Tom Nysetvold on the Mormon Texts Project 2.0

Tom Nysetvold has taken on the yeoman work of starting back up the Mormon Texts Project. He was kind enough to answer some questions about it.

Why did you decide to resurrect the Mormon Texts Project?

I somehow ran in to and read some books on Project Gutenberg (notably Joseph Smith as Scientist by Widtsoe) that had been done by the Mormon Texts Project (MTP). They led me to Ben Crowder’s MTP website, and I was very impressed with what he was doing. I got in touch with him and found out he’d recently suspended the project for lack of time to run it.
I thought it was a shame that many important Church books still weren’t (and aren’t) available, and I’ve long been interested in the ideals of open source projects, Creative Commons, etc., so I decided to do a couple of books to figure out the Project Gutenberg process and see if it was something I was interested in doing on a larger scale. I had a lot of fun doing The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt and Orson Pratt’s An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, so I decided to try and get other people involved in the same type of work, and I contacted Ben and got his permission to use the Mormon Texts Project name. A few friends and I started working, and we’re now up to ten books released on Project Gutenberg (PG) this year (seven that were previously unavailable and three that were available only on the old MTP website). At this point, 31 church books are available on PG (23 of which were produced by MTP) out of roughly 45,000 books total. I think those numbers show that as a global religion with a rich heritage, we have a long way to go before that heritage is appropriately accessible.
How has the scope and/or methods of the project changed with the current incarnation?
Ben’s first mention of MTP was in June 2009, and he said “There are lots of public domain (pre-1923) texts related to the Church which would be valuable to make available for free, so my new goal is to start digitizing them and putting them into Project Gutenberg.” That’s still the goal. Currently, we’re selecting books based on two factors. First, we make some effort to supply what’s in demand (approximated by Amazon sales rankings), hence books like The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt. Second, we work on anything that interests any volunteer in the project, hence things like the couple of Orson Pratt pamphlets we’ve released. If someone’s willing to do half the proofing for a book, MTP will likely be willing to do the other half.
Perhaps the biggest change method-wise is that we’re recruiting summer interns to work part-time for academic credit – we’ve arranged to offer credit through the BYU editing minor and history major and through the Utah State religious studies program. Recruiting is now largely complete and we have accepted a total of eight interns, all of whom we’re excited to work with. Each of them could potentially produce two or three books. Adding that to our what our ordinary volunteer base does, we should have an extremely productive summer.
Our new website also reflects one new scope item — the Available Texts section has a complete list of Church stuff that’s available on PG, along with .zip files containing the whole list in Kindle and epub formats. As we post commentary regarding each book, we’re linking it from this list, so it will eventually have some information about the contents and significance of each book that’s available. I hope this will help people understand what’s available and encounter authors that are currently less known.
What texts will you be releasing next?

We’ve finished first-round proofreading of The Mormon Doctrine of Deity by B. H. Roberts, History of the Prophet Joseph by His Mother, and Voz de Amonestación by Parley P. Pratt (A Voice of Warning in Spanish); with luck they will all be done within a couple of months. We have one intern who’s already started and is working on the History of the Church, vol. 1. The next books on our shortlist include Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life by Matthias Cowley and The Lectures on Faith. All of these and more should easily be completed this year.

How can people volunteer to help with the project? What are the types of things that volunteers do?

Anyone who’s remotely interested in volunteering should get in touch with me at mormontextsproject at gmail dot com. The bulk of the work involved in producing a book consists of proofreading — editing our text file of the book so that it actually matches the pdf scans of the original. Most volunteers will spend most of their time proofreading, and no special expertise is necessary. (Same idea as indexing, really.) Project Gutenberg figures the average book takes 30-50 hours to produce, so a volunteer putting in an hour a week can easily add a book a year to our output.

If members of the AMV community can’t volunteer at the moment, what are some other ways we can help the project?

Right now, we can use all the publicity we can get — we want people to read the books we produce, and we want people to volunteer, and for both it tends to help if they know we exist. We’re on FacebookTwitter, and Google+: “like” us, share our stuff (especially release posts and related commentary on our blog), make your friends do likewise, etc. Not only does this help us get the word out, it’s just plain encouraging to see that people care about the work we’re doing.

Thanks, Tom!

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