Using Public Domain Materials in Classrooms

Old public domain material has made a major comeback online in recent years. There are countless classics for people to read. For instance, anyone who would like to explore the collected works of William Shakespeare, or countless poets, is free to do so at no cost to them. Ironically, this material has yet to make any real inroads into the field of education.

One would think that schools would jump at the chance to get all the free digital books they could ever want. Some innovative teachers may already be doing this but it’s certainly not commonplace. And think of how often old computers are regularly thrown out. In a perfect world, anyone who wants a computer should be able to have one at little, or no cost to him or her. In a perfect world, schools could receive computers that would have otherwise been thrown away and use them to serve up free content to their students. So why isn’t this happening in schools around the country?

All students should get an opportunity to explore the great books of yesteryear. Technology is making it possible to allow them to do so without the need for printing. That saves a great deal of resources as well as money. The best part about it is that the technology to give children these opportunities has existed for years. Schools simply need to apply the tools that they’re already gifted with.

Sources for Free Public Domain Downloads:

  • Adobe Sample eBook Library – Features free sample eBooks including entire books and preview chapters from leading publishers. Adobe Digital Editions software is needed.
  • Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts – Collection of public domain documents from American and English literature as well as Western philosophy.
  • – A private nonprofit project to convert into electronic format and publish the Armenian literary heritage. Also provides information on Armenian culture, history, religion.
  • – Etexts, focusing on classics and general reference works.
  • Bibliomania – Houses an extensive online collection of texts ranging from fiction and poetry to general non-fiction and reference works.
  • Bookstacks – Free online texts in several languages.
  • Classic Bookshelf – Free electronic books to read online.
  • Classic Reader – A collection of classic fiction and non-fiction, poetry, and children’s stories.
  • – Includes archives of now public-domain works by various well-known American and British authors.
  • Classics at the Online Literature Library – Archived electronic texts indexed by author.
  • E-texts and Women’s History – From, listing of electronic versions of books, poetry, speeches, and other writings that illuminate women’s history.
  • – Public domain novels, short stories and plays in HTML format.
  • Free Electronic Books – Educational texts.
  • Free Online Books – Caters books for online reading. Browsed through genres, authors and titles.
  • Free classic e-books – A site with 1000s of free e-books (in pdf format) of the classics and other out of copyright books
  • Full Text Archive – Large free and searchable collection of classic books, novels and poems.
  • – A free online collection with thousands of books.
  • – Collection of free downloadable ebooks in a variety of popular formats and categories.
  • Great Books for Free – Classic English literature published in blog format, one chapter per book per day.
  • Gruntose – Features selected electronic texts, including Doyle, Dumas, and Dana.
  • Hypertexts in American Studies – American literature including works by Poe, Jefferson, Madison, and Twain.
  • Online Texts – Selected online texts on a variety of topics.
  • Kids4Classics – Free classic literature books, with kids picks highlighted.
  • Knowledge Rush – Book lover community, vanity postings, directory of free ebooks, biographies, encyclopaedia.
  • Learn Library – Offers books, poems, speeches, plays and essays; includes reader discussion forums.
  • Library of Southern Literature – There is a collection of approximately 100 texts in HTML and XML. Documents the riches and diversity of Southern experience as presented in its most important literary works.
  • Literature Collection – Contains a searchable collection of timeless literature classics.
  • Literature Online – Links to third party sites, plus literary and reference databases including English and American poetry, drama, and prose, and The Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature. Requires paid subscription.
  • Literature Project – A collection of classic books, poems, speeches, and plays. Site offers online chapter-indexed hypertext that can be easily read and searched and each piece includes downloadable e-text of the work.
  • Literature of the Fantastic – A fair-sized collection of classic works of fantasy/sf, along with fantasy/sf-related websites.
  • Making of America – A digital library of primary sources in 19th-century American social history from the antebellum period through Reconstruction.
  • Medieval and Classical Library – Collection of literary works of classical and medieval civilization.
  • Open Shakespeare – Aims to provide the complete works of Shakespeare along with textual apparatus (introduction, notes) and tools (concordance, search, annotation, word frequency, etc.) in an open knowledge package that allows for easy deployment, redistribution and reuse.
  • PDFreeBooks Library – A small collection of free public domain and copyleft books. Read online on iPaper or download free full text versions as PDF.
  • PSU’s Electronic Classics Series – Classics of literature in Adobe Acrobat PDF format.
  • Page by Page Books – Hundreds of books in the public domain, divided into HTML pages.
  • Perseus Project – Includes texts from the classical and Renaissance world.
  • Project Runeberg – Archive of free ebooks of classic Nordic (Scandinavian) literature.
  • Public Bookshelf – A collection of books in the public domain which can be downloaded.
  • – Contains novels, poems, and religious texts with audio.
  • Read Easily – Digital online library provides book lists by author or subject with a “set display” feature for the partially sighted and visually impaired.
  • Selected Sources for Electronic Texts – Provides links to electronic texts and archives in a variety of formats ranging from plain text to digital audio and digital braille. Compiled by the National Library Service.
  • The Classics in ASCII – Public domain fiction and non-fiction etexts at
  • The EServer – Includes a variety of literature-related materials, including etext archives of prose, poetry, fiction, non-fiction; links.
  • The International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) – Provides free access to children’s books from around the world. Some books are public domain, others are used by author’s permission.
  • The Internet Archive: Million Book Project – Carnegie Mellon University project to compile digitized texts into a free, searchable digital library.
  • The Online Literature Library – A small, but easily-navigated selection of online etexts from English literature.
  • The Society for the Appreciation of the Post-Dialogic Novel – For theories on the status of the contemporary novel, reviewing texts in print form, with an eye toward the form’s evolution via hypertexts and immersive environments.
  • World eBook Library – Public domain books in HTML, usually one file per chapter. Offers PDF books to members only.
  • Yahshuan Archives – Akashic Infinitum – Preservs Books from world religion, sects, history, philosophy, health, self-help, self-sufficiency, biographies and old Children’s materials. Including Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and Gnostic writings.
  • – Free, online illustrated children’s stories, 20 best out-of-copyright novels of the 20th century, out-of-copyright nonfiction of the 20th century. Also children’s stories.
  • – HTML collection of online classic e-books.


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