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Free Government eBooks Now Available From GPO

The Government Printing Office (GPO) announced today that it is now making eBooks available in the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP). Catalog records include descriptive information, as well as Persistent Uniform Resource Locators (PURLs) and the ebooks are available in .mobi, (Kindle) .epub (most other eBook readers) formats as well as other formats such as PDF.

This is really big news. For a while GPO has only sold eBooks and some eBooks were available free from the agency, but not from GPO. There are still some limitations (will we know when eBook formats are added to existing titles?), but GPO is to be commended for treating eBooks equitably.

You can browse a list of all ebooks here or search the main CGP catalog adding the phrase “gov ebook” to your list of keywords.

Kathryn Bayer, Outreach Librarian at GPO said that GPO is harvesting Federal Government eBooks from agency Web sites and that all eBook titles available through the CGP are Federal publications of public interest or educational value within the scope of Title 44, United States Code, sections 1902-1903. She added that new eBook titles will be added to the CGP on a monthly basis. These FDLP eBooks are not being created by GPO.

Using the CGP works as usual with several steps:

  • Search to get a list of search results.
  • Click on a selection to get a cataloging record.
  • Click on the PURL in that record to get a list of file format directories.
  • Click on an directory link to get a link to the file in the format of your choice.
  • Click and download the file.

I compared a PDF and epub file of the document: High seas buffer : the Taiwan Patrol Force, 1950-1979. The content appears to be identical and there is no DRM in either format.

Here is a side-by side comparison of the two formats (epub on the left, pdf on the right):

[click on image for full size]

The illustration appears different in the two formats above, but it is the same, just reversed in the epub.

The illustration also shows one of the short-comings of current ebook production. Because the reader controls such things as font face, size, and color, line spacing, and so forth (limited only by the functionality of the hardware and software the reader uses), the content-creator cannot guarantee how the text will appear or whether the layout chosen for 8.5×11 will work. Illustrations such as the ones above, when displayed on small hand-held e-readers (like the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo), may be too small to read at all.

[click on image for full size]

These are not GPO-specific or government-information-specific problems. All publishers are in the early stages of trying to understand and adapt to the flexible eBook format and user-control of the design. Eventually, designers will learn to make this flexibility into a feature of ebooks, but, so far, what we get is little more than the text in a format that we can, we hope, read easily and portably.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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