Yesterday, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-California) sent an inquiry to each of the “Big Five” book publishers to investigate their activities in the library e-book market. As the Senator and Congresswoman noted, rather than simply selling books to libraries, publishers insist on using “restrictive and expensive licensing agreements,” leaving libraries to face with “skyrocket[ing]” prices and temporary “leases,” “often at a much higher markup than what the average consumer pays for the same title.”
These practices have led to outcry by librarians and others around the world, including the #ebookSoS Campaign to Investigate the Academic eBook Market. Following careful reporting on the topic in The Nation, the Daily Beast, and the New Yorker, as well as campaigning by Library Futures and others, the Wyden-Eshoo inquiry seeks information on the restrictions the publishers place on their e-books, their outsize costs, and any legal actions they have taken to prevent libraries from engaging in traditional lending practices, among other things. The publishers have until October 7 to respond.
We are pleased that government officials are looking carefully at these issues. Libraries need to be able to buy books; publisher licensing models restrict libraries’ core functions of preservation and lending. That is why we have long sought to actually purchase e-books from publishers. But the big publishers, in a curiously coordinated fashion, have refused to do so—instead using the digital transition to impose onerous and expensive licenses on libraries, and to sue the Internet Archive for doing digitally what libraries have always done physically, preserve and lend books. This letter shows that some in Washington, if not in the publishing houses, still have the public interest in mind.
It is also the latest in a groundswell of support for Controlled Digital Lending. As the letter notes, “it is imperative that libraries can continue their traditional lending functions” in the digital age. Controlled Digital Lending allows libraries to do just that. The Boston Library Consortium, the International Federation of Library Associations, and even large commercial organizations like ProQuest are lining up behind Controlled Digital Lending.
To learn more about CDL, and the importance of digital ownership for the future of libraries, consider joining our virtual Library Leaders Forum this October.
Internet Archive Canada recently made a submission in response to this AI consultation. As mentioned in the submission—and as recognized in the consultation paper itself—AI raises a fundamental and recurring copyright question: how to ensure the law keeps pace with technological change. In our view, what history suggests as an answer is not interminable legislative tweaks, but rather flexible copyright frameworks, including flexible limitations and exceptions like the fair use doctrine. The Supreme Court of Canada has shown a wonderful and enduring commitment to a flexible conception of fair dealing—most recently in the York University v. Access Copyright case. Why not continue down this path and simply reaffirm the flexible and open nature of fair dealing in Canada today?
The artificial intelligence consultation itself helps prove the point. The Government has been considering taking action on artificial intelligence since a review of the Copyright Act commenced all the way back in 2017 (itself set in motion years earlier). In the years between then and now, should Canada’s technology industry have taken a wait-and-see approach, while others made extraordinary investments in AI? Why spend half a decade or more tweaking narrow legislation when broadly flexible limitations and exceptions can and do fill this gap? And flexibility provides a host of other benefits, including for AI itself. For example, AI is not immune from the ancient maxim, garbage in, garbage out, to say nothing of the bias and other similar problems with AI. As a result, it is important that AI researchers and others be able to analyze datasets both before and after ingestion, and that copyright not stand as an undue obstacle to this work. Legal frameworks empowered by flexible copyright limitations and exceptions, such as controlled digital lending, can help facilitate this process.
In the end, the AI consultation offers much to be thankful for, including an open and transparent process and many good ideas. We look forward to continuing to work with our Canadian friends and neighbors to ensure good copyright policy and strong libraries in the 21st century and beyond.
Registration is now open for the Library Leaders Forum 2021, our annual gathering of experts from the library, copyright, and information policy fields. Following the success of last year’s virtual Forum, which brought together hundreds of attendees from all over the world, we will again host a series of online workshops, presentations, and discussion sessions over four weeks in October. Register now!
This year, we are focusing our discussions around the theme, “Digital Ownership & the Future of Library Collections.” As more content moves digital, and as publishers refuse to sell ebooks to libraries in favor of restrictive licensing models, librarians wonder, “What will our library collections look like?” We will explore this question and related issues throughout the Library Leaders Forum sessions and conference workshops, which include:
Library Leaders Forum
Session I: Community Dialogue October 13 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET – Register In our first session, hear from library leaders as they navigate the challenges of the ebook marketplace, and their concerns about the future of library collections as content moves digital. We’ll also be joined by copyright experts and publishers for a panel discussion on digital ownership.
Session II: Community Impact October 20 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET – Register In our second session, we’ll explore the impacts that digital collections have had for libraries during the pandemic. Hear firsthand from educators & librarians about the value of digitized library collections for the patrons, students, and communities they serve. We’ll also feature new developments at the Internet Archive, and how these advances help connect digital learners with books, articles, and other resources. We’ll finish the session by awarding the Internet Archive Hero Award 2021.
Controlled Digital Lending: Unlocking the Library’s Full Potential October 7 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET – Register Last month, Library Futures Foundation released a new policy document, “Controlled Digital Lending: Unlocking the Library’s Full Potential.” Library Futures Foundation developed this document in consultation with the Intellectual Property and Information Policy (iPIP) Clinic at Georgetown Law. The document covers all the benefits, innovations, and goals that are the basis of any controlled digital lending system and makes the crucial connection between CDL and issues of equity. It expands beyond the legal rationale laid out in the Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) White Paper by clarifying the core principles that are the foundations of a library’s mission to provide access to materials to serve the public good.
This session will provide an opportunity to hear from the authors of the policy document, to engage in a virtual discussion, and to give your feedback on how this document may be useful to your community.
Empowering Libraries Through Controlled Digital Lending October 12 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET – Register The Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program empowers libraries to lend digital books to patrons using Controlled Digital Lending. Attendees will learn how CDL works, the benefits of the Open Libraries program, and the impact that the program is having for partner libraries and the communities they serve.
Resource Sharing with the Internet Archive October 27 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET – Register Learn about the Internet Archive’s new resource sharing initiatives and how your library can participate.
Kelsey Bresemanis a Rita Allen Civic Science Fellow at the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, where she works on environmental accountability, data ownership models, and intentional community. Kelsey has founded and managed tech startups, and has a history of activist leadership for progressive causes. She has a B.S. in Neural Engineering from Olin College and is currently working on a M.S. in Data Science from UT Austin.
I originally entered the decentralized web space through a problem with trust and power. I’m a member of the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI), an organization that sprang up in the wake of the Trump administration in an effort to prevent a climate-denialist administration from reducing public access to critical government-held data about the environment. In the EDGI working group then called Archiving, we were looking at ways to back up datasets such that scientists would be able to use them as proof — implying a strong chain of provenance — even if the original source were to remove access.
The question was, how could we ensure that data for the protection of the environment was owned by the people in a trustworthy way? The decentralized web offered broad distribution and a blockchain-backed provenance. So the decentralized web can — at least theoretically — help to protect the environment through the preservation of critical data.
The basic pattern is the same across the technologies: proof-of-work is an inherently and intentionally energy-inefficient process that is the basis for Bitcoin’s stability as a currency; as the value of the currency rises, mining (which performs the energy-intensive proof-of-work process) becomes financially incentivized; high energy consumption increases carbon emissions, oil and coal extraction and burning, and so on. And so, decentralized web technology contributes to the destruction of habitability on our planet. Most articles you’ll find about this discuss cryptocurrency and NFTs, but our use case of decentralized and highly duplicated file storage isn’t immune. Aren’t we asking for more files to be stored on more servers, with more aggregate uptime and thus more energy use?
In this context, do we now need to protect the environment more directly from the decentralized web?
We believe projects should aim to minimize ecological harm and avoid technologies that worsen environmental health.
We value systems that work towards reducing energy consumption and device resource requirements, while increasing device lifespan by allowing repair, recycling, and recovery.
Though this principle could apply equally to any project — of course we should minimize ecological harm — it’s worth a brief exploration of the implications in the decentralized web space.
Energy use is an acknowledged issue with the decentralized web, and especially decentralized ledger (cryptocurrency) technologies, so there is a fair amount of writing in this space. Here, I’ll break down the most common takes I’ve seen folks bring up to address the ecological (usually energy-centric) impacts of this tech:
Carbon-Neutralize the Approach
This is the idea that the high energy use of decentralized web technologies is okay as long as you make sure the energy comes from renewable resources. In practice, this looks like the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, the Crypto Climate Accord, or the Energy Web Foundation: leveraging the collective power of energy users to create a demand for low-carbon energy that triggers a transition of the grid to renewable infrastructure. You’ll often see the phrase “net zero” — we’ll emit carbon, but then try to balance it out.
Transition to renewables is absolutely necessary, but as an answer to high energy use, it falls short. In grid-level discussions of renewable energy adoption, we see a lot of celebration that renewables are a growing percentage of our energy source. For example, U.S. states set “renewable portfolio standards” (RPS) defining a percent-renewable energy source for their grid infrastructure, and it’s fairly common for states to exceed their targets. California, for example, had a goal of 33% renewables by 2020 which they had already exceeded by 2018.
What often gets passed over however, is that year over year, energy demand grows so much that this typically means a growth across all sectors of energy generation, from solar to coal. What we’re celebrating, then, is not a displacement of coal/actual reduction in carbon emissions, but that new demand is being covered by proportionally more renewable sources than we’re used to.
And of course, even renewable infrastructure has an ecological cost (e.g. materials extraction) — so though decarbonization of our energy infrastructure is an important objective, any proposed solution that doesn’t attempt to decrease energy demand is underwhelming.
Try Something with Less Energy
As mentioned above, cryptocurrencies traditionally rely on energy-intensive proof-of-work as a mechanism for stability. Like the gold standard, the currency works because it is difficult to obtain, and increasingly so over time. Also like the gold standard, it’s something we may have the choice to move on from, hopefully in ways that serve our values.
The most famous foray into this change is proof-of-stake. Proof-of-work relies upon calculations that increase in complexity as the blockchain grows, requiring miners to purchase hardware and electricity as a cost of mining. Proof-of-stake is a more direct form of reinvestment; it ties up a miner’s existing coins as stake against the transaction.
Proof-of-stake is most touted for its much lower energy profile than proof-of-work. Altcoin uses it; Ethereum is switching to it; Bitcoin may or may not ever make that transition. These choices tend to be values-based. Proof-of-work’s original claim to fame was as a solution to the problem of double spending, where the same coins could be spent twice, destroying the integrity of the currency. Adherents to proof-of-work over proof-of-stake cite the importance of Bitcoin’s long-running stability across years of worldwide usage. Proof-of-stake is newer and less widespread; it’s impossible to declare it equally reliable yet, though it seems plausible that it might be. If so, the energy reduction would be worthwhile.
Make a Judgment Based on Values and Worth
Rather than asking in isolation how much carbon emissions decentralized web technologies create, many re-frame to draw a baseline. They ask, how do emissions from cryptocurrencies compare to emissions from traditional banking?
I haven’t come across a truly excellent breakdown of ecological cost for cryptocurrencies versus centralized banking, or even a hint of an attempt to compare emissions per dollar equivalent. However, there does exist some good comparative discussion, both of the costs of the two industries and of the value they provide (here’s an article from NASDAQ, for example).
I’m pleased to see the discussion. Cryptocurrencies are in many ways a practical protest against the power and control of traditional banks and government control. If the aim is to disrupt and displace, it’s important to compare the impacts of the two industries.
There’s much to critique in traditional banking. Quite apart from the ecological costs of day-to-day business, fossil fuel divestment has been a critical strategy of the climate movement, whether at the university endowment level or the personal ask to stop using Wells Fargo in response to their financial involvement in the Dakota Access Pipeline. People argue from both ecological and justice perspectives that disruption of traditional banking is a net positive. Others accept the ecological cost of decentralized finance tech as worthwhile, even if only for the trust and security of a chain of provenance.
When we create something new, we hope to make a meaningful improvement. We hope at worst that the cost of our prototype yields something worthwhile: an important learning. It should encapsulate a way of thinking that is different, in some critical way, from what exists. I remain attracted to the decentralized web space because I see so many people in it who are both thoughtful and taking action. People are reading books about power, about money, about justice, and making new protocols — both technical and human — that seem like they could fundamentally change the way our world works, and the way we work together within it.
But how can you know what is a sci-fi fantasy and what is grounded truth? As an expatriate of the Silicon Valley tech world, I know how easy it can be to get embroiled in the pitch: working so hard to earnestly convey that your startup is the key to changing the world. It’s a machismo-filled drive to oversell in order to stand out, to raise your VC seed, such that you yourself become over-convinced that the niche technology you’re developing is the one true way to save the world.
Take a second. Breathe. Think about busyness as a tool of oppression: the urgency that keeps you from ascertaining the full truth, taking the time to determine which systems are most in need of dismantlement. I know, I’m a radical; this is our language. But from what I’ve seen, most people get into DWeb for reasons that are at root more political than technological: you want some kind of change, some kind of power to people (decentralization), some kind of accountability (blockchain) and some way to claim identity-centric control (crypto). Admitting that, it’s not too much more radical to double-check the theory of change: do our technologies really serve the goods they claim to? How, and how can we ensure they do?
The DWeb principle at hand doesn’t make a value judgment with respect to energy use; its entreaty is awareness. It takes conscious work to think through the potential impacts of your (technical) choices, and I would ask that of you: slow down. Think it through. Make a decision about worth and value, rather than letting the flash and urgency of innovation sweep through you. The only way to know is to take the time to find out.
How do we create a universe of truthful and verifiable information, available to everyone?
The Internet Archive, Library Futures Foundation, and Creative Commons invite you to join us for a virtual book talk with Peter B. Kaufman, about his book The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge.
Peter is joined by Catherine Stihler, CEO of Creative Commons, as they discuss how to create a universe of truthful and verifiable information. The conversation will be followed by a Q&A.
Peter B. Kaufman is a writer, teacher, and documentary film producer, Peter B. Kaufman works at the Office of Open Learning at MIT. He previously served as Associate Director of Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. He has served as president and executive producer of Intelligent Television; a founder of the Audio-Visual Think Tank at Sound & Vision in the Netherlands; co-chair of the JISC Film & Sound Think Tank in the United Kingdom; co-chair of the Copyright Committee of the Association of Moving Image Archivists; a member of the Scholar Advisory Committee of WGBH’s American Archive of Public Broadcasting; a member of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure in the Humanities and Social Sciences; and a consultant to the Library of Congress’s National Audiovisual Conservation Center, the largest archive of moving images and recorded sound in the world. The author of numerous articles on media and education, and a member of the editorial board of The Moving Image, he lives in northwest Connecticut and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Catherine Stihler OBE has been an international champion for openness as a legislator and practitioner for over 20 years. Born in Scotland, Catherine was educated at St Andrews University, where she was awarded a Master of Arts (MA) with Honours in Geography and International Relations, and later a Master of Letters (MLitt) in International Security Studies. She also has a Master of Business Administration degree from the Open University. She stood for election as a Member of the European Parliament for Scotland in 1999, representing the Labour Party. At the European Parliament she became one of Scotland’s longest-serving and most respected legislators. Catherine was elected Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, founded the Campaign for Parliamentary Reform and the parliament’s All-Party Library Group, and was instrumental in securing graphic health warnings on cigarette packets across the EU. In 2019, Catherine was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen in recognition of her services to politics. In 2019, she stood down from the European Parliament to become Chief Executive Officer of the Open Knowledge Foundation. Catherine transformed the Open Knowledge Foundation in just 18 months, redefining its vision and mission to produce a new strategic direction, reengaging its global chapters and increasing the worldwide profile of the organisation. In August 2020, Catherine was appointed chief executive of Creative Commons, a non-profit organisation that helps overcome legal obstacles to the sharing of knowledge and creativity to address the world’s pressing challenges.
“Peter B. Kaufman’s call for a new Enlightenment couldn’t be more timely, or more necessary. His polemic against those who purport to own knowledge shows that knowledge is freedom and can belong to all or to none. The choice is ours.” —Edward Snowden
“Mellifluous, intelligent, erudite—a pleasure to read.” —Charles Nesson, William F. Weld Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and founder of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard
“Kaufman’s brilliant exposition of the need for an online Fifth Estate and his ardent support of an online creative commons are both timely and convincing. Everyone who draws on the web for research and intellectual inspiration should read this book.” —Michael Scammell, author, Solzhenitsyn: A Biography and Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic and founding editor, Index on Censorship
“Rigorous and eloquent … a passionate proposal.” —Kathelin Gray, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Jump Cut” is a model for open access journals. When the Internet Archive digitized older issues of “Jump Cut” from microfilm, we found that it had already been posted, in textual form, by the publisher. When we reached out to see if we could open up the microfilm version for free public access and download, they were enthusiastic. Here we wanted to share more background on “Jump Cut” and why openness is important for them.
From the beginning, Jump Cut was all about being accessible and uncensored.
John Hess, Chuck Kleinhans, and Julia Lesage launched the publication when they were graduate students at Indiana University in 1974. At first, they produced it themselves on typewriters and distributed it on inexpensive, tabloid newsprint.
“It was positioned as a counter-culture journal. Their impetus for creating it was to provide a voice to the disenfranchised, those not normally published in academic journals,” said Jeremy Butler, professor emeritus of TV and film studies at the University of Alabama. “This has involved writers from left perspective, underrepresented people of color, LGBTQ writers and others.”
Jump Cut has never accepted advertising and being independent has always been its driving principle. It is a cross between an arcane scholarly journal and a pop culture film criticism magazine that covers a range of topics, such as pornography, that would be considered taboo in mainstream publications, said Butler, who has written for the journal himself.
The journal uses language that is familiar to academics, but not too obscure as to turn off readers. As a peer-reviewed journal, Jump Cut is an avenue for scholars—particularly junior faculty with diverse perspectives—to publish and earn citation credits.
In 2004, the journal moved online and discovered an international audience. After Hess and Kleinhans died, Lesage wanted to preserve the publication’s history and plan for its future.
Butler, who was a doctoral student of Kleinhans at Northwestern University and recently retired from Alabama, helped Lesage convert and archive some of the text from older issues of Jump Cut. The Internet Archive provided a home for the files as an institutional host. Recently, as part of a microfilm digitizing effort, the Archive scanned images, photos and text from all 59 issues of Jump Cut and made them available in a collection.
“Our goal was always to reach as many people as possible,” says Lesage, who says she was “totally ecstatic” to learn the entire collection was preserved by the Archive. “Now people will be able to see the images that we ran with those early articles.”
In addition to the journals, Kleinhans and Lesage have had syllabi and lecture notes from a variety of film and media courses they taught digitized and added to the Internet Archive collection. “I’ve tried to encourage scholars to archive their own papers and research materials,” says Lesage, who hopes the collection will be used by students, teachers and researchers. “It’s a treasure that scholars should take advantage of and not leave it to their heirs to try and decide what to do with all these boxes of papers.”
Butler, who is a regular user of the Wayback Machine, movies and audio files through the Archive for his own research and enjoyment, said preserving the course materials and the complete Jump Cut collection is exciting for scholars and the public at large.
“It provides access to voices that people would not normally hear,” Butler said of broader new availability of the media studies journal. “There’s so much that’s invisible in our culture, so much that’s hidden behind structural and class divides. Jump Cut has prided itself on providing a voice to the unspoken…It might open up a whole new world to readers that they never even knew existed.”
In his 1976 paper “Communication and Cultural Domination,” sociologist and media critic Herbert Schiller warned of a future in which the cultural lives of individuals around the globe would be shaped and dictated by a small number of private media interests. The domination of US tech corporations in the online world today is the grim fulfillment of that prophecy.
Access to the vast store of collective human knowledge is increasingly predicated on the surrender of our rights of privacy, free association, and digital autonomy to gatekeepers like Google, Amazon, and Facebook, whose entire business models depend on the normalization of surveillance capitalism. And digital colonization — the violent and repressive imposition of Western values and taxonomies — is a fundamental component of their success.
“The internet is implicated in contemporary power structures, its promise tarnished by unaccountable digital corporations, data extractivism, the marketisation of democracy and network capitalism’s connivance with surveillance states.”
(Anita Gurumurthy and Nandini Chami, “Towards a political practice of empowerment in digital times: a feminist commentary from the global South”)
Realizing the potential of the web to democratize the advance of human knowledge while preserving cultural autonomy and promoting universal human rights requires more than a begrudging (and often patronizing) nod to “global perspectives” interpreted through the lens of the Silicon Valley ethos. Achieving just outcomes requires actively prioritizing both equal access and equitable participation across social and cultural boundaries.
And this begins with centering the foundational principles of mutual respect, trust, and equity.
Achieving mutual respect is essential for effective communication and collaboration, and plays an especially critical role in conflict resolution.
It is important to distinguish between respect and tolerance. Tolerance is the privilege of the powerful: it is the granting of permission to deviate from the norms of the majority. And it comes with the unspoken threat that this permission can be revoked at any time. Asking the powerless to accept mere “tolerance” is asking them to endure their oppression for the comfort or convenience of their oppressors.
“That is the problem with toleration: others determine if they tolerate you, which rules and norms you need to meet in order to be allowed to participate.”
(Petra De Sutter and Bruno De Lille, “Wij willen niet getolereerd worden, wij willen respect”)
Honoring and respecting personal, social, and cultural differences in our digital communities starts with defining clear and consensual social contracts that establish the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of participation.
Codes of conduct are important in creating and sustaining an environment of mutual respect, but in order to be effective they must be enforced consistently and fairly. This requires the additional layer of clear and transparent governance. Fostering a culture of mutual respect starts with making social contracts explicit, continually reassessing their impact, and evolving their conditions to address changes both within a community and in the world at large.
Sustaining a culture that respects our differences, rather than simply tolerating them, creates opportunities to leverage the richness and diversity of our communities for the greater good.
Building trust begins with an expectation of positive intent, and develops over time through mutual accountability. Trust is earned and sustained by accepting responsibility for our actions and their outcomes.
“Without trust, conflict is politics. With trust, conflict is the pursuit of truth.”
(Patrick Lencioni, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”)
Social scientists recognize two main forms of trust: cognitive trust and affective trust.
Cognitive trust is valued predominantly in Western cultures and is based on confidence in someone else’s skills and reliability. It is fostered by a continual display of competence and reliability, and is essentially transactional.
Affective trust is more prevalent in the Global South and Asia. This form of trust develops from a sense of emotional closeness, demonstrations of empathy, or even feelings of friendship. It is relational rather than transactional.
As with respect, trust must be considered within the context of power dynamics. Distrust toward those with power often has little or no real consequence to them, but withholding trust from the disadvantaged or disenfranchised only magnifies the impact of systemic inequalities. This is why it’s essential that those with power earn and sustain trust through what they do, while, in turn, extending trust to others by accepting and recognizing them for who they are.
Trust in a global context requires acknowledging, valuing, and developing both kinds of trust in our communities.
Equity is difficult to define, because there are so few examples of true equity in our world to draw from. One way of thinking about equity is a lack of disparity in agency across racial, ethnic, gendered, and other dimensions. The meaningful pursuit of equity requires interrupting the societal, institutional, and interpersonal injustices that sustain these disparities.
“New manifestations of racism and other forms of oppression continue to emerge and outpace our mechanisms and capacities to solve them… To be achieved and sustained, equity needs to be thought of as a structural and systemic concept.”
(Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide, Annie E. Casey Foundation)
Equity is not synonymous with equality. Equality assumes that everyone has the same needs and can succeed given the same opportunities. Meritocracy, widely heralded in the online world as a force for equality, is founded on the idea that our differences are irrelevant to success, rather than a contributor to success. This dangerously flawed premise, combined with an unwillingness to acknowledge intrinsic power imbalances, has only served to compound the impact of deeply-rooted disparities in the digital world.
Inequity is not a problem that can be solved from first principles. Those with power cannot define what is or is not equitable. Deciding what’s best for the marginalized, rather than meaningfully empowering them to make these determinations for themselves, is itself a manifestation of inequity. Racism and other forms of oppression are self-perpetuating and constantly evolve in response to efforts to mitigate them, so strategies for addressing these issues must also evolve and adapt. Focusing exclusively on “quick fixes,” for example, outreach without corresponding investments in cultural and structural change, often do more harm than good.
Injustice cannot be cured by mere consultation, engagement, or representation. To effect meaningful change, those whose authority and privilege are sustained by inequity must yield power and distribute agency to those who are most impacted by systemic disparities.
Closing the Circle
The values of respect, trust, and equity are interconnected and inseparable. Putting them into practice means continually reassessing and re-imagining what a just world might look like. It means acknowledging that the same technologies we create and use with the intent of realizing these ideals, can (and will) be abused to instead sustain and magnify systemic injustice — at an otherwise unimaginable scale.
Values that are expressed but that do not guide our actions are merely performative. Real progress can only come about when we go beyond our good intentions, and take responsibility for impact and outcomes. Ultimately, we are accountable not only to our collaborators and our users, but also to our broader global society.
The kind of materials that Stanford English professor Margaret Cohen uses in her work, including the history of ocean travel in the period known as the “Age of Sail,” can be difficult to find.
Books and illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries needed in her research and teaching are often tucked away in rare book collections. For about five years, Cohen has been turning to the Internet Archive for help. And that access was even more critical during the pandemic when physical libraries were closed.
“It’s really enriched the arguments I can make about cultural history,” Cohen said. “The availability of documents and the very intensive work of tracking these down has become so much easier. The Internet Archive is a very user-friendly tool.”
The Biodiversity Heritage Library has been a resource to Cohen in teaching her English class, Imagining the Ocean. She has discovered manuals from Philip Henry Gosse, who created the first public aquarium, envisioning them as beautiful ocean gardens. Cohen also shares her screen with students to discuss drawings of the sails, seashore and sea-anemones from the Victorian Age that she accesses through the Archive.
“Access to the history of science is useful to me. I’m a literature professor, but the imagination spans across different areas,” said Cohen, the Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French Language, Literature, and Civilization and Director, Center for the Study of the Novel.
In her own research of oceanic studies, Cohen explores the importance of diversity and reality in marine environments. She tapped into the Internet Archive to fact-check information for A Cultural History of the Sea, (Bloomsbury, April 2021), a six-volume series that she edited chronicling the vital role oceans have played over time.
In researching her upcoming book, The Underwater Eye: How the Movie Camera Opened the Depths and Unleashed New Realms of Fantasy to be published by Princeton University Press, Cohen said the Wayback Machine was critical in confirming sources on websites that were no longer live.
The Sci-Fi/Horror collection of the Internet Archive has been useful to Cohen in teaching a course on Gothic film—especially since YouTube recently took down many of its films in that genre, she said.
Much of the material Cohen is looking for is in the public domain (such as Punch, a satirical British magazine that dates back to the mid-1800s ) but the documents are fragile because of their age. She has also appreciated being able to borrow classic books of literary criticism, such as the collection on novel studies that supports her graduate course, Genres of the Novel.
“People’s time is limited and having access to this material facilitates scholarship,” Cohen said of the benefits of digitized documents. “I understand why publishers need to make money and I publish myself, but free access to information, particularly for nonprofit use, is a gift.”
Simply text ARCHIVE to 44321 and you’ll receive a secure link that you can use to make a gift. You can select a preset amount or enter your own, and choose whether to set up a monthly donation or make a one-time contribution. Payments can be sent via credit card, Google Pay/Apple Pay, or by connecting your bank account directly.
Although Casey Patterson spent much of the COVID-19 lockdown in a dank San Francisco basement apartment, he says he felt lucky in many ways.
The graduate student in English from Stanford University stayed healthy and—despite not having physical access to a library—was able to research his dissertation, teach classes, and prepare for job interviews. This was possible because of online access to materials through the Internet Archive.
Patterson, who is entering the sixth year of his doctoral program, offered to teach an online African American literature class to undergraduates as soon as COVID-19 shut down the campus and the university shifted to virtual instruction.
“I just felt a degree of duty to sign up for a lot of teaching. I wanted to be able to support students and knew the transition to online education was going to be rocky,” said Patterson, who also taught an Intro to Black Studies course during the pandemic. “It was chaotic. Obviously, we had a really tough time trying to figure out how to keep students engaged and make education a humane process.”
Instead of expecting students to buy several books, and without the ability for them to check out books in a library, Patterson turned to the Internet Archive. Patterson found works of Black critics such as Toni Morrison and C.L.R. James and their writings about 19th century authors Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Melville to use in class. He downloaded classics including Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn to the Canvas learning management system and made them immediately available to students.
“It’s super helpful when you’re asking students to read 10 short passages from three different novels,” Patterson said of using the Internet Archive. “It would be cruel to ask them to buy all of the books or track them down to the library. This way you put them right at the students’ fingertips.”
Patterson also relied on text from the Internet Archive for his own research. For his dissertation, he is examining the role of educational history as a way of understanding African American literary studies and the institutionalization of Black studies as a discipline.
This spring, he interviewed for an academic job in which he was asked to prepare a lesson plan syllabus for a teaching demonstration. Having access to The Book of American Negro Poetry, works of African-American poet Phillis Wheatley, and essays by Alice Walker enabled Patterson to put together materials from the convenience of his apartment on a tight deadline.
“Using the Internet Archive, I could lay hands on basically everything I needed,” Patterson said. “It was an absolutely indispensable resource at the time,” he says.
In the summer of 2019, Patterson had used the Internet Archive in his Fandom research, another area of interest. He’d run across a citation to a website that was no longer available online and was able to track it down through the Wayback Machine. But since the pandemic, Patterson says he’s come to value the Internet Archive for its collection of primary sources.
“Knowledge is for everybody. The more we can do to break down the barriers that make it inaccessible, the better off everyone is,” said Patterson. “The Internet Archive is one great example of how we can do that almost with a click of a button.”