How to find free books online, find free PDF books online. Search for books you want, plus magazines and newspapers, free online.
Nearly everything we see on the Internet was ‘created digital’ since the 1990s. However, there are also millions of books, magazines and newspapers, published before the Internet existed, that have been scanned and made available online for free by various organizations. This is a guide for helping you find items in these collections.
The Public Domain: What is it? Why does it matter?
If a published item is in the public domain, that means it is not protected by intellectual property laws. In the U.S., copyrights have expired on most materials published before 1926, so they’re in the public domain. Also in the public domain are certain works published since 1926, right up to the present day. These include many publications of government offices (local, state and federal). In recent years the ‘Open Access’ movement has encouraged some authors to place new books and articles in the public domain.
Online Archives Not in the Public Domain
Some organizations, such as public libraries, make their digitized books available to the public by applying restrictions similar to those they use in lending physical books. Only a few digital books are ‘lent’ to users at one time, and the digital files are automatically deleted after a few weeks. Users must use a log-on, and they cannot share the digitized books with friends. This approach is also used by the Internet Archive, one of the organizations profiled below. In this way many books not in the public domain, including those published very recently, are made available to readers.
Some magazines still under copyright are included in the Internet Archive lending collection and other archives. To find out about accessing periodicals, you can skip past the book section on this page down to:
If you’re looking for free books online on a topic, here are three approaches, and the sites I recommend.
- Browse the subject pages here on Century Past Free Online Library;
- Use online search engines for ‘subject searches’;
- Find book titles on your subject with bibliographies. Then you can find more books on the archives below with title or author searches.
Century Past Free Online Library – How to Find Free Books Online
Century Past Library is the website you’re on now. It is designed for users who wish to browse for books by subject. To learn more, including tips on navigating it, see About Century Past Library.
The Online Books Page – Subjects – Find Free PDF Books Online
Most links in this very large site appear to open books in the HathiTrust archive (see below). You have three ways to search for books online on your topic: Type a subject into the search box, browse an alphabetical index of subjects, or use the Library of Congress call number system. Most people will only be able to view the HathiTrust items in the public domain (see ‘The Public Domain: What Is It?’ on this page above).
Library of Congress Online Catalog – Find Free PDF Books Online
This catalog contains a huge number of books published in the U.S. and elsewhere, and the online subject search tool is uncomplicated. Use the ‘advanced’ mode (in ‘search options’, under the top search bar) to limit results by date and language. Sometimes search results include a link to a digital version of a public domain book at Internet Archive. If the book contains a bibliography, that is noted. You can send search results to your email account.
OCLC WorldCat – How to Find Free Books Online
Claims to be the “world’s largest library catalog”. Its primary purpose is to find physical books and materials at libraries near your location, but it is also very useful for identifying titles. When you click on the entry for a single book and scroll down, you may find a description of the book, or a list of chapter headings.
HathiTrust Digital Library – How to Find Free Books Online
Like Internet Archive, HathiTrust is a huge non-profit archive, with 8 million book titles and 460,000 serial titles, as of early 2022. About 40% of those are public domain items available to anyone for online reading. If you’re a member of one of their partner institutions, you may have access to items not in the public domain.
Don’t miss HathiTrust’s 7,000 ‘Collections’. These are mostly book lists (with HathiTrust links) that were created by users on subjects they were researching.
Internet Archive Books Collection – Find Free PDF Books Online
As of early 2022 this collection holds 2.9 million ‘modern’ (non-public domain) books; 85% of them in English. Somewhat confusingly, the Internet Archive has a second site, Open Library, from which you can access the same books with a different interface. Your Internet Archive log-on gives you access to both sites. For searches by author, title or subject, the search box that appears at the top of any Open Library page works well.
Subject Searches at Open Library/Internet Archive
It takes some time to find most of the books that Internet Archive has on a particular subject. Their book records were created using Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal System terminology and structure, and many records don’t include all the subject descriptions that fit the book.
One trick is to use a title search or subject search to find records of a few books in your subject. On the bottom half of the screen for each book you’ll find “Topics” (in the Internet Archive page) or “Subjects” (in the Open Library page). If one fits your subject, click on it to see all the books that have that topic in their book record. Check several books for all the categories that fit your topic.
Borrowing from Internet Archive
Internet Archive Books has 2.9 million books still in copyright for borrowing online. When you open a book’s webpage there, you are usually offered the option to borrow for 1 hour or 14 days. You need a free account to do either. You can borrow for 1 hour repeatedly. If you are not given the option to borrow for 14 days, that copy has been lent to another user. Try searching for the title, to see if there’s another copy available.
Google Books – How to Find Free Books Online
Google Books exists mainly for Google to sell books, so many books found there are not free. However, the Google Books search engine works well for subject searches, and entries for books for sale often enable you to see a chapter or more in preview mode.
For free books, download options vary. Some books allow only PDF or plain-text download, while some books provide options for e-reader formats. The options are found at the gear icon at the top right corner.
Century Past Library has links to many free online magazines, organized by subject. See “Magazines” in the menu at the top of any page. If you don’t find your magazine there, try searching (in this order):
Century Past is the best place to look for newspapers in English. I have collected links to many free newspaper archives around the world, and presented them on several webpages, organized geographically. Along with archives of past newspapers there are links to current online newspapers and other news sources. See “Newspapers” in the top-of-page menu.