Did you know that there is an online searchable database of million of the world's books that's completely free to use?
For several years now the Internet Archive has been collecting millions of scanned and text versions of fiction, popular books, childrens books, historical texts, and academic books that are searchable in their OpenLibrary.
There have been other efforts along these lines such as the Gutenberg Project which currently offers 42,000 free online ebooks and Lit2Go which comes from Florida's Educational Technology Clearinghouse. Lit2Go offers a huge free collection of online audio books that can be downloaded as MP3's and played on just about any digital device including your phone. Many of the books and stories that our students read can be found here.
Perhaps the largest collection of online books has been created by none other than Google. In 1996 the founders of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, were graduate students at Standford University where were working to create a web crawler that could someday index online digital libraries. The webcrawler they created eventually developed into the Google Search engine that we are familiar with today but they did return to their original digital library project in 2002. Today the Google Books project includes millions of scanned books and magazines, many of which can be downloaded for free. You can learn more about this history of this project here.
The Google Books project can be found here: http://books.google.com
They have already scanned millions of books from major universities all across the nation. You can search their database and read the books right off the screen like this:
Many more books are available for sale at the Google Play Store where you can download them to a digital device of your choice, for a price of course. Apple is also selling ebooks for it's portable devices (such as the iPad, iPhone and iTouch) as part of it's iTunes Apps Store.
It should also be noted that book publishers and authors are not exactly thrilled with all this digital scanning of their books. For example, there was a multi-year legal battle over the Google Books project which was finally settled in October of 2009. You can read about the details of this settlement here.