Another day, another free source of information on the Internet! This one’s particularly cool, though; now art students and enthusiasts of all stripes can access the Guggenheim Museum New York’s old exhibition catalogs as free e-books, dating all the way back to 1937. It’s just one more step in the democratization of academic and cultural information, and it’s great for readers and writers.
Free stuff is always a reason to celebrate, but especially with e-books. It’s simply so rare to find a cultural institution allowing instant access to their considerable resources so openly. E-readers are a supposedly democratic innovation, but they can end up shutting out more readers than they enable. As more bookstores roll out e-books and e-readers, we hear a lot about the ease and convenience for readers but in every case there’s the price issue; many e-readers cost at least $100, and while newly released e-books may be less pricey than their physical counterparts, they’re rarely free. Educational material isn’t much better – access can be limited by news site paywalls or e-textbook rental fees. I know I’ve run into frustration more than once when a news article I’ve run across online turns out to be subscribers-only, or a database is closed to all but academic faculty.
Thankfully, just as in the physical world, e-books spring from both commercial and educational impulses. If e-readers are the future of bookstores, free online archives are the future of libraries. And with Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and now the Guggenheim, it’s increasingly the culturally-valuable works that are free to all – and that’s how it should be. It’s refreshing to think that, even without flashy (and pricey) new tech, the average person can access these works of literature and, in this case, art criticism. It’s even better for writers; whether you’re writing a short story or an analytical essay, you can look up historical data, background information, or free research sources. Every day there’s more cool stuff available online. Interesting and educational material is available to anyone, and all you need to learn is a sense of purpose and a wifi connection. In other words, autodidacts rejoice!