on the size of the book, the complexity of the pages, the quality of the initial OCR, and most importantly, how many volunteers are interested in working on it!

Uncle Wiggily’s meagre 33 pages soared through all three proofreading rounds in 4.5 hours.

Formatting: a bold move

Proofreading focuses on the page text, not how it’s formatted — that’s for the F1 and F2 formatting rounds. It’s in these rounds that all formatting happens, including things like bold, italics, and underlining, as well as marking poetry and other non-paragraph text for when the book is combined back together. These rounds are also fully distributed and, not surprisingly, there’s a set of formatting guidelines as well.

Uncle Wiggily’s completed both formatting rounds in roughly 12 hours.

Stitching them all back up again

Now that the pages have been proofread and formatted, they wait for a Post-Processor to pick them up and stick them together into their final form. The Project Manager may perform this step, or it may be someone else. The Post-Processor will do a wide range of sanity checks on the text to ensure consistency, merge hyphenated words that break across pages, and many other bits. They’ll create at least a plain-text version of the book for uploading to Project Gutenberg. Nowadays HTML versions are also very common and are further used to make ePubs for eBook readers.

Books like Uncle Wiggily with illustrations require even more care. Unlike page texts that are often scanned in at a relatively low resolution in black and white, illustrations are often in color and always at a higher resolution. Post-Processors will take great care in cropping, color balancing, and doing other image processing on the illustrations before including them in the HTML and ePub versions.

Smoooooooth reading

Often, but not always, Post-Processors will submit the books to what is called the smooth reading round. This is an opportunity for people to read the book as a book, but with a careful eye to anything that looks amiss. Humans are great at noticing when things are not quite right, and what a better way to do it than reading the book! If the reader spies something amiss they can let the Post-Processor know and have it corrected.

Posted to Project Gutenberg

Now that the eBook is completed, it’s posted to Project Gutenberg! Each eBook gets a unique number from Project Gutenberg which is recorded in the DP project record.

Uncle Wiggily’s Auto Sled was given number 50405 and was posted in several different formats:

Every book posted from DP includes a credit line in the text that recognizes the Project Manager and Post-Processor individually and the team at DP as a collective. If the images were sourced from another provider, they are also recognized in the credit line.

Uncle Wiggily’s credit line looks like this:

E-text prepared by David Edwards, Emmy, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team ( from page images generously made available by the Google Books Library Project (

Preserving history, one page at a time

As you can see, there are many different ways to help create an eBook as a DP volunteer. The best thing about DP is that you can do only the parts you enjoy and only as much of those parts as you enjoy.

Interested in helping a book on its journey? It’s easy to get started as a proofreader — just:

  1. Create an account at DP
  2. After you register, find a project and start proofreading!

Or you can smooth read a book without even creating an account.

DP Celebrates 31,000 Titles

December 27, 2015


Distributed Proofreaders is proud to celebrate its 31,000th title, Colour in the Flower Garden — many thanks to all the volunteers who worked on it!



Gertrude Jekyll, probably (after Capability Brown) the most famous English garden designer, lived from 1843 to 1932 and created at least 400 major gardens within Europe and North America, often working closely with the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. She set out to develop a career as a painter, but developed an interest in the use of colour in planting, and, possibly prompted by deteriorating eyesight, moved into garden design. She was heavily influenced by Impressionism, eschewing excessive formality in design and planting.

Her book Colour in the Flower Garden sums up the experience of 40 years, using the garden she designed for herself at Munstead Wood. The book describes her philosophy in detail and gives detailed planting schemes for many areas of the garden, but is by no means prescriptive. She describes what she has done and why, and lets the results speak for themselves.

It is also profusely illustrated with, regrettably monochrome, photographs of the garden.

For the gardener, it is a very accessible and interesting record, but from an age and of a scale which make it, perhaps, less than useful.

Two quotations give a flavour of the scale and ambition.

Talking of flower borders: “I believe that the only way in which it can be made successful is to devote certain borders to certain times of year; each border or garden region to be bright for from one to three months.”

And about one area of her garden: “Ten acres is but a small area for a bit of woodland, yet it can be made apparently much larger by well-considered treatment.”

I look out at my own garden (20 x 8 meters) and think, “I grow plants, but this is not, by Jekyll’s standards, a garden.”

This post was contributed by Les Galloway, a DP volunteer who post-processed this project.


Twelve Books of Christmas

December 23, 2015

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Distributed Proofreaders loves to celebrate special days, and holiday-themed projects abound among its contributions to Project Gutenberg, including well over 100 Christmas-related books. These come from just about every genre: Christmas novels, stories, poetry, and plays for all ages; inspirational books and biographies of Jesus; and accounts of Christmas legends and customs throughout the centuries in different parts of the world. Here’s a selection of twelve of these books, in celebration of the twelve days of Christmas.

A Visit from St Nicholas

Lovely Christmas collaborations of famous authors and famous illustrators include Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Walter Crane wrote and provided rich color illustrations in A Winter Nosegay, a delightful little collection of Christmas tales for children. Old Christmas, taken from Washington Irving’s Sketch Book, is filled with entertaining sketches by Randolph Caldecott. And here is the classic poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas — a.k.a. The Night Before Christmas — by Clement Clarke Moore, beautifully illustrated by F.O.C. Darley.

Religious offerings include Ernest Renan’s excellent Vie de Jésus, also available in English as The Life of Jesus. For children, there is The Boyhood of Jesus by an anonymous author. Inspirational thoughts abound in A Christmas Gift, written “to the American Home and the Youth of America” by a Danish Lutheran minister.

For those interested in the history of Christmas, there is The Book of Christmas, by Thomas K. Hervey, which traces the origins of various English Christmas customs back to ancient pagan winter festivals such as the Roman Saturnalia and the Northern European Yule. Or Christmastide, by William Sandys, which includes Christmas carols you can listen to. Christmas customs in different parts of the world are represented by several books, including Yule-Tide in Many Lands by Mary Poague Pringle and Clara A. Urann, and The Christmas Kalends of Provence by Thomas A. Janvier.

Finally, for sly Christmas humor, check out A Christmas Garland, “woven” by Max Beerbohm. This is a 1912 collection of Christmas stories that are actually spot-on parodies of the styles of noted literary figures, including Henry James, H.G. Wells, Thomas Hardy, and G.K. Chesterton.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Happy New Year!

P.T. Barnum’s Struggles and Triumphs

November 7, 2015


Even though it may be common knowledge to some, I had not known that P.T. Barnum was the owner and manager of a museum. I’d only thought of him in relation to travelling circuses. Struggles and Triumphs: or, Forty Years’ Recollections of P.T. Barnum, by the great showman himself, describes how he went from being involved with travelling circuses to owning and running a museum (funny and entertaining, I thought) as well as the tribulations of managing the museum once he’d acquired it (even funnier).

To describe the details of how he came to own the museum might potentially spoil the story for the reader, but I’ll give a couple of examples of the on the job training which he experienced himself whilst endeavouring to turn his museum into a success via trial and error, as well as some of the wisdom or street nous or business acumen or psychological tricks which he brought to the endeavour himself.

Above the entrance to his museum he situated a small band of musicians. They weren’t very good, but that meant they were relatively cheap, the idea being to make noise and attract attention. If, however, the band were to be too good, then people might just stand on the side of the street and listen to the music for free rather than pay the small price of admission and actually enter the museum as intended. As the band was not very good, a lot of people entered the museum, after being reeled in by the music to find out what it was all about, just to get away from the noise.

Another strategy he employed in order to drum up business was to hire a man to take a plain house brick and simply walk a circular route around town, passing several busy intersections, and intermittently stop, put down the brick and just stand there next to the brick for a few moments before picking up the brick again and continuing on his route. It was critical that he not respond to anybody asking him what he was up to or what the deal was in regards to the brick he carried. He also had no sign mentioning the museum or anything else. At the end of his silent route, he would enter the museum, taking a simple tour of all the exhibits, before once again going out and walking his route through town and performing his little interaction with the brick here and there in one continuous cyclic pantomime. Many people followed him, since he would not reply to basic inquiries, and even paid the small price of admission to the museum just in order to follow him inside and figure out what this curious fellow was up to.

His intention was to keep the price of admission low, but have high turnover by getting as many people in and out of the museum as possible in a constant stream of customers. The customers, however, had other ideas. They brought box lunches and sought to make a day of it, to the point that he could not sell more tickets to let more people in, even though at that point he had more people lining up just to get into his museum, because the interior of his museum was simply full to the brim with customers already, who intended to get their money’s worth by staying most of the day. He countered this by opening a backdoor of the museum and putting up a sign stating “TO THE EGRESS,” pointing to that rear exit. The malingering crowd of customers inside the museum who weren’t playing his bums-through-the-turnstiles game properly, in his opinion, thought the sign indicated another newly opened exotic exhibit and left the museum via that exit to check it out, allowing the queues out the front to once again flow, as well as the money from further ticket sales.

There’s little doubt that Barnum had a head for business and showmanship, as the museum was a huge success. But it was very interesting, funny and entertaining to read the details of how that success was created and how inevitable problems were overcome.

I haven’t even mentioned the adventures of tiny Tom Thumb, the “Little General”, whom Barnum took on tour through Europe. The interactions of the pint-sized charmer with the royalty of Britain and France, for example, were a delight to read in and of themselves.

This post was contributed by FallenArchangel, a DP volunteer.

Happy 15th Anniversary! (Part 6)

October 26, 2015
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Semper ad Meliora (Always towards better things)

This is the sixth and last in a series of posts celebrating Distributed Proofreaders’ 15th Anniversary.

Comic Insects cover

26000 Comic Insects, by F.A.S. Reid (1872), was posted October 1, 2013, as the 26,000th book. This is a collection of amusing poems about insects and features delightful illustrations by Berry F. Berry. The Hot off the Press blog post for this milestone, which coincided with DP’s 13th anniversary, can be found here.

27000 Number 27,000 was the 13-volume Storia della decadenza e rovina dell’impero romano (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), an Italian translation of the classic work by British historian Edward Gibbon, posted March 28, 2014. It was originally published in London in separate volumes between 1776 and 1789. Italian author Davide Bertolotti translated it to Italian, and his version was published in Milan between 1820 and 1824. See the Hot off the Press blog post here.

28000 For a change of pace, The Mystery of Choice, by Robert W. Chambers (1897), was posted as the 28,000th selection on August 16, 2014. This book is a collection of short, related stories with topics ranging from a murder mystery, to the ghost of a dark priest, to the search for dinosaurs — in short, something for everyone. The Hot off the Press blog post about it is here.

29000 Histoire de France (History of France), by Jules Michelet (1867), was posted on January 14, 2015, making it the 29,000th contribution from DP to Project Gutenberg. This 19-volume masterpiece took Michelet 30 years to complete, and it took DP over nine years to transform the complete set into a high-quality set of e-books — a tremendous accomplishment all around. Here is the Hot off the Press blog post celebrating this milestone.

30K banner

30000 As you may expect, the 30,000th title was represented not by a single book, but by 30, posted on July 7, 2015. They represent the vast scope of DP volunteers’ work, with books on science, technology, medicine, poetry, archaeology, folklore, literature, drama, history, autobiography, political science, and fiction, both general and juvenile. They include works in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian. Each of the thirty titles represents countless hours of work by DP’s many volunteers, who performed myriad tasks such as preparing the page scans, setting up the projects, carefully proofing and formatting the texts page-by-page to ensure their high quality, post-processing, smooth-reading, and verifying them — not to mention those who make all that work possible by maintaining and improving DP’s online systems, mentoring, and performing a host of other essential tasks. This Hot off the Press blog post gives the list of books, with links, for this milestone.

PG’s 50,000th title DP had the honor of contributing Project Gutenberg’s 50,000th title just last month, on September 17, 2015. This was, appropriately, John Gutenberg, First Master Printer, His Acts, and most remarkable Discourses, and his Death, by Franz von Dingelstedt. The Hot off the Press blog post celebrating this achievement is here. As part of DP’s 15th Anniversary celebration, a DP volunteer recorded an audiobook of this title for Librivox.

Thanks and congratulations to the entire Distributed Proofreaders community, whose dedication to “preserving history one page at a time” has made this 15th Anniversary celebration possible.

These 15th Anniversary posts were contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.

Happy 15th Anniversary! (Part 5)

October 21, 2015
15th anniversary banner

Semper ad Meliora (Always towards better things)

This is the fifth in a series of posts celebrating Distributed Proofreaders’ 15th Anniversary.

21000 The 21,000th contribution, on August 22, 2011, was The Pros and Cons of Vivisection, by Charles Richet (1908). Vivisection (experimental surgery on living beings) has long been a controversial practice. The author, a distinguished French physiologist, tries to “set forth, as impartially as possible, the reasons which militate for and against vivisection. It is, however, a physiologist who is speaking, therefore no one will be surprised that he should defend a practice which is at the basis of the science he teaches.”

22000 We go to January 2, 2012 — and 1901 — for the 22,000th offering, The Nibelungenlied, the great medieval German epic poem, translated into English by William Nanson Lettsom. It tells the tale of the hero Siegfried, who slays a dragon, gains a treasure, fights a number of battles, and wins a fair lady — thereby setting into motion a tangled and tragic plot that is famously the basis for Richard Wagner’s great opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung.

Leaving the Ship

Leaving the Ship, from Crusoe’s Island

23000 June 5, 2012, gave us Crusoe’s Island: A Ramble in the Footsteps of Alexander Selkirk, by John Ross Browne, the 23,000th contribution. Published in 1864, this is an account of the Irish-born American author’s experiences in the Juan Fernández Islands, his stint as a government commissioner in California, and his life as an agent in the Nevada silver mines. The author’s sketches are included.

24000 French literature provided the 24,000th book, on October 31, 2012, Cours familier de littérature (Familiar Literature Courses, vol. 14, 1862), by M.A. de Lamartine. Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine, Chevalier de Pratz, was a French writer, poet, and politician who was instrumental in the foundation of the French Second Republic. He ended his life in poverty, publishing monthly installments of the Cours familier de littérature to support himself. You can find the celebratory blog post for this milestone here.

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25000 DP’s 25,000th book was, appropriately for the “silver milestone,” The Art and Practice of Silver Printing, by pioneering photographers H.P. Robinson and Captain Abney (1881), which was posted April 10, 2013. The authors noted, “The one defect of silver printing is the possibility of its results fading; but surely it is better to be beautiful, if fading, than permanent and ugly. It is better to be charmed with a beautiful thing for a few years, than be bored by an ugly one for ever.” You can read more about this book on Hot off the Press here.

Next: The celebration continues with milestones 26000 to 30000.

These 15th Anniversary posts were contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.


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