We love eReaders here at HackCollege. Granted, there’s plenty to be said for reading from a traditional paper back, but one of the greatest advantages of the eBook format is how well it works with content licensed under the public domain. 70 years after a book’s author has died, the work itself is considered copyright-free, and may be accessed and published by anyone. While in the past you would still have to pay for the cost it would take to print a book, the ability to publish content in the public domain online means that anyone can then access it for free, making an eReader a perfect way to read the classics.

That’s where Project Gutenberg comes in. Founded in 1971, Project Gutenberg began when Michael Hart, creator of the eBook format, was attending the University of Illinois and was granted access to one of the 15 node computers on ARPANET, the computer network that would eventually become the internet. Believing that the public would one day have access to computers like his, Hart began an altruistic movement that sought to digitize 10,000 of the world’s most popular titles by the end of the 20th century, and make them available for as little cost as possible.

Since then, Project Gutenberg has grown exponentially with the internet, fostering a community of literary enthusiasts which has grown part and parcel with the digital world to include 40,000 titles as of 2012. While its bread and butter are works in the public domain, Project Gutenberg also provides contemporary authors with an avenue for self-publishing their works as well. All titles found on Project Gutenberg are available free of charge, and knowing that not all eReaders are made the same, the site also offers instructions on how to download content onto various devices and which file formats to use.

If you have an eReader, Project Gutenberg is an essential site to visit. And while you could use Project Gutenberg for years and never have to pay a dime, the site does kindly encourage donations and volunteer work if possible.