On March 15, the small island nation of Aruba, part of the Dutch Caribbean, closed its borders to visitors. Cruise ships packed with tourists stopped coming. Casinos, libraries and schools shut their doors, as Aruba’s 110,000 residents locked down to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Librarians quickly gathered reading lists from students, parents and schools. With high school graduation exams just a month away, the required literature books would be crucial. Aruban students are tested on books in Dutch, English, Spanish and their native language of Papiamento. “Just before your literary final exams, you need to re-read the books,” explained Peter Scholing, who leads digitization efforts at the National Library of Aruba. “The libraries are closed. Your school libraries are closed. You can order from Amazon, but it takes weeks and weeks to arrive. If you are in an emergency, then you hope your books are online.”
Scholing was relieved to discover that most of the required literature in English and Spanish was available in the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library. As library staff moved to work from home, they grabbed the tools to digitize the books in Papiamento that were missing. Many local authors were easy to track down and most gladly gave permission for free downloads or loaning their works. Scholing reports, “Some of them choose digital lending. But a lot of them say, ‘Well it was a limited print run….I’ve sold all the copies of my books, now you can just make it available for download.’”
Preservation Pays Off
For many years, the library’s small Special Collections staff had been diligently digitizing key collections: photographs, historic texts, newspapers, and perhaps the world’s largest collection of texts in Papiamento. But with few technical resources, the National Library of Aruba had no way to provide access to those works. Scholing says the Internet Archive proved to be the “missing link.” In March 2019, the Library was able to unveil its new Digital Collection, 18,800 texts, videos and audio now accessible to the world on archive.org. Today, with libraries and schools closed, these materials are the keys to unlocking the doors to online learning.
“We didn’t imagine something like the Covid crisis could happen,” said Scholing. “But for our preservation efforts, this is the Big One. We are really lucky to be able to provide access to information that we couldn’t otherwise without the Internet Archive.”
When Waitlists Won’t Work
Although Scholing had permission from the authors to lend their recent books, several times we accidentally reinstituted the waiting list, since the National Emergency Library does not include books from the last five years. That meant students reading the work suddenly would have had to wait, sometimes for weeks, to move up the waiting list. Scholing wrote to us immediately: “There must be an alternative. I’m getting emails from students and teachers already.”
Eventually we worked out the kinks so Aruba’s books in the National Emergency Library wouldn’t get taken down. In addition, hundreds of texts in Papiamento from 1844-2020 are now available without waitlist. It’s part of a bigger vision on the island to teach students to read and write the language they speak at a higher level. “A lot of textbooks come straight from the Netherlands…you are reading about snow, trains and windmills,” Scholing explained. “It’s better to use something from a newspaper or magazine produced locally…It’s their own context. It speaks more to them.”
He even received this note from a local author, written in Papiamento:
Peter aprecia, (Dear Peter,)
Hopi admiracion pa e trabou cu bo ta desplegando pa Aruba y nos hendenan.
(A lot of admiration for the work that you are carrying out for Aruba and for our people.)
This week, schools in Aruba are scheduled to reopen. Since March, the library has tripled the number of items in its digital collection, and visitors have increased by 300%. Scholing sees this as evidence that the National Emergency Library will have lasting benefit. “All the thresholds and barriers to access this unique information have been lifted, once you put it online.”
For six weeks, Internet Archive book scanner, Mandy Weiler, was unable to digitize art history books inside the now shuttered Getty Research Institute. Furloughed and stuck inside her 500-square-foot apartment in Los Angeles, she spent a lot of time staring out the window. She took up bird watching and hung out with her cat. Then, the Internet Archive had an idea: bring scanners back from furlough and hire experts to teach Mandy and other book scanners new skills, including dating 78 rpm records and performing custom audio restoration on these recordings from a century ago. “Before I was doing the whole Doom Scrolling all day long,” Mandy recalls. “When we came back from furlough…I was really glad to get assigned to the 78 project. It has been such a nice distraction to get lost in these old records.”
Across the country, in Philadelphia, music metadata researcher Liz Rosenberg was also in need of work. A specialist in 78 rpm records trained by the legendary George Blood, Liz agreed to lead a new project cataloging 38,000 discs in our 78s collection for which the date of publication is unknown. Her team of a dozen former book scanners starts with the data on the record labels, but that is often just the beginning. Almost every 78 recording was originally assigned a matrix number, usually etched into the shellac itself. It is the only sure way of identifying a performance, but certain record labels such as Victor kept its matrix numbers secret. Sometimes only abbreviated versions of the matrix number are printed on the label itself.
Enter Mandy Weiler, who has a bachelor’s degree in Public History and has worked for libraries for the last decade. Turns out that digging up music metadata is right in her wheelhouse. “It’s a lot of web sleuthing. I’m one of those people who have 100 tabs open all the time on their computer,” she explained. “My partner calls me a story hoarder. I’m glad we are putting it to good use.”
Take for instance this 78 disc, Reigen (La Ronde de L’amour) by Adolf Wohlbruck, publication date unknown. “I started in all the normal places, but I wasn’t getting any hits,” Mandy recounted. “I couldn’t narrow down the dates and then I started finding out more about the performer.”
Mandy’s research uncovered a fascinating story behind this disc. The performer, Adolf Wohlbruck, was better known as Anton Walbrook, the queer, Jewish son of a circus performer who fled Nazi Germany in 1936. Walbrook went on to become a celebrated actor in Hollywood and England.
In La Ronde, the 1950 film for which he recorded this performance, Walbrook plays the master of ceremonies in a cycle of stories about love. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards and was later remade in a 1964 film starring Jane Fonda.
Perhaps Walbrook’s best known films are the 49th Parallel and The Red Shoes, both of which you can still watch in the Internet Archive. All of this rich backstory is now recorded in the Internet Archive Review Section for this 78 rpm record.
“It can take you down some great rabbit holes,” Mandy said. “This is the stuff I’ve been interested in my adult life. Digging in and finding information that is not readily available and sharing it. Universal Access to to Knowledge. That’s important to me because it helps so many people.”
Oh, and the publication date of the 78 Reigen? Mandy says it is likely 1951. Can anyone help us further?
She’s an author of crime fiction. A college librarian. A recently retired faculty member at a small liberal arts college in Minnesota. For more than 30 years, Barbara Fister has felt the opposing pull from her publishers and the call of open access; from the need for books to make money and the desire for her published work to live on into the next century. Plus, this author and librarian has authored five books now available in the National Emergency Library.
Because Fister resides at the nexus of authors and libraries, we wanted to understand why on April 15, 2020, she posted this to her Twitter account:
From her home in rural Minnesota, Fister (who is “not a fan of Zoom/Skype/etc”) and I corresponded by email. “Honestly, I was surprised,” Barbara wrote. “When I started poking around the National Emergency Library I did a vanity search and—hey, look at that! I had to tweet that my books were there, because it made me happy. Then I started looking for things I would check out of my academic library if it were open, and many of those books were there, too. It’s very gratifying to have that access.”
As Fister sees it, “Regardless of the legal issues, I think the Internet Archive has the moral high ground in launching the National Emergency Library. There’s no way people who already contributed to paying for access to books through taxes or tuition can individually purchase every book they might want to consult while the libraries they relied on (and helped to fund) are closed. We need to consider the public good in this crisis.”
One reason Fister is “tickled” is because her novels, published in 2008 and 2010, are hard to find, even in libraries. “They were published a while ago, so a lot of public libraries have no doubt weeded them to make room for more recent titles, which is totally understandable,” Fister explained. “I have worried a bit about the disappearance of non-academic books from the public cultural record. There was a time scholars could rediscover overlooked women writers long after their books went out of print, because they were on the shelves of academic libraries. In recent decades, however, academic book budgets have been strained and very few libraries purchase and retain popular literature.” She believes this “gradual forgetting of the popular” makes a shared digital collection like the Internet Archive’s even more valuable. “Even without a pandemic, it’s a need that I’m happy the Internet Archive is tackling.”
Fister has made many of her publications completely open access, and downloadable through the Internet Archive. It’s a value she embraced as an academic librarian. “As a library, we consciously promoted open access because equitable access to information is a core library value. For that reason, I have tried to make as much of my work open access as possible. This gets tricky with books, because both authors and publishers put a great deal of work into a book, and since I respect the value editors and publishers add, I sympathize with the need to have a business model that supports that critical hand-crafted work.”
But as both an author and a librarian, Fister doesn’t subscribe to the notion that libraries in general and the National Emergency Library in particular are cutting into author revenue.”It’s not a competition, it’s a symbiosis.” she wrote. ”I don’t think they understand how unlikely it is that allowing multiple users of these versions of their books will adversely affect their income, but it seems many authors view it as a moral argument. ‘You can’t scan my books, period. It’s my property, and you didn’t ask my permission.’ Admittedly, like most authors I don’t depend on my writing for a living; perhaps if I did I would feel differently. But as it is, I’m delighted if anyone discovers my books and enjoys them.”
There’s no way people who already contributed to paying for access to books through taxes or tuition can individually purchase every book they might want to consult while the libraries they relied on (and helped to fund) are closed. We need to consider the public good in this crisis.
As an academic, Fister has spoken and written extensively about information literacy, the “understanding of how information is produced and valued…ethically in communities of learning.” She points to Congress and the current copyright laws as the source of current tensions between open access advocates, libraries, authors and publishers, writing:
Launching the National Emergency Library has been risky for the Internet Archive, and I appreciate that act of risk-taking as a person who would like us to do a better job of balancing social and individual interests in the original Constitutional purpose of copyright – “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Congress has tilted much too far against society’s legitimate interest by making “limited time” for copyright owners nearly unlimited. This is actually bad for authors – and for all of us. Copyright isn’t working as it should, but people are too nervous to make full use of fair use because losing a lawsuit could be ruinous. The Authors Guild does not represent all authors. It certainly doesn’t represent my interests. I’m more aligned with the Authors Alliance.
Some day in the future, when COVID-19 is defeated and libraries are once again open, Fister believes that scholars of library history will examine this moment and “be pleased that their research is available to Americans who are learning and working from home during this historic pandemic.”
Barbara Fister is one of those working from home.
Earlier, Barbara returned a library book she needs for her research, Wayne Wiegand’sA Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of American Public Libraries, but now that her library is closed, she was delighted to find it in the National Emergency Library. “’I’m scrolling through on my laptop, typing out quotes I want to note down; no copying and pasting or downloading the file for keeps allowed, all limits which makes it not at all like piracy,” she wrote. “This effort to make so many books available for the duration, legally risky and technically challenging, is beyond what any single library could do. While the National Emergency Library isn’t the same as our local libraries, it’s a wonderful thing to have available in these challenging times.”
One of the few people working in our headquarters building, Roxana Alfaro Rodriguez has been busy sewing cloth masks to give away. We now have a dozen ready and they are available for free in a box in front of the Internet Archive.
If you would like one, please come by 300 Funston Avenue. Please only take one or maybe two. They take about 30 minutes apiece to make. Thank you, Roxana, for your amazing sewing skills!
Our friends at Better World Books, the wonderful online bookstore (which is shipping during the current crisis) added a “round up your bill” feature so that purchasers could add up to 99 cents to their order as a donation to the Internet Archive.
Thanks to the generosity of their customers, Better World Books sent us a check for $11,000 in donations! The average donation was 45 cents. Thank you to 24,444 customers of Better World Books for supporting our nonprofit library!
Better World Books, is a B-corp, a social benefit corporation, dedicated to social good projects including supporting literacy programs, the Internet Archive, and Books for Africa. And they are now owned by a non-profit charity, Better World Libraries, making it now completely mission aligned with the non-profit Internet Archive.
A big Internet Archive thank you to Better World Books customers! A great way for our community to support them in these times would be to buy a book from Better World Books. And remember, please round up if you are able!
Earlier this year, I received a letter from Dee Cody of Columbus, Ohio. She wrote to the Internet Archive, asking for our help in keeping alive the story of a Civil War-era tragedy. 155 years ago today, on April 27, 1865, the steamship Sultana exploded on the Mississippi, killing more than 1100 passengers—most of them Union soldiers returning home from Confederate prison camps at the end of America’s most bitter war. Dee writes:
The story of the Sultana is personal to my family, for my paternal great-great-great grandfather survived the disaster. His name was Daniel Garber, a private in the 102nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He enlisted in 1862, was captured in 1864, and then sent to the Cahaba prison camp in Alabama. His first-person account of enduring the tragedy can be found in a book called Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors which was compiled by fellow survivor Chester D. Berry and first published in 1892.
The scene following the explosion was terrible and heart-rending in the extreme. Hundreds of people were blown into the air and descending into the water, some dead, some with broken limbs, some scalded, were borne under by the resistless current of the great river, never to rise again. The survivors represent the screams as agonizing beyond precedent. Some clung to frail pieces of the wreck, as drowning men cling to straws and sustained themselves for a few moments, but finally became exhausted and sunk.
Daniel Garber was one of those survivors, who in Chester Berry’s 1892 Loss of the Sultana recalled:
By this time, all was confusion and men were jumping off into the river to get away from the flames. I looked around for a clear place to jump, for I knew if I jumped in where men were struggling, they would seize my board and I would be lost, because I could swim, but very little.
That night, the Sultana was carrying 2100 passengers, even though the ship’s official capacity was 376. Dee explains that avarice was the blame. “The Captain would have lost out on the money,” she told me. “He was paid $5 for every enlisted man transported and $10 for officers.” Although the death counts vary, anywhere between 1100-1700 people died due to the sinking of the Sultana, making it the worst maritime disaster in US history—more deadly than the Titanic or the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.
And yet, who today remembers the Sultana? Why isn’t this story in textbooks, or captured by Hollywood on the screen? One reason may be timing. The Sultana exploded just hours after John Wilkes Booth had been captured and killed, while Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train was still winding its way cross country to Springfield, Illinois. In April 1865, after 620,000 soldiers had lost their lives during the Civil War, perhaps the Sultana was just one more tragedy.
But not to Daniel Garber’s great-great-great granddaughter. By her own account:
In 2016 I came up with the idea of sending letters to museums, newspapers, civil war roundtables, and any other group that might be interested, to tell the story of the Sultana and help raise awareness about the annual meetings of what is now called The Sultana Association. While I’ve stopped keeping track of the exact number of letters I’ve sent, I estimate there have been over 500 altogether.
Including the letter Dee Cody sent to the Internet Archive. From Dee I learned that after Daniel Garber jumped from the burning deck of the Sultana, he went on to work as a shoemaker and a farmer in Ohio, fathering eight children, 29 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren by the time he died in 1906. A century and a half later, his story lives on thanks to Dee, who shared this simple wish: “My hope is that anyone who hears the story will always remember the Sultana.”
Fifty years ago, the Apollo spacecrafts brought back the first images of the “Whole Earth,” sparking a new consciousness about humankind’s relationship to our planet. Today, on Earth Day 2020, we stand at a pivotal moment. COVID-19 has led to cleaner air, clearer waters, and huge reductions in our use of fossil fuels. But what comes next?
On that very first Earth Day in 1970, this is how television anchor Walter Cronkite framed it:
A day set aside for a nationwide outpouring of mankind seeking its own survival: Earth Day….the message is clear: Act or die.
— Walter Cronkite on the CBS News
Whether you are a gamer, teacher, environmentalist or just an avid learner, here are a few of our favorite Earth Day resources from the Internet Archive to use and share.
From NASA: Our Planet & Beyond in Image and Sound
Back in the 1960 and 70s, when the Apollo Missions were in full throttle, these images from NASA of Earth and the polar ice caps were jaw dropping. The Internet Archive is proud to partner with NASA to preserve their rich archives—more than 100 collections of audio, video, and images of space exploration.
Games to Defend the Earth
From our Software Curator, Jason Scott, here are some vintage software packages you can play to either learn about, save, or fight for the Earth. Jason suggests starting with the classic from 1990, SimEarth by Maxis, a simulator where you try to keep the entire Earth (Gaia) happy.
Finally, why not end with a nice Earth Defense arcade game?U.N. Defense Force: Earth Joker (Japan), is a 1993 SHMUP (Shoot ’em Up) where you use one of four pilots to defend the Earth.
Gifs to Enjoy the Earth
Back in the day, Citizens of GeoCities loved to create GIFS, and we’ve pulled them all together in a nifty search engine that we call GIFCities. If you want to use and see an archive of Earth Gifs, here they are for you to enjoy:
This useful guide was written back in 2000 for a new generation of Earth Day activists by Denis Hayes, the national coordinator of the very first Earth Day. Chock full of quizzes, interesting analogies and painless steps to reduce our own energy use, The Official Earth Day Guide to Planet Repair has as much to offer on the 50th Earth Day anniversary as it did on the 30th.
When Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, “environment” was not even a concept, let alone a movement. As Al Gore writes in his introduction to this edition:
Silent Spring came as a cry in the wilderness, a deeply felt, thoroughly researched, and brilliantly written argument that changed the course of history. Without this book, the environmental movement might have been long delayed or never have developed at all.
Back in 1989, Bill McKibben was already trying to wake us up to the problems larger than any single environmental issue: ozone layers, air pollution, the diminishing rainforests. In The End of Nature, this deep thinker and tireless activist asked us to step back to understand humankind’s relationship to nature itself, to turn off the destructive path we were on. Twenty-one years later, it’s not too late to listen.
And while we are separated during this pandemic, Earth Day reminds us: our lives and fates are connected across one Earth. Today, tune in to virtual gatherings that are “flooding the world with hope, optimism and action” at https://www.earthday.org/.
Perhaps Steven Cooper’s pulse quickened when he found this ominous email heading in his inbox:
Subject: Re: your extensive downloading activity on archive.org
For weeks, Cooper, a software engineer in Melbourne, had been checking out ten books at a time from the National Emergency Library, returning them quickly, and checking out more. And more. And more.
The pace and regularity of this patron’s book borrowing seemed to us, well, suspicious. Was this just an automated bot, systematically and rapaciously tearing through our book collection? We assigned our head of security, Mark Seiden, to investigate. Cooper responded to Seiden’s inquiry with this reply:
Thanks for your note. I apologise if I’m causing a problem for you, but let me assure you that there’s no automated process whatever involved — every access to archive.org from my account has been done manually, by me.
Since mid-2017 I’ve been conducting a long-term research project into the works of Isaac Asimov, with the aim of producing the most complete bibliography possible of this incredibly prolific author. The initial version (http://stevenac.net/asimov/Bibliography.htm) was finished at the start of this year, and I used archive.org as one of the major sources of information. However, about a month ago I started a second pass through archive.org’s data, using text searching rather than metadata searching in order to carefully examine every single mention of Asimov to find items I’d missed.
—Sincerely, Steven Cooper
Since 2017, Cooper, a life-long Asimov fan, had been working toward a towering yet very personal goal: compiling the world’s most complete annotated bibliography of the works (in English) by Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) in time for the centennial of his birth, January 2, 2020. “I wanted a complete listing of his works,” Cooper told us. “His fiction, nonfiction. Particularly his nonfiction which is the hardest to assemble because he wrote so much and published it in so many places. This has never been done before, probably will never be done, because he wrote so much.”
“I write for the same reason I breathe – because if I didn’t, I would die.”
When Cooper began his task in 2017, he was able to do his research almost entirely online. By his reckoning, one can find almost all of Asimov’s books and anthologies in the Internet Archive. But the real challenge is finding the prolific author’s many other works: introductions, magazine articles, essays and reviews. When Cooper first searched the bibliographic data in archive.org he came up with 1755 results, including 1100 texts, television and radio interviews, translations in Tamil and Hindi. Then he decided to search inside the texts, to look up every time Isaac Asimov’s name appears. The result: 35,000 mentions.
Since then, Cooper has been going through them chronologically, one by one, “thanking my lucky stars that he has such a unique name.” That’s how he caught the attention of our security experts. “In the vast majority of cases I’m borrowing a book and returning it within a couple of minutes,” Cooper explained. “Just long enough for the text search to run and for me to look at the results and decide that there’s nothing that I’m interested in.” (It turns out that the majority of National Emergency Library patrons borrow the book for less than 30 minutes, suggesting they, like Cooper, are using them for research, or simply to browse.) Every so often, Cooper has a Eureka Moment—stumbling across a new piece of writing he has never seen before. So far he has checked the references up to 2004 and has about 15 more years of Asimov mentions to parse. “I’ve found about 300 new items to add to my archive,” Cooper told me. “That includes a dozen or so articles I was not aware of, so there will be new finds!”
“There is so much more of his work available through the Internet Archive than people generally realize,” Cooper went on to explain. “When I see Asimov forums, it’s really always about his fiction…But his nonfiction is still well worth reading. He’s such a good explainer. If you want to gain a basic understanding of mathematics, physics, chemistry, any kind of science, and history as well, he wrote a great deal of history that is still very readable. You can find it through the Internet Archive.”
And how does Cooper find researching online from his home office in Melbourne, during this time of proactively staying in one place? “It’s kind of perfect for this current period we’re living through,” he mused. “The Archive has a pretty complete collection of the old Sci Fi magazines that his stories were first published in from the 1940s and 50s. I was able to see them in the original situation and in some cases see the differences between how they were originally published and how they appeared in book form.”
And what do we think the Great Explainer, this clear-eyed observer of history and science would have to say about this time of the COVID pandemic? Perhaps this:
The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.
The fruits of Steven Cooper’s labor are now available for anyone to use. His list is 676 pages long, at the moment. Yet, this software engineer with an obsession for Asimov never expected his passion project would be seen by the public, let alone a constellation of science fiction devotees. He did it for himself, to explore the many dimensions of Asimov’s thinking, where the writer’s curiosity would lead him, the clarity with which he would explain the world. “He is known as possibly the most wide-ranging writer of the 20th Century,” Cooper ruminated. “I was just interested to see how wide ranging that was. I don’t think anyone has ever read everything he wrote.”
91% of the world’s learners have been impacted by school closures.
1,576,021,818 learners are cut off from their classrooms
188 countries have shut down schools nationwide.
Obscured in those figures are the individual teachers, librarians and students struggling to carry on classroom instruction without the books they need. Since this pandemic began, we have heard from hundreds of them, reaching out to figure out some way to keep teaching and learning going in their town, church, library or home school.
Here are some dispatches from teachers, librarians and students on the frontlines of online schooling.
Helping K-12 students connect with books
In one of the first states to shutter schools and order residents to shelter at home, Erin S. is a 6th grade teacher of history and English in Sacramento, California. She’s been scrambling to teach virtually a unit onThe Adventures of Ulysses by Bernard Evslin. Her middle school has hundreds of copies of this book, locked away and now beyond reach. We received this urgent message from Erin, signed, Desperate Teachers!:
At our school site, we have enough copies of this book for all of the 6th-grade students (300). However, since we are not allowed to come to campus to check these books out we were looking for online PDF or ‘checkout’ possibilities.
I came across your website and services, found the copy we are looking for, and it is amazing because it looks like an actual book instead of just a word document. I checked it out, but then noticed it says I can only borrow it for 14 days. This unit takes us longer than 2 weeks and we also have a lot of students who need this book. Is there a way to lift the restrictions to borrow this book while we are in school closure?
I am so grateful and excited to share your services with our students. Teachers are desperate for any and all help right now and luckily our communities and beyond are coming to the front lines to help advocate for us! We really appreciate all you have done to help us!
At Downtown College Prep school in San Jose, California, one hard-pressed instructor sent us this call for help:
I am an instructional coach at a middle school charter school in San Jose, CA. Currently all the schools in our area are shut down as I’m sure you are aware. I am also leading the teaching of our two 5th grade classes right now. Here is my problem. One of our fifth grade classes was sent home without books to read. The class that I have been teaching literacy in (we lost a teacher mid-year), I sent home with 4 books. Eventually these books are going to run out and I am desperate to get books in these kids hands…or on their screens.
Teacher Terri S. of Cloudcroft, NM writes:
I teach all of the 6th, 7th and 8th grade students in my district, and Quarter Four (the time we are in right now) is set aside for a novel study. I cannot pass out our classroom sets of novels and was looking for a way for students to read the books digitally. Your site is a Godsend. Thank you for your help.
From a 7th grade teacher in Fairfield, PA we received this request:
I have taught “The Pushcart War” novel in my class for most of my 25 years in education, and it is my favorite novel. I notice that you have it on your website to borrow as well as listen.
With schools being shut down indefinitely in the state of Pennsylvania, I was not able to give each student a copy of this novel from my classroom before we closed, and I had no idea that schools would be shut down this long. Is there any way my students can have an Open Library account set up…in order for them to enjoy this book during this unprecedented time?
About one hundred miles from the epicenter of the outbreak, in Franklinville, New Jersey, Anne Papiano is the Media Specialist for the Delsea Regional High School District. It’s April, but she’s already worrying about how to get summer reading list books to students in her district. Her district owns physical copies of these books, but if schools remain closed for the entire school year, she won’t be able to reach them. She explains:
Our students will be unable to check out our schools’ physical copies of the required summer reading books. I am writing to you to request that access to the National Emergency Library be extended throughout the summer (perhaps until September 2020). This will give students who do not have the means to purchase their own copies to have equitable access to digital copies…for their summer assignments.
Thank you for working on behalf of those of us who are promoting literacy, even through difficult times.
As a Librarian, how does this impact your work to facilitate e-book orders for classes?
UW Librarians have been fielding ebook requests for required textbooks over the last week. Before the Emergency Library was announced, Librarians faced a common challenge– in many cases, there was simply no multi-user ebook available for the Libraries to order — this changed dramatically with the opening of the National Emergency Library.
History Librarian, Theresa Mudrock says this has made a real difference, but challenges still exist.
“Today, I was able to inform 10 instructors that the books they needed were now available, whereas yesterday they were not,” said Mudrock.
Over at George Washington University in Washington, DC, history professor, Tyler Anbinder, explained how his students are using the National Emergency Library:
My students could not finish the semester without the National Emergency Library. It has been a total lifesaver. Not for books that are “in print” electronically. My library has been buying those. But for all the 30 to 50-year-old books that are out of print but essential for doing good history research.
Professor Anbinder also shared this message with consent from a sophomore in his course on Abraham Lincoln, caught off guard without access to her university’s library for this week’s reading:
Dear Professor Anbinder,
I have spent the past two days searching every inch of my house to find my copy of Lincoln’s Quest for Union. After trying to think of any place where this book might have gone, I remembered that the reason I cannot find it is because I do not have it. I was planning on borrowing it from the library because I was not able to buy each book. I would have gotten it from Gelman before I left DC, but we were all under the impression that we would be returning to campus on April 5th.
I am so sorry, this is a huge mistake on my part. How should I proceed with this?
Professor Anbinder was able to send her directly to this copy in the National Emergency Library so Meaghan could do the class reading in time.
Another college librarian, Amanda Dinscore, from Fresno State Library, sent us this note:
Many thanks to you and your IA colleagues for the National Emergency Library. Just found a book for a faculty member who was really frustrated about not being able to access a print copy of a book that I immediately found on the NEL. Win!
But what is a win for teachers, librarians and students, comes at a cost, some say, in lost book sales for publishers and authors. Katie Smith offered perspectives from both authors and learners in her article for Book & Film Globe, including this viewpoint from a writer and homeschooling parent:
Writer and parent Amber DeGrace cites the Internet Archive as pivotal in her ability to transition to homeschooling her children. “What makes the Internet Archive so beneficial for educational purposes is that many older or out-of-print books that might not be available on bookselling sites are readily available here,” she tells Book & Film Globe. “For instance, a recommended book for my kids’ history curriculum is Morning Girl by Michael Dorris. While I could have purchased it on Amazon, I can’t afford to buy all these supplemental resources, and our local libraries have been closed for weeks.” It was, however, available for borrowing in the National Emergency Library.
Even Professor Anbinder, who is enthusiastic about the availability of older literature in the National Emergency Library, closed his message acknowledging, “I certainly understand how the authors of recent books would be mad to find their books there.”
No one has criticized the National Emergency Library more forcefully than New York Times bestselling author, Chuck Wendig. So we appreciated this honest exchange following Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog, with a writer and public librarian named Rachel:
March 31, 2020 @ 11:39 AM
Your argument is very compelling. It will certainly make me rethink telling any patrons to take a look at the “emergency” library.
The only counterarguments I could offer are from problems we are having on this side of the publishing/reader process.
For example: as I am a fan, I have already purchased your books for my patrons the old-fashioned way. We own them. But no one can use them. Is that your problem? Eh– no. Because of this issue, though, I’ve spent $3,000 of my materials money this month buying digital versions of books we already own. And… that’s it. No more money. It took everything I have to buy all those stupid Erin Hunter books so middle schoolers will stop doing the unspeakable things middle schoolers do when left idle. Also not your problem– unless they start roving in 6th grade gangs a la The Warriors.
It would help if digital books weren’t insanely expensive. On average, an adult book costs me about $65. THEN, it can only be checked out 26 times. After 26 checkouts, it disappears from the collection and I have to buy it again. That’s $2.50 every time someone checks a book out. And digital readers have a bad habit of checking out multiple books at a time whether they read them or not because they don’t have to return them.
So I feel like THAT is the actual problem. And if digital providers weren’t trying to gouge the eyeballs out of public libraries, this conversation would be over.
There is a huge issue with how pricing is set up, and different publishers have made that more (and in some cases less) difficult, in what I assume is an effort to promote print and not yield the field to digital. And there’s a big conversation to have in that, and about that, and authors have attempted (sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much) to facilitate a better deal for libraries on behalf of the author/publisher.
Last week we released a first look at some trends in use of the National Emergency Library. Corroborating what we are hearing from professors, our patrons are seeking older books: more than 90% of the books borrowed were published more than 10 years ago and two-thirds were published during the 20th century. Most patrons who borrow books from the National Emergency Library are reading them for less than 30 minutes, suggesting they are using the book for research as a reference check, or perhaps they are simply browsing as in a library or bookstore.
In the few weeks since the National Emergency Library was established, much has been said in the Twittersphere about the very real needs of publishers and authors. Completely missing in the debate are the voices of the 1,576,021,818 students worldwide cut off from their books—books already purchased by their schools, public libraries and community colleges. For a few weeks, until this educational and public health crisis subsides, the National Emergency Library is trying to help fill this void.
I lost my sweet, vibrant, lovely wife Julie to breast cancer last December.
Determined to not lose her a second time, I turned to over 27 years of personal and public archives to create a memorial site. Julie’s escapades and adventures would not be forgotten. Fortunately our journey began online, over email.
Back in 1992, Julie and I met on a mailing list, GRUNGE-L. I noticed she was from Minnesota and so was I. Asked if she’d be up to see some music. She said yes and six months later we were married and off on our adventures. Over that first year we sent each other more than 2000 email messages.
The day before Julie died, I turned to those archived emails. Through tears, I read our early messages to her. I knew that despite being unconscious she could hear my voice and relive those moments with me.
As I sat down to write her obituary, I shifted to a new role: Historian. I began by collecting old text messages, voice mails, and emails. Old SD cards and phones in drawers augmented photo backups. I scanned old photos; friends and family sent what they could find.
But there was more online, some in public archives. The earliest was Julie’s Usenet newsgroup postings. Some are available in Google Groups, but the Internet Archive had many more at https://archive.org/details/usenet. I found posts by Julie in a number of groups, CINEMA-L and alt.music.alternative to name a few. To really recreate the experience, I displayed them on an 80×24 retro-terminal green screen:
Then there were the bands she loved whose works were out of print. Some, like The Sycamores, had contact info online. But I had to turn to the Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA) to find information about The Wonsers. (Thank you Jason Scott and John Gilmore for saving this and the rest of IUMA!)
And as I dug through email, I remembered Julie loved the “Future Culture” mailing list, and often shared the cultural and technical ephemera she found there. I subscribed to the list so I could let them know about Julie, and found her messages to the group. Julie started lurking in 1993, finally introducing herself in ’97:
Oh yeah, my name is Julie Lindner. I’m from Minneapolis, Minnesota.But, have spent the last year and a half living in Geneva. This seemsto be a very interesting group of people. I expect it will be apleasure to get to know you.
She didn’t post much, but she did earn the title of “Goddess of Tacky Postcards” for three of her entries in a competition to find the most tacky postcard. She sent in her best and they ended up on a web site “Future Culture goes Postal.” It’s gone, but it was archived.
The archive is incomplete, but luckily Julie’s second and third entries survived. (The first was probably so tacky that it was unarchivable!) Finding these really captured her wicked sense of humor and brought back a special time in our lives.
The list also featured an orange jumpsuit-wearing member named Captain Cursor aka Taylor. We never managed to meet Taylor, despite moving to the Bay Area. But his archives remain and they provide so much context for my own orange jumpsuit—a gift to me from Julie.
I was very happy to find even more websites kept alive by the Internet Archive:
SomaLiving.com – In 1999 we bought a Loft sight-unseen except for the brand-new ‘virtual tour’ technology.
It was there that I built a personal, partially lost, website inspired by Julie’s tattoo:
And finally, through the Wayback Machine, I learned that the memorial site julieslife.com was built on hallowed ground. Turns out I’m not the first to use this domain. There were two other Julies with two wholly unique and treasured lives. The Internet Archive contains the full history of both of them:
In 2002 another Julie had a personal site inviting you to “waste some space.”
In this way, archives become much more than just data. They allow us to witness, corroborate and remember what happened with an accuracy no human could ever achieve. Each e-mail, each photo, each song, and yes, each tacky postcard ensures that I won’t lose Julie a second time.
So for all the Julies out there, I am thankful for the Internet Archive. Survivors and Historians are eternally grateful that the Archive is there to augment our own fallible memories, ensuring that our loved ones are never lost to time.
p.s. If you have suffered a similar loss, please feel free to reach out for a sympathetic ear or for help finding memories in the archives. You can reach me via e-mail or chat/social-media.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Paul Lindner is a supporter of the Internet Archive, an organizer of the Decentralized Web Summit 2018 and a self-described “obscure 90s Internet OG.”
How to create a memorial website:
After we published this, readers took Paul up on his offer to lend a sympathetic ear or to offer advice. Some wanted to know how they, too, could create an archive to remember a loved one now gone. Here are some basic steps from Paul:
I have yet to write the definitive guide to gathering archives and creating memorials, but I can provide some pointers. 1. Getting access to Emails is a key first step. Most people have emails from the web sites they use, so this will help you identify other web sites; plus you can view the sent messages to put together a timeline. This (older) article covers getting access: https://techland.time.com/2013/07/16/how-to-access-a-deceased-loved-ones-online-accounts/
2. Consider exporting the data from the account. Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft all offer a way to get a download of all user data.
4. Now that you have all this data you will want to publish it in some form. This generally involves creating a web site. There are specific sites devoted to creating memorials, though many of them only offer simple photo galleries. I used Google Sites to create mine, but in all cases be prepared to spend time learning how to get the best results.
5. If you scan photos or documents you can augment your web site with that too. I know it’s been a few years, but check if there are old camera memory cards or old phones sitting around.