Building Your Own Online Library

There are several ways to approach building an online library.  While most people think of libraries as having books, libraries today offer much more, and your online library could, too!   

Aside from buying books for eBook readers like Kindle and Nook, there are free sites that offer books, audio and video files, and picture files that have few or no copyright restrictions.  Copyright laws determine how a work can legally be used without the author’s permission.  While most student uses are legitimate under a part of copyright law known as Fair Use, copyright holders will go after violators, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Bookmarking can be used to collect and organize online information.  Adding sites to a folder or list makes it easy to create collections based on subjects or topics.  You can also use bookmarks to mark sites where you can get free ebooks, audiobooks, music, and more!  While you can save to the favorites folder on your computer, consider using a social media tool like Diigo to store your bookmarks.  This lets you “take” your bookmarks with you to whatever computer you use, since the bookmarks are stored in your Diigo site and not on the computer.  Diigo lets you add tags to each bookmark so that you can easily search through your collection for a particular topic.  It also allows you to highlight passages and use sticky notes to help you organize thoughts and help you find the important parts of the page.  One nice thing about bookmarking, regardless of how you do it, is that you don’t have to worry about copyright issues; linking to the site is perfectly safe!

Some sites you might wish to bookmark that provide free resources with few or no copyright restrictions:


Project Gutenberg is a large collection of public domain ebooks available, free of charge, on the internet.  Because these works are in the public domain, they are no longer protected by copyright, and you are free to download, keep, and distribute to friends any work found on Project Gutenberg.  Occassionally, Project Gutenberg will have audiobook links from Librivox as well.

Hathi Trust is similar to Project Gutenberg in part, but not all the books are public domain, so not all are available for download to everyone.  Ancilla College is not a partner institution, and so works that are not in public domain or created under Creative Commons licenses are not available for download.  However, a large number of public domain books are available to be downloaded in a PDF format.  You can also login to create a public or private “collection”.

Directory of Open Access Books is a growing collection of open access books made available internationally.  Not all titles are in English, but all titles are able to be downloaded and shared, provided you give credit.  Licensing is done through Creative Commons (see below) so there are some limits as to what you can legally do with the work (for instance, you usually can’t sell it or make changes to it) but open access lets you distribute the unchanged work to whomever you wish, and you can use an open access work in your papers (remember to cite your source!)

Librivox is the audiobook version of Project Gutenberg.  Though not yet as extensive, there are still thousands of public domain audiobooks available, and they continue to add more.  Librivox relies on volunteer readers, so anyone can contribute to Librivox.  Again, since these are public domain recordings, you can download, copy, and share the files with friends.  Sometimes, you will find Librivox recordings in Project Gutenberg, alongside the print copies.


Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is the journal equivalent of Directory of Open Access Books.  Again, as an international “warehouse” of journal titles, not everything is in English.  Also, articles range from undergraduate level to doctoral level.  However, the journals are peer-reviewed and cover all fields of study. 

Public Library of Science (PLoS) is another peer-reviewed, open access resource, this one focusing on the sciences (particularly life sciences) and medicine.  Like DOAJ, articles range from undergraduate level to doctoral level.


Creative Commons (CC) is an organization that provides different levels of copyright protection for works–but all Creative Commons licenses have one thing in common: the owner of the work has agreed to share his or her work.  Usually, this means that an article or sound, picture or video file found with a CC license is free for you to use provided you give credit to the creator and often you can’t make changes to the work or sell it.  But there are many types of CC licenses and some will let you alter the work (they call making an alternate version a “derivative work”) and even sell your version for a profit!  However, you need to check the license type to verify that you can do this, otherwise the original creator can take you to court for breaking copyright.  Some sites that use CC licensing are:

Audio/Video Files

ArtistServer (music)
CC Mixter (music)
Free Music Archive (music)
Free-Loops (looped beats, sounds, and music clips)
Freesound (music and sound effects)
Indaba Music (music)
Jamendo (music)
OpSound (music)
OurMedia (video, environmental)
SoundCloud (music and sounds)
Tribe of Noise (music)

Flickr Creative Commons (note:  this is a special grouping of pictures done within Flickr, not a separate site–groups based on CC license type)

And, of course, you can find a little bit of everything at the Internet Archive and Wikimedia Commons!


You can also use certain online sites to manage your print book collection.  Library Thing is one of the most popular, easy ways to do this.  Library Thing allows you to create a free account that will let you “catalog” up to 200 books (if you opt to pay the one-time, lifetime membership fee, you have unlimited cataloging).  Library Thing lets you create your own headings (called tags) so you can organize and search your collections easily, and it allows you to create collections, so that books you wish to group together (by topic, genre, author, etc.) stay together. 

RSS Feeds also can be used, and since they update automatically, you don’t have to worry about going out and searching the site’s content for updates.

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