This is guest post from our Magnifying Your Calling: Mormon Book Geek dept., by way of Tom Nysetvold, the Director of the MTP. Tom is a Texan mechanical engineer involved in the refining industry who likes to hike and read old books in his spare time. He served in the Brazil São Paulo South Mission, speaks increasingly rusty Portuguese, and is studying Italian. He’s married to the beautiful and extremely supportive Elissa Nysetvold.
The Mormon Texts Project aims to make every out-of-copyright Church book available for free in Kindle, epub, HTML, and plaintext formats, forever. After a year or so of slow progress, we’re back in business, with eight books released on Project Gutenberg so far this year and many more in the works. In this guest post I’ll discuss our philosophy, the process we use to make books available, what we’re working on, and how people can help, in that order.
Many faiths, disciplines, and interest groups have recognized that reading is key to developing a rich understanding of their beliefs and have made their classics freely available. G. K. Chesterton, a brilliant Catholic apologist who I’d recommend to members of the Church, has 50 books available for free on Project Gutenberg. To pick a couple of men on the other end of the philosophical spectrum, Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell have 35 books between them. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, by my count (list), has all of 29 books available on Project Gutenberg. This does not become us. Why isn’t more of the Church’s literature available? Is it unimportant? Do we not expect there to be a large audience in the future that justifies the effort required to make our texts available?
On the contrary, I believe that in the future Church texts will increasingly garner widespread acclaim and critical attention. The early literature of the Church is the classic literature of the future; there will be more people reading B. H. Roberts (only 4 books currently on Project Gutenberg) than Nietzsche in the Millennium. The Church is only going to grow; youth alive today may see the Church’s current audience of 15 million become one of over 250 million by 2080. Given what we know of the future of the Church, we ought to be creating a heritage of freely available Church texts to rival anything else in the world. That is why we at the Mormon Texts Project do what we do.
Now for the how. We make books available through Project Gutenberg (PG) specifically because there’s no other site that can compare for having a large, well-established, freely licensed, high-quality, well-defended catalogue of world literature. Books that PG publishes are constantly backed up by mirror sites around the globe, and PG’s legal team defends them against challenges to their public domain status. Once they publish a text, little short of the collapse of civilization can ever make it unavailable.
We follow a pretty standard PG process for creating and submitting books. Archive.org has scans and optical character recognition-derived texts of whole libraries worth of books, including much of what interests us. We start with the OCR text they have available, proof it once to fix all the OCR errors and ensure it exactly matches the original text, proof it a second time to confirm quality, subject it to a handful of automated checks, produce an html version from the text file, and submit to Project Gutenberg. For the first part of the first-round proof and the very end of the process, some experience with regular expressions and HTML is helpful, but the vast majority of the work consists of proofreading.
Some examples of our work ought to give a feel for what we’re interested in. Among other things, we’ve recently published the classic Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt; Orson Pratt’s pamphlet “An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions,” which anticipates the Articles of Faith and contains the first published account of the First Vision; and John Taylor’s The Government of God, which discusses governments of both God and man and their futures, and is one of only a couple of book-length works he ever wrote. The in-progress queue includes B. H. Roberts’ Mormon Doctrine of Deity and The History of the Prophet Joseph by His Mother. We’re waiting to hear back from Project Gutenberg about the copyright documentation we’ve submitted for Talmage’s House of the Lord. This year, for the first time, we’re offering internships through the BYU history and editing programs, and the plan is to have the interns work on The Life of John Taylor by B. H. Roberts and Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors, the biography by Matthias Cowley that is based closely on his journals.
If any of this interests you, our blog announces book releases and other project news. Release posts typically provide some context, commentary, and key quotations from the book. We currently have a backlog of releases to work through (a good problem to have), but once the blog catches up on that front we’ll post similar stuff about books that have been available for a while, some of which are relatively unknown.
Our pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are tied in to the blog and mostly serve to let people know when there are new releases or other posts. They could use some love (invite your friends and all that) and are probably the best way to casually keep up with us.
Finally, we can use all the volunteers we can get. Our pace of book production is almost exactly proportional to the number of hours our volunteers put in. The whole process of producing a book takes perhaps 30 to 50 hours; a volunteer working an hour every Sunday can easily put out the equivalent of a book in a year. I think of it as being like indexing, only more interesting. (Indexing is great, but if I’m going to read old stuff for an hour each Sunday, I’ll take B. H. Roberts over passenger lists every time.) If you can open .pdfs, read, and type, you meet our qualifications – get in touch with us at mormontextsproject at gmail dot com.