One place to start when talking about Wikisource is, “Why bother?” There are many other digital libraries, from Project Gutenberg to the Internet Archive. What separates Wikisource from them?

In fact, this was an early response to the proposal of a Wikisource-like project back in 2001. Larry Sanger was one of the first to comment, saying:

The hard question, I guess, is why we are reinventing the wheel, when Project Gutenberg already exists? I mean, what really is the need for having this project?

This was closely followed by none other than Jimmy Wales himself, who said:

Like Larry, I’m interested that we think it over to see what we can add to Project Gutenberg. It seems unlikely that primary sources should in general be editable by anyone.

So what does separate Wikisource from similar projects? What are Wikisource’s unique selling points?

Wikisource has many things in common with other libraries but many unique qualities as well. A quick list of unique selling points, as I see them at least, would be accessible scans, crowdsourced proofreading and potential for added value. Gutenberg has proofreading but its sources are hidden. The Internet Archive has scans but only error-ridden computer-transcribed text. Other digital libraries fall into one or the other of these camps. Wikisource, however, combines the reliability of the scans with human-made transcriptions.

Together anyone can contribute to proofreading, regardless of personal resources and access to texts. Once proofread, anything can be checked and corrected. If, for example, you doubt a spelling, a scan of the original page is just a click away where is can be confirmed or corrected.

Added value, such as wikilinking certain terms or embedding spoken-word versions, just adds more to this already pretty solid foundation.