Digital Aladore: Reading and Creating with Free Software and the Public Domain


  • Evan Peter Williamson University of British Columbia



digitization, ebook, OCR, free software, public domain


I love reading old books and I love reading on my e-reader. I also love free stuff—cost free and freedom-free, like Free software. Well-known authors in the public domain have many high quality ebook editions freely available from organizations such as Project Gutenberg or commercial vendors such as Feedbooks. But what if you want to read something more obscure?

I was trying to read Henry Newbolt's Aladore, a “forgotten fantasy” novel from 1914. Print editions were digitized by the Internet Archive, but a true ebook version was never created. The digitized books can be read in an online viewer or downloaded as an image-based PDF. Unfortunately, the PDFs are too highly compressed, requiring extensive rendering time in any reader. Internet Archive also provides numerous other formats derived from automated OCR. Unfortunately, the quality is very poor and there has been no attempt to edit the resulting text or format the ebooks. Basically, you have a choice between a low-quality-ridiculously-slow-and-cumbersome PDF or a gibberish-filled automatically-generated EPUB. This makes for a horrible reading experience!

It was so horrible, I decided to create my own ebook. Thus, Digital Aladore ( was launched September 2014—exactly one hundred years after Aladore was first published.

The idea is to use freely available public domain materials (the digitized copies of Aladore) and free software to create a GOOD digital reading edition of the text, and to blog about the entire process along the way. The bigger idea is to demystify the creation of ebooks, empowering readers to be reflective creators. Digital Aladore has a zero dollar budget: public domain content, free software, recycled hardware—all you need is some interest, passion, and perseverance. The blog explores preserving, creating, and sharing through public domain, free software, open formats, and Creative Commons. It reflects about the process of digitization and textual transmission. However, the main focus is a practical hands-on spirit: crack open an EPUB or an old computer, and look inside!

The project provided a great opportunity to explore, learn, and practice a huge variety of things that I only vaguely knew about at the beginning. Attempting to carry out tasks—then encountering issues—then searching for solutions—then articulating the ideas in the blog was a great way to build concrete skills and give body to theoretical concepts. Blogging was also a great experience where I was able to test different ideas about communication and access, while connecting with an interesting mix of other bloggers, some of who became important resources for the project.

Digital Aladore has produced several ebooks, public domain images, text visualization demonstrations, and detailed documentation for an ebook creation workflow using numerous software applications. The poster outlines the main ebook creation process and how it relates to the public domain, free software, and Creative Commons.  

Author Biography

Evan Peter Williamson, University of British Columbia