Author Archives: Caralee Adams

“Jump Cut” is a Model Open Journal: Digitized from Microfilm & Hosted on Archive.org

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.

Selection of covers from Jump Cut, now online from scanned microfilm at archive.org.

From the beginning, Jump Cut was all about being accessible and uncensored.

Now, the alternative media criticism journal has achieved maximum exposure: All of its back issues are available digitally for free through the Internet Archive.

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.

“There’s so much that’s invisible in our culture, so much that’s hidden behind structural and class divides.”

Jeremy Butler, professor emeritus of TV and film studies at the University of Alabama

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.”

Access to Rare Historical Materials Makes an Ocean of Difference for Stanford Professor

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.

Professor Margaret Cohen, Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French Language, Literature, and Civilization and Director, Center for the Study of the Novel at Stanford University.

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.

Actinologia britannica, 1860, Plate V.

“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.

Punch, 1879, Vol 76

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.”

Graduate Student: Internet Archive an “absolutely indispensable resource”

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.

Graduate student and educator, Casey Patterson

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.

“Using the Internet Archive, I could lay hands on basically everything I needed. It was an absolutely indispensable resource at the time.”

Casey Patterson, graduate student

“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.

Selection of poems by Georgia Douglas Johnson from “The Book of American Negro Poetry” (1922).

“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.”

Reading Online Books a “Highlight” for Students During Pandemic

Motivating students to stay engaged with online instruction can take some creativity.

Working at a special education learning center in Los Angeles, Luca Messarra found the promise of choosing a book to read for fun after a lesson kept his 9- to 11-year-old kids going. Although access to physical books was limited during the pandemic, he found digital versions in the Internet Archive that made all the difference.

Educator and graduate student Luca Messarra.

Messarra’s individual work with students moved online in March 2020, in the early days of the pandemic. He continued to help them learn to read and write by doing drills remotely, using online instruction materials provided by the learning center. It did not have access to digital works of fiction, but Messarra says those were the books that most excited the students.

“That was the most fun because it was an opportunity for them to see the fruits of their labor. They could read a book, finally,” says the 25-year-old who lives in Palo Alto. “It’s far more entertaining to read a book than to do drills over and over again. That was the highlight for a lot of students—to finally be able to read a book of their own choosing.”

Since wrapping up his job at the learning center, Messarra has been enrolled in a graduate English program at Stanford University where he is specializing in digital humanities and postcolonialism.

Looking back on his teaching experience during the pandemic, Messarra says he values the resources from the Internet Archive. “It was incredibly helpful and quite essential to boost the morale of students. They were bored and frustrated because of the pandemic,” he says. “For one of my students, it was his goal to read Harry Potter. Once he was able to read it, he was super excited and eventually bought the book because he was having such a good time.”

Internet Archive Can Provide a New Home for your Beloved Books & Media: Details on Making a Physical Donation

When Marygrove College closed, they donated the entire library to the Internet Archive for preservation & digitization.

During the pandemic, perhaps you have been cleaning out some bookshelves in your house. Or maybe you are a librarian, planning to be back in your building for the first time in more than a year and restarting collection management activities.

If you are wondering what to do with your excess materials, the Internet Archive can help. The nonprofit library accepts donation books, records (CDs, LPs, 45rpm, 78rpm, cylinders), films, and microforms that it does not already have in its collection. The Archive preserves one copy of everything it receives and tries to find good homes for duplicates. Then, as funding allows, the Archive digitizes the materials and helps them reach a wider audience online.

“No donation is too far away or small to be considered by the Internet Archive.”

Liz Rosenberg, donations manager, Internet Archive

At a recent webinar, staff from the Archive explained the process for donating and  encouraged the public’s help as it works to provide universal access to everything ever published.

“No donation is too far away or small to be considered by the Internet Archive,” said Liz Rosenberg, donations manager. She has helped coordinate donations of entire libraries, including collections from Marygrove College in Detroit and Bay State College’s Boston Campus.

Donation Process

To find out more about what’s involved with physical donations, Rosenberg suggests going to the Help page for details about shipping instructions or dropping off donations smaller than about 20 boxes. All others are asked to complete a physical item donation form to provide all the information to make a larger donation happen, including where the items are located, an accurate count, and other special considerations for the offer.

Part of the donation of 18,000 records from a collector in Washington D.C.

Once submitted, staff begin the planning process to determine if the collection is in a format that can be accepted, if there are duplicates, and the project timeline. Arrangements then can be made for packing and shipping. In the case of larger collections, the Archive typically is able to provide assistance with transportation costs.

Sometimes donors pack their own items and then the Archive pays for the shipping. That was the case for a recent donation of 18,000 records from a music enthusiast in Washington D.C. The donor was looking for a “forever home” for his beloved vinyl and the Archive was happy to schedule a pickup and preserve the rare collection, Rosenberg said.

Why Donate?

For donations of 50 or more items, the Archive can create a collection to both honor the donor and make their donation accessible all in one place. “The ability to access all of their media in one place really reassures our donors that they will still have access to their items even once they’re no longer in their physical possession,” said Rosenberg. Some stories behind major contributions are covered by the Archive in its blog.

Better World Books, a socially responsible bookstore that has a longstanding relationship with the Internet Archive, regularly donates books for preservation and digitization. It receives many of its books from library partners around the world. The Archive accepts many materials that BWB will not.

Internet Archive team members having fun with the task of packing & shipping an entire library collection from Bay State College.

“We love more than anything to get large collections—entire intellectual units, such as a reference collection that is curated,” said Chris Freeland, a librarian who works at the Archive. “It helps us round out our collection, and helps our patrons. If someone has a collection that no longer fits their collection development priorities, think of Better World Book or the Internet Archive for those materials.”

The Archive is open to over-sized items, such as maps, and books that do not have to have an ISBN number. What about loose periodicals? The Archive does not want a few scattered issues but does have interest in long runs of a magazine.

Once digitized, patrons with print disabilities can access the materials and some are selected to be accessible via Controlled Digital Lending and for machine learning research. Together, we can achieve long term preservation and access to our collective cultural legacy.

Cooking Up a New Home for 33,000 Culinary and Hospitality Books

Centennial Hall Denver campus photo shoot April 2016. photo: Mike Cohea

Johnson & Wales University started as a business school in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1914, expanding over the years to offer 80 majors on multiple campuses.

In June 2021, declining enrollment led JWU to consolidate, closing its North Miami and Denver locations. This left the future of the university’s library collection at those sites in limbo. To save the collection, JWU Denver donated 33,000 books—primarily from its culinary and hospitality programs—to the Internet Archive to be preserved, digitized and many will be lent digitally.

Merrie Valliant, director of library services at JWU’s campus in Denver, curated the rich collection, encompassing titles dating back to the early 1900s. The hospitality section contains books on all aspects of the hotel and restaurant business including management, leadership, and accounting. There are books on menu planning, food science and nutrition. And the assortment of cookbooks covers global cuisines and novelties, including Balinese and Indonesian food, an Antarctic expedition cookbook from 1945 with recipes for penguins and walruses—and even books on just a single ingredient, such as strawberries.

“We had cookbooks from all countries, all states and every continent. If someone were to look for an interesting recipe of Jamaican jerk or a good creole recipe from Louisiana, they would be able to find it,” Valliant said.

“The Internet Archive is going to keep it alive…It’s truly the library of the future…”

Merrie Valliant, director of library services, JWU Denver

With JWU’s 12,000 students only attending classes now in Providence, Rhode Island, and Charlotte, North Carolina, the library needed to downsize, and donating was the best option, Valiant said. In addition to the hospitality books, the donation included books on sports and event management, as well as books on criminal justice, business, law, history and fashion design.

The collection is clearly a treasure, said Liz Rosenberg, manager of donations for the Internet Archive.

“Merrie had been the librarian caring for these books for the past 20 years and she shared her hope that more students might be able to continue being inspired by the collection,” Rosenberg said. “Her dedication to the library at the Johnson and Wales Denver campus and her students was what got the Internet Archive so excited about preserving this great collection. We are pleased it can live on digitally.”

Pallets of books from JWU Denver staged for transport.

In May, Valliant, student workers, and volunteers helped fill more than 900 boxes with books from the Denver library. The 45 pallets were transported to the Internet Archive where they will be preserved and queued for scanning. “I had cataloged and touched almost every book on the shelf,” Valliant said. “It really was difficult to watch it being driven away. It felt like a family saying goodbye to a distinct part of their life.”

Yet, the books will have a future audience for years to come.

“The Internet Archive is going to keep it alive,” Valliant said. “It’s truly the library of the future where you can access it 24/7/365 when you need it.  I think it’s wonderful that we’ve been able to contribute to that collection of information.”

***

If you have a collection that you would like to make available to all, the Internet Archive would be happy to preserve and digitize your materials:

  • Check out our help center article for more information about donating physical items to the Internet Archive.
  • Watch the recent webinar about our physical donations program.

University Professor Leverages 78rpm Record Collection From the Internet Archive for Student Podcasts

Examples of music & musicians covered by The Phono Project include, from left: John Lee Hooker, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Johnny Cash

When professor Jason Luther wants students in his Intro to Writing Arts class to learn about multimodal composition, he has them go to the Internet Archive for inspiration.

Students peruse 78rpm records going back to the early 20th century to find just the right one for their assignment. There is no lack of material with more than 300,000 recordings  from 1898 through the 1950s preserved. They are available to the public because of the collaborative Great 78 Project.

Although the students are enrolled at Rowan University in New Jersey, many are participating remotely from their homes this year because of the pandemic, and the materials are conveniently available digitally to them from anywhere.

Professor Jason Luther of The Phono Project.

“If the [Great 78 Project] didn’t exist, I don’t think I would have this curriculum at all,” said Luther, assistant professor for Writing Arts in the Ric Edelman College of Communication & Creative Arts at Rowan. “What I really like is the research challenge. It’s really powerful. So many times students have recovered the lost histories of these songs.”

For The Phono Project, Rowan students create podcasts and social media posts about recordings in the Archive’s 78s collection. They also tap into primary sources on the Archive to write the history of the songs. They can write about the stories behind songs like the Billie Holiday classic “God Bless the Child,” or John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen” from 1948. Many gravitate to artists like Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra, but Luther tries to get them to branch out—especially now that there are more than 200 stories in the project’s collection.

Luther developed the project in 2018 as part of the “Technologies and Future of Writing” module in the writing course. Students have just eight classes to complete the 1-3 minute podcasts, in which they learn to master a mix of audio tools and editing skills using Audacity and WordPress. The course covers issues of compatibility and ownership, along with instruction on the economy of writing like a critic about lyrics and culture. For one recent class session, he invited Liz Rosenberg of the Archive to be a guest speaker and talk about the organization’s work and the Great 78 Project.

In the future, Luther said he would like to find more ways to incorporate some of the Archive’s collection into his curriculum. For instance, he may have students use primary source documents from independent publishers over time to craft something tangible, such as an actual history from those materials that could be passed along. “That’s one of the neat things about accretion,” he said. “We have the creativity, but then there’s also documents on the Archive that are helping us understand the 78s themselves. It’s such a vast resource.”

Visit The Phono Project.

***

Incorporating materials from the Internet Archive into your course curriculum is easy. Each semester we hear from instructors doing so worldwide. Let us know how you are weaving Internet Archive media into your classes by writing to us at info@archive.org.

Behind the Curtain of the Hamilton Public Library Theater Book Donation

Ever wonder what it looked like inside the old concert halls of London? Curious to learn about the English folk tradition of mummering, where people dress up in disguise and perform in plays in their neighborhoods?

Soon readers all over the world will be able to dive in and learn more once nearly 1,000 books about theater history from the 18th and 19th centuries are online. The collection was recently donated by the Hamilton Public Library (HPL) in Ontario to the Internet Archive for digitization.

“Through our partnership, we are just so appreciative that the Internet Archive is able to make the collection available to the world 24/7,” said Lisa Weaver, director of collections and program development at HPL.

The rich array of books was given to HPL in 1984 by a local university drama professor who was interested in the cultural history of the theater. The collection includes books on the technical details of theater, such as lighting and staging, different actors and playwrights in the theatre community, as well as architecture of various types of British and American theaters.

Because some of the donated books were written by the donor, the availability of the entire collection allows interested researchers to follow the evolution of an author’s perspective on a subject. “The ability to trace the history of thought and ideas is a powerful tool,” said Ryan Johnston, archivist of local history and archives at HPL. “This helps achieve one of the original promises of the Internet, namely as a vehicle for democratizing thought—making knowledge as broadly accessible as possible by removing many of the geographical and physical barriers.”

“The pandemic has taught me that people are really looking for material to be as easily accessible as possible.”

Ryan Johnston, archivist, Hamilton Public Library

The Canadian library was doing a standard periodic review of its holdings, when it was determined the collection of American and British material did not fit within the public library’s mandate, which focuses primarily on works from the Hamilton area. The library contacted several university libraries and theater archives to find a new home for the collection, but ultimately decided the Internet Archive would provide access to the broadest audience.

“In the stewardship of collections, it’s a fine balance between what you can accept and what you can realistically store,” Johnston said. For HPL, it made more sense to donate to the Internet Archive, which could take a physical copy of a book, digitize it, and put it online for interested readers no matter their location. “This way we are doing both good collections management and also increasing accessibility,” he said.

HPL donated more than 70 boxes of books on two pallets, which were transported by the Internet Archive to its physical archive facilities. After the books are digitized, the print copies will be put in long-term storage out of circulation, and the digital books will be made available through controlled digital lending. The books cover a wide variety of topics including theater construction, history of traveling troupes, theater lighting in the age of gas, the art of scenic design and other aspects of the evolution of the theater. 

Johnston said he expects the books will appeal to anyone with an interest in the theater, including historians, researchers and the general public.  Although there was a time when physically holding everything was the way to ensure long term preservation, Johnston encourages others to look at the opportunity of partnering with the Internet Archive to digitize materials.

“It’s important that any institution—whether that’s a library, archive or museum—do a reappraisal of their collection and take a hard look at their options,” Johnston said. “If anything, the pandemic has taught me that people are really looking for material to be as easily accessible as possible. The more memory institutions can do that, the better.”

***

If you have a collection that you would like to make available to all, the Internet Archive would be happy to preserve and digitize your materials:

  • Check out our help center article for more information about donating physical items to the Internet Archive.
  • Register now for our upcoming webinar about our physical donations program – May 27, 2021 @ 1pm ET

Preserving Christmas: Family Donates Beloved Collection to the Internet Archive

Over the years, Dolly Jones collected every Christmas book she could find—children’s books, cookbooks, comic books, mysteries—anything related to the holiday. She kept a handwritten bibliography of every item, which eventually totaled 3,000 volumes and filled her attic in Illinois.

Dolly Jones, reading from one of her treasured Christmas books.

When it came time to downsize, the family was at a loss with what to do with the beloved books.  Jones, a librarian, music teacher and organist who is now 84, wanted to keep her collection intact.  Initially, the 50 cartons of books were put into storage as the family searched for a place where the books could continue to be enjoyed. They offered the collection to the university library where Jones had worked, the library of her alma mater, and the local public library where she lived, but none had the space to accommodate all the books.

Then, they found the Internet Archive. The Jones family donated the Christmas collection to the Archive and now the books are preserved physically and will have a new home online.

A selection of books from Dolly’s collection.

“We were so grateful that the Internet Archive was interested. It seems like a great way for the collection to be saved,” said Sam Jones, one of Dolly’s three sons. “I sent an email to the Archive thinking it was a shot in the dark, but within hours I heard back. I was just beside myself. We are all very excited.”

The collection includes Christmas classics, dime-store novels and valuable first editions, as well as numerous versions of The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, such as A Cajun Christmas Carol.  Jones got many of the paperback and hardback books by combing thrift stores and antique shops.  She didn’t set out to amass such a large collection, but over time it just grew.

“My mother always loved Christmas and lived for it year around,” says Sam Jones, who has fond memories of his mother reading the books to him and his brothers Tim and Nick as children, and to her six grandchildren when they would gather for Christmas at the family home in DeKalb, Illinois.

The Jones family, celebrating Christmas with Dolly, center.

Dolly Jones, who now lives with her youngest son Nick, in Colorado, has a master’s in library science and worked as a reference librarian for years. She always had a book in her purse and enjoyed giving books as gifts. The Christmas book collection was dear to the family and they never considered breaking it up or selling it, says Sam Jones. The family repacked the boxes of books and the Internet Archive arranged for pick up. The books will soon be on their way to an Internet Archive digitization center where they will be scanned and made available for borrowing through archive.org.

“Mom will be thrilled to see this online,” says Sam Jones. “We are all very excited. It seems absolutely perfect and a way to be respectful of all the work she put into the collection.”

***

If you have a collection like Dolly’s that you would like to make available to all, the Internet Archive would be happy to preserve and digitize your materials:

  • Check out our help center article for more information about donating physical items to the Internet Archive.
  • Register now for our upcoming webinar about our physical donations program – May 27, 2021 @ 1pm ET

Event Recap: Why Trust a Corporation to Do a Library’s Job?

Although people are increasingly turning to Google to search for information, a corporate search engine is not the same as a trusted librarian. And while libraries are used to buying and preserving books, they are now often unable to buy and own digital materials because of publisher licensing restrictions.

The tension between the interests of business and the public was the focus of a conversation hosted by the Internet Archive and Library Futures on April 28. Wendy Hanamura moderated the event with guest panelists Joanne McNeil, author of Lurking: How a Person Became a User; Darius Kazemi, an internet artist and cofounder of Feel Train, a creative technology cooperative in Portland, Oregon; and Jennie Rose Halperin, executive director of Library Futures.

A recording of the event is now available:

Doing an online Google search can feel private because you are doing it alone at home, but corporations are accumulating your information and using it, said McNeil. The tools involved are imperfect and there are trade-offs involved.

“The experiences that a user has on the internet can be quite profound, creative, and very human,” McNeil said. “But to participate with a lot of the social media and websites, especially nowadays, you are dealing with corporations and you don’t have the elements of control.”

In Lurking, McNeil traces the evolution of the internet and how it has profoundly changed the way people communicate. She also examines concerns that people have online including privacy, safety, identity and anonymity. In the book, McNeil contrasts the short-term memories of companies with the preservation mission and public accountability of libraries.

Kazemi noted that working with librarians on research there is an understanding of privacy—something that is lacking when engaging online. “It’s a totally different accountability chain,” he said.

Rather than giving your personal information away on a social media network, Kazemi advocates having individuals or even libraries maintain small, independently-run online communities (see https://runyourown.social).

“Facebook can’t understand norms of what passes for civic discourse in every location on the planet. It’s impossible,” Kazemi said. “Libraries already spend time thinking about the norms of their communities,” making it natural to have content moderation at the local level.

Halperin said it’s important for public libraries to have autonomy to be able to fulfill their mission. Her work with the nonprofit Library Futures centers on advocacy for an equitable publishing ecosystem that serves authors, users and communities.

“Artificial scarcity that’s put on digital objects—as a way to create a market for digital books—is really hurting the public,” she said. “I think it’s one of the most important consumer protection issues right now.”

McNeil said the best thing to happen to her, as an author, is for people to read her book. Whether buying or borrowing from a library (in print or electronically), she wants to reach the largest audience.

The panelists said by working together, libraries can provide tools that reflect the public’s values and teach users smart digital citizenship. When corporations control what people have access to in searching, they are embedding bias into the distribution of information, said Halperin. “Libraries must engage in more than just individual information seeking needs, but also in the information seeking needs of communities.”