When we talk about the Internet Archive, it’s so easy to throw massive numbers around: 70 petabytes stored and counting, 1.5 million daily active users, 750 million webpages captured per day. What’s harder to quantify is the human element that underlies all those numbers.
As I reflect back on 2020, I can’t help but think about the importance of memory. It’s hard to believe that in the same year of the nightmarish Australian fires, we experienced a sheer medical miracle in the form of Coronavirus vaccines. How much has happened in such a short time? How many stories, tragedies, triumphs in just 11 months?
These memories — the personal stories, collections, family histories — are our threads to the past, and our roadmaps going forward. Both precious and fragile, it’s on us to keep them safe.
Here’s one memory I’ll always treasure. I come from a sports family—all sports, really, but baseball in particular. My dad grew up playing little league, eventually making his way to the Softball World Series in the 1950s. His friend Bob went on to play for the San Francisco Giants. I grew up hearing about the time my dad was invited down to the dugout to meet the Yankees: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra. I’ve probably listened to these stories a thousand times.
When my dad’s dementia started to get really bad, we’d retell these old stories to cheer him up. So much of his frustration had to do with the inability to create new memories. But these old ones were still vivid, very much intact—something we could all still share and remember together.
Finding the Classic Baseball Radio Broadcasts on the Internet Archive was such a godsend. When he listened, his anxiety would dissipate: Sandy Koufax’s 3-hit shutout, or Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. The audio calmed him. I liked to think it shook loose a ton of old memories — hanging out with his own dad, listening to the radio broadcasts of the games.
Sometimes if I want to feel close to him, I’ll throw on one of these classic games. The 1951 Giants v Dodgers NL Championship, the ‘shot heard ‘round the world.’ My dad would have been 11 years old, listening to that same broadcast. Or cheering on Willie Mays and Willie McCovey in the 1962 Yankees v Giants World Series. He would’ve been 22, with his friend pitching for the team that year.
When talking about the Internet Archive, we often use the term ‘memory institution.’ On a macro level, we’re talking about over 70 petabytes of data stored in hard drives inside massive buildings. But personally? We’re talking about some of the last threads between me and my dad. On a macro level, we’re talking about millions of texts and images and videos and webpages—but on a personal level, we’re talking about genealogists striking gold as they uncover the past. We’re talking about grandparents reading digital books to their grandchildren over video calls. We’re talking about the nostalgia of tracing a loved one’s online footprints, about the legacy of a unique family business, about the thrill of rediscovering yesteryear’s pop culture phenomena.
The personal stories, family histories, and threads to the past—are precious. And fragile. That’s why it’s on us, all of us, to protect and keep them safe. That’s why I work at the Internet Archive, and why its mission is more critical than ever.
Right now, we’re in the middle of our yearly donations drive. The end of the year is a time both to look back and to give back, and the Internet Archive is hard at work on both. So if you’ve found something in the archive that’s meaningful to you, or that brought back memories, or that you think should be preserved, we’d love it if you could chip in.
We hope you have a healthy and safe holiday season—and that this year, you’ll make some memories that will never be lost.
Katie Barrett is the Development Manager at the Internet Archive. When she’s not listening to old baseball broadcasts or raising support for causes she loves, she’s phone banking for the sake of democracy or dressing her dog up in costumes.