The Supreme Court held today that copyright protection does not extend to the law – in this case, to the annotations in Georgia State’s annotated code. Justice Roberts explained that the animating principle behind this rule is that no one can own the law. “Every citizen is presumed to know the law,” and “it needs no argument to show . . . that all should have free access to its contents.”
This is a victory for our friends at Public.Resource.Org, the public domain, and the public at large. Free access to the law is core to the ability of our citizenry to fully participate in our democratic society. The Internet Archive has worked with Public Resource for 6 years to make the law fully searchable and downloadable to the public for free. We applaud this outcome and hope that more legal works will come to be available to the public in the coming days and weeks. We are glad this fight is over.
A call for help was sounded when it became clear that libraries were going to close indefinitely worldwide. The International Coalition of Library Consortia warned that the current system most libraries operate under was grossly insufficient to meet the crisis. We were in a unique position to respond and offer emergency relief to teachers and students around the world, so that’s what we did. We opened the National Emergency Library (NEL) on March 24, at a time UNESCO was reporting over 390 million students were being impacted. Today UNESCO reports that over 90% of the world’s student population is affected by school closures.
We were operating on pandemic time, but knew it wasn’t going to be the end of the conversation. Three days after we opened NEL, the Association of Research Libraries again urged publishers to maximize digital access. At this time we were busy providing this access to the best of our ability while beginning to respond to legitimate concerns from non-library stakeholders. We had designed an opt-out system for authors from the beginning, and our next big hurdle turned out to be working with university presses — many of whom we partner with — to address their concerns.
University presses react to NEL
In the hectic times of universities closing, we emailed our university press partners of the upcoming launch of NEL. The weekend after launching the NEL, we got a message from colleagues within the university press community saying some were not pleased with the NEL and the use of their published works within it. Responding quickly, we held an open community call the following Tuesday to hear from directors and other members of the university press community.
There’s no way around it – it was a tough call. While challenging, it also provided an opportunity for the Internet Archive to clarify why we had released the NEL—namely, to support students and educators with temporary access to a digital library while their schools and libraries are closed and their print collections are unavailable. We believed that NEL was necessary to provide educational access to teachers and students who were not in a position to double buy the books their communities had invested in but could not safely distribute. We have since had numerous teachers reach out to us and confirm that this is the case.
However, that doesn’t mean that other stakeholders do not matter to us. We listened to the concerns, and frankly displeasure, of important members of the university press community. John Sherer, Director of UNC Press, was one of these critics and was unhappy with what he and many within the university press community saw as a unilateral move by the Internet Archive.
But something changed during the community call. In hearing our openness to listen to the community and their concerns, Sherer saw a common path forward. “The goals you had articulated aligned so closely with many of our goals and the sense of mission that drives us at UNC Press. Namely, making high quality scholarship as widely available as possible.” Never one to rest idly, Sherer seized the moment, calculating that “if you all would consider a methodology I believe to be more equitable…I would pitch you on it and see if we could get to the common goal.”
And pitch he did. Along with Dean Smith, Director of Duke University Press, John drafted a Statement of Cooperation to help put structure around a publisher’s participation in the National Emergency Library. Both presses released blog posts (UNC Press here, Duke University Press here) to help contextualize why they disagreed with the process that the Internet Archive took in launching the NEL, and to describe why they ultimately decided to create the Statement of Cooperation so that they could support the National Emergency Library in a way they felt comfortable.
We appreciate the hard work of these university presses to find solutions to work together to provide students and researchers the resources they need during this difficult time. The statement they drafted is intended to be flexible and reusable. We hope that other publishers and presses will follow suit and sign on.
Why are university press books so important?
We consider our partnerships with university presses as a major milestone in making the NEL work for everyone to meet the immediate educational needs of those suffering from the pandemic. The Internet Archive has a long history of collaboration with the university press community, working with MIT Press, Cornell University Press, and others to digitize titles from their backlists.
We believe that university press books are a cornerstone of the NEL. University press books are evergreen, well-cited in Wikipedia, and are the foundations of much scholarship.The materials published by university presses represent the preeminent scholarly output of America’s research universities. They present peer-reviewed research and analysis of use to policymakers and scholars, and provide materials that help shape and inform a literate and informed culture. In short, university press books are exactly the kind of content that people need access to right now.
The road ahead
It is our wish that the NEL only last as long as it is needed, and that’s why we gave ourselves an end date. We will continue to work with stakeholders during this time to find solutions to make the NEL work the best it can under these emergency conditions. We are proud of our work on the NEL, but not so proud as to not accept thoughtful criticism. We encourage university presses, as well as other stakeholders, to work with us to continue to improve the NEL.
We also know that there are many difficulties facing all stakeholders due to the pandemic. Financial hardships are already being reported across the nation’s universities. University presses face challenges ahead in fulfilling their mission, but do so with an eye towards change. In considering the future, Sherer reflects, “UNC Press has survived world wars, depressions, recessions…and our building even burned to the ground once. We will endure. What we’re working on now is trying to understand what that new landscape might look like and to see if we can help define a values-driven publishing model that can thrive in that new reality.”
As Sherer later told us, “while we’re pleased that the NEL is making our books available at no cost to readers, I hope that the readers can remember that it wasn’t cost-less to produce those books.” We understand this concern. The Internet Archive uses a system called Controlled Digital Lending which leverages the number of loaned copies to the number of committed uncirculating physical copies and protects against redistribution by using the same digital rights management tools that publishers use; the temporary National Emergency Library, while using the same protections was built to address the suddenly and temporarily uncirculating books locked up in closed libraries. The original purchase of these books is the traditional way libraries support publishers and authors while also retaining the freedom to decide how to best serve our patrons. The NEL is a short term measure to meet the emergency needs of those impacted by school and library closures. We also welcome a continued dialog with publishers and authors on this issue.
The NEL will soon close and the world will continue to evolve. We need to look forward to how we can help meet the informational and educational needs of this changing world. The Internet Archive will continue to work with university presses and other stakeholders as we all adjust to a dominantly digital world. The Internet Archive is committed to working with presses and publishers to help describe and implement new values-driven publishing models that will be needed in this new world. The world’s digital learners need us all to succeed so they get to read the best humanity has created.
If you are an academic press or commercial publisher and would like to make your collections available through the National Emergency Library or work together to define a values-driven publishing model, please consider the Statement of Cooperation and reach out with additional questions.
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/.
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.
At a time when every day can feel like a month, it’s hard to believe that the National Emergency Library has only existed for two weeks. Recognizing the unique challenges of connecting students and readers with books now on shelves they cannot reach, the Internet Archive loosened the restrictions on our controlled digital lending library to allow increased lending of materials. Reactions have been passionate, to say the least—elation by teachers able to access our virtual stacks, concern by authors about the program’s impact, and fundamental questions about our role as a library in these dire times when one billion students worldwide are cut off from their classrooms and libraries.
For those of you who are being introduced to us for the first time due to the National Emergency Library: Welcome! The doors of the Internet Archive have been open for nearly 25 years and we’ve served hundreds of millions of visitors—we’ve always got room to welcome one more. And for those of you who have tracked our evolution through the years, we know you have questions.
When we turned off waitlists for our lending library on March 24th, it was in response to messages and requests we’d been getting from many sources—librarians who were closing their doors in response to lockdowns, school teachers who were concerned their students could no longer do research and discovery through the primary sources they had on campus, and organizations we respected who knew we had the capability to fill an unexpected gap. A need that we knew we could provide quickly in response.
We moved in “Internet Time” and the speed and swiftness of our solution surprised some and caught others off guard. In our rush to help we didn’t engage with the creator community and the ecosystem in which their works are made and published. We hear your concerns and we’ve taken action: the Internet Archive has added staff to our Patron Services team and we are responding quickly to the incoming requests to take books out of the National Emergency Library. While we can’t go back in time, we can move forward with more information and insight based on data the National Emergency Library has generated thus far.
The Internet Archive takes reader privacy seriously, so we don’t have specific analytics or logs to share (we took the government to court to assure we didn’t have to do that,) but we do have some general information that may be of use to authors, publishers and readers about the ways patrons are using the National Emergency Library. We will be sharing more in the coming weeks of this crisis.
Majority of books are borrowed for less than 30 minutes
Even with a preview function where readers can see the first few pages of a book, most people who go through the check out process are looking at the book for less than 30 minutes, with no more interactions until it is automatically returned two weeks later. We suspect that fewer than 10% of books borrowed are actually opened again after the first day (but we have more work to do to confirm this). Patrons may be using the checked-out book for fact checking or research, but we suspect a large number of people are browsing the book in a way similar to browsing library shelves.
The total number of books that are checked out and read is about the number of books borrowed from a town library
Trying to compare a physical check-out of a book with a digital check-out is difficult. Assuming that the number of physical books borrowed from a library corresponds to digitally borrowed books that are read after the first day, then the Internet Archive currently lends about as many as a US library that serves a population of about 30,000.
Our usage pattern may be more like a serendipitous walk through a bookstore or the library stacks. In the real world, a patron takes a book off the shelf, flips through to see if it’s of interest, and then either selects the book or puts it back on the shelf. However, in our virtual library, to flip fully through the book you have to borrow it. The large number of books that have no activity beyond the first few minutes of interaction suggest patrons are using our service to browse books.
90% of the books borrowed were published more than 10 years ago, two-thirds were published during the 20th century
The books in the National Emergency Library were published between 1925 and 5 years ago, because books older than that are in the public domain—out of copyright and fully downloadable. Books newer than 5 years are not in the National Emergency Library. Unlike the age of most books in bookstores, the books readers are borrowing are older books, with 10% being from the last 10 years. Two-thirds of these books were published during the 20th century.
And when people find what they need, it solves a problem, such as this subject librarian who found a book published in 1975:
A bit of Fun: Some of the least common subject catagories of borrowed books
These subject tags come from library catalog records and other annotations by organizations such as ISKME has done with the Universal School Library collection, assigned to aid search and discovery of resources for educators.
Saturday is April 4th (4/04), and here at the Internet Archive we’re marking a new holiday: 404 Day! We’re using this date to celebrate the work that’s being done to end the dreaded 404 error, record changing webpages, and preserve the internet for all to enjoy. We spoke with Gary Price—librarian, editor of InfoDocket, and a prolific user of the Wayback Machine—about why web archiving is important and how ordinary people can fight back against “link rot.”
Preserving the Past
Why does the Wayback Machine matter? “We’re in a period right now where the tools the Internet Archive has developed are more important than ever before,” Price said. “In my work as a librarian I’ve learned how easily things can ‘disappear’. Something you see could be removed within a fraction of a second, and the next time you look it’s gone.”
Similar losses have happened for newly developed media in the past, Price explained. For example, a huge amount of early television footage disappeared because nobody recorded or archived it at the time. The issue is compounded when dealing with a massive system like the Internet, which is constantly growing and changing. “There’s really nothing like the Wayback Machine,” he said. “It’s so important for historical purposes.”
Price believes that it’s even more crucial to preserve information in the midst of a crisis. “With COVID-19,” he said, “we have a global event going on where nobody knows how it’s going to end. Most of it is going to play out on the Internet. If we don’t archive it now, the record for the future is not going to be as complete as it could have been. We need to make it so that we’ll have a complete record of this pandemic to learn from: primary documents, news reports, local materials, and digital ephemera.”
Making the Most of the Wayback Machine
There are a number of useful tools that can make the Wayback Machine part of your daily internet experience. If you want to avoid running into 404 errors in the future, then the easiest thing you can do is integrate the Wayback Machine into your browser. We’ve created a handy series of browser extensions for Safari, Chrome, and Firefox that allow you to view archived versions of webpages with just the click of a button. And if you use the Brave browser, that functionality is directly integrated into the browsing experience!
Curious about how a webpage has shifted over time? The Changes feature is an easy way to compare two versions of the same webpage side-by-side. We deployed this feature last fall to make it easier than ever to see how the web is evolving.
In addition to the hundreds of millions of URLs archived by the Wayback Machine staff every day, several tens of millions of URLs are archived because they were submitted by the general public via the Save Page Now feature. If you come across something that you think needs to be preserved, you can use this tool to ensure that the Wayback Machine captures a snapshot of it. It’s as simple as visiting web.archive.org/save and pasting your desired URL in. If you have the browser plugin, you can save any page you visit with the click of a button!
What advice does Price have for beginning archivers? “The first thing to do,” he says, “is to sign up for an Internet Archive account. It gives you a lot of great features, but my favorite is the option to not only archive a page, but also to archive all of those outbound links in that page.”
Price also recommends that new users make their archiving personal. “Just start recording things you’re already looking at on a daily basis! The articles you read, interesting websites, information pages from your university, local news, and so on. It doesn’t take a long time—you’re already reading the webpage, so just press the ‘Save Page Now’ button.”
Since big news stories or major websites are usually crawled automatically, Price recommends that citizen archivists make sure to include local, personal, and small-scale websites. “It’s about the little stuff, the obscure stuff, the stuff that’s buried three layers deep. That’s not going to get covered in the same way as the most popular content, and it might not get covered at all if you don’t add it. That’s why the individual doing it is so important.”
Last but not least, Price says, “Do what you can! Add stuff that you’re interested in or think is worth saving. Make it a habit, and spread the word to people you know!”
Last Tuesday we launched a National Emergency Library—1.4M digitized books available to users without a waitlist—in response to the rolling wave of school and library closures that remain in place to date. We’ve received dozens of messages of thanks from teachers and school librarians, who can now help their students access books while their schools, school libraries, and public libraries are closed.
We’ve been asked why we suspended waitlists. On March 17, the American Library Association Executive Board took the extraordinary step to recommend that the nation’s libraries close in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In doing so, for the first time in history, the entirety of the nation’s print collection housed in libraries is now unavailable, locked away indefinitely behind closed doors.
This is a tremendous and historic outage. According to IMLS FY17 Public Libraries survey (the last fiscal year for which data is publicly available), in FY17 there were more than 716 million physical books in US public libraries. Using the same data, which shows a 2-3% decline in collection holdings per year, we can estimate that public libraries have approximately 650 million books on their shelves in 2020. Right now, today, there are 650 million books that tax-paying citizens have paid to access that are sitting on shelves in closed libraries, inaccessible to them. And that’s just in public libraries.
And so, to meet this unprecedented need at a scale never before seen, we suspended waitlists on our lending collection. As we anticipated, critics including the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers have released statements (here and here) condemning the National Emergency Library and the Internet Archive. Both statements contain falsehoods that are being spread widely online. To counter the misinformation, we are addressing the most egregious points here and have also updated our FAQs.
One of the statements suggests you’ve acquired your books illegally. Is that true? No. The books in the National Emergency Library have been acquired through purchase or donation, just like a traditional library. The Internet Archive preserves and digitizes the books it owns and makes those scans available for users to borrow online, normally one at a time. That borrowing threshold has been suspended through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency.
Is the Internet Archive a library? Yes. The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity and is recognized as a library by the government.
What is the legal basis for Internet Archive’s digital lending during normal times? The concept and practice of controlled digital lending (CDL) has been around for about a decade. It is a lend-like-print system where the library loans out a digital version of a book it owns to one reader at a time, using the same technical protections that publishers use to prevent further redistribution. The legal doctrine underlying this system is fair use, as explained in the Position Statement on Controlled Digital Lending.
“Our principal legal argument for controlled digital lending is that fair use— an “equitable rule of reason”—permits libraries to do online what they have always done with physical collections under the first sale doctrine: lend books. The first sale doctrine, codified in Section 109 of the Copyright Act, provides that anyone who legally acquires a copyrighted work from the copyright holder receives the right to sell, display, or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner. This is how libraries loan books. Additionally, fair use ultimately asks, “whether the copyright law’s goal of promoting the Progress of Science and useful Arts would be better served by allowing the use than by preventing it.” In this case we believe it would be. Controlled digital lending as we conceive it is premised on the idea that libraries can embrace their traditional lending role to the digital environment. The system we propose maintains the market balance long-recognized by the courts and Congress as between rightsholders and libraries, and makes it possible for libraries to fulfill their “vital function in society” by enabling the lending of books to benefit the general learning, research, and intellectual enrichment of readers by allowing them limited and controlled digital access to materials online.”
Some have argued that the ReDigi case that held that commercially reselling iTunes music files is not a fair use “precludes” CDL. This is not true, and othershaveargued that this case actually makes the fair use case for CDL stronger.
How is the National Emergency Library different from the Internet Archive’s normal digital lending? Because libraries around the country and globe are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Internet Archive has suspended our waitlists temporarily. This means that multiple readers can access a digital book simultaneously, yet still by borrowing the book, meaning that it is returned after 2 weeks and cannot be redistributed.
Is the Internet Archive making these books available without restriction? No. Readers who borrow a book from the National Emergency Library get it for only two weeks, and their access is disabled unless they check it out again. Internet Archive also uses the same technical protections that publishers use on their ebook offerings in order to prevent additional copies from being made or redistributed.
What about those who say we’re stealing from authors & publishers? Libraries buy books or get them from donations and lend them out. This has been true and legal for centuries. The idea that this is stealing fundamentally misunderstands the role of libraries in the information ecosystem. As Professor Ariel Katz, in his paper Copyright, Exhaustion, and the Role of Libraries in the Ecosystem of Knowledgeexplains:
“Historically, libraries predate copyright, and the institutional role of libraries and institutions of higher learning in the “promotion of science” and the “encouragement of learning” was acknowledged before legislators decided to grant authors exclusive rights in their writings. The historical precedence of libraries and the legal recognition of their public function cannot determine every contemporary copyright question, but this historical fact is not devoid of legal consequence… As long as the copyright ecosystem has a public purpose, then some of the functions that libraries perform are not only fundamental but also indispensable for attaining this purpose. Therefore, the legal rules … that allow libraries to perform these functions remain, and will continue to be, as integral to the copyright system as the copyright itself.”
Do libraries have to ask authors or publishers to digitize their books? No. Digitizing books to make accessible copies available to the visually impaired is explicitly allowed under 17 USC 121 in the US and around the world under the Marrakesh Treaty. Further, US courts have held that it is fair use for libraries to digitize books for various additional purposes.
Have authors opted out? Yes, we’ve had authors opt out. We anticipated that would happen as well; in fact, we launched with clear instructions on how to opt out because we understand that authors and creators have been impacted by the same global pandemic that has shuttered libraries and left students without access to print books. Our takedowns are completed quickly and the submitter is notified via email.
Doesn’t my local library already provide access to all of these books? No. The Internet Archive has focused our collecting on books published between the 1920s and early 2000s, the vast majority of which don’t have a commercially available ebook. Our collection priorities have focused on the broad range of library books to support education and scholarship and have not focused on the latest best sellers that would be featured in a bookstore.
Further, there are approximately 650 million books in public libraries that are locked away and inaccessible during closures related to COVID-19. Many of these are print books that don’t have an ebook equivalent except for the version we’ve scanned. For those books, the only way for a patron to access them while their library is closed is through our scanned copy.
I’ve looked at the books and they’re just images of the pages. I get better ebooks from my public library. Yes, you do. The Internet Archive takes a picture of each page of its books, and then makes those page images available in an online book reader and encrypted PDFs. We also make encrypted EPUBs available, but they are based on uncorrected OCR, which has errors. The experience is inferior to what you’ve become accustomed to with Kindle devices. We are making an accessible facsimile of the printed book available to users, not a high quality EPUB like you would find with a modern ebook.
What will happen after June 30 or the end of the US national emergency? Waitlists will be suspended through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later. After that, the waitlists will be reimplemented thus limiting the number of borrowable copies to those physical books owned and not being lent.
Forty years ago as a freshman, I pulled my first book off the shelves of Hayden Library at MIT. This month, every MIT undergraduate departed from campus in an attempt to contain COVID-19, leaving behind the vast resources of that library. Ready or not, we are all being thrust into an enormous experiment in online learning. One that can have positive and permanent outcomes, if we handle it right.
With schools closing from Changshu to Cambridge, suddenly students are cut off from the physical resources they rely on: the teachers, the classrooms and libraries that are the backbone of learning. And in this flux, those in marginalized communities—from rural areas without broadband or schools with few online books—are even more profoundly challenged. The Economist reports that in the United states, “7 million school-age children cannot access the internet at home.”
“If this is just a prolonged pause in our education and economy, without the benefits of learning and adapting, one of the most profound impacts of COVID-19 may be…a “quiet brain drain.” It will be time our children never get back.”
But here’s the good news: we know how to do this, to impart knowledge at scale over the Internet. Online courses, online libraries and broadband all exist—but we need to expand and upgrade them to meet the needs of the close to one billion learners around the world whose classrooms have been shuttered.
24 years ago, I founded the Internet Archive as a nonprofit digital library serving more than a million learners every day. Today, the Internet Archive is working with hundreds of public, school and university libraries to digitize their core collections and make them freely available over the Internet. Even as MIT was sending students home, we were working with MIT Libraries to see how many of their books we have already digitized. In 24 hours, we were able to hand them back 166,000 digitized books to lend online through their catalogue and via archive.org. This week, the Internet Archive created a National Emergency Library of 1.4 million digitized books to serve the needs of students, educators and learners who can now access them from home.
Think of this as a huge experiment. In one big push, we can improve online learning and its infrastructure in a way that may otherwise have taken years. This crisis encourages universities to be bold, to make investments that ultimately may mean many more students can benefit. Perhaps 500 undergraduates can fill a hall at MIT, but how many millions can take an online MIT course, once the books, materials and lessons are online?
China is a few weeks ahead of the United States when it comes to experimenting with online learning. In January, my son, Caslon, was teaching English to 4th graders in Changshu. Now he is teaching them from San Francisco, with recorded lessons and online interaction. Next month, his school in China is poised to reopen, but I suspect it will be forever changed.
If this is just a prolonged pause in our education and economy, without the benefits of learning and adapting, one of the most profound impacts of COVID-19 may be what Dr. Kate Tairyan, Chief Medical Officer of the online college NextGenU.org, calls a “quiet brain drain.” It will be time our children never get back.
But we have the opportunity to harness American ingenuity to build a stronger, more robust educational system—by leveraging the Internet, new technologies, and our investments in digitizing books at scale into something that democratizes learning for a generation to come.
Brewster Kahleisthe founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. A passionate advocate for public Internet access and a successful entrepreneur, he has spent his career intent on a singular focus: providing Universal Access to All Knowledge. Kahle graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied artificial intelligence.
To address our unprecedented global and immediate need for access to reading and research materials, as of today, March 24, 2020, the Internet Archive will suspend waitlists for the 1.4 million (and growing) books in our lending library by creating a National Emergency Library to serve the nation’s displaced learners. This suspension will run through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later.
During the waitlist suspension, users will be able to borrow books from the National Emergency Library without joining a waitlist, ensuring that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials that the Internet Archive has digitized for the remainder of the US academic calendar, and that people who cannot physically access their local libraries because of closure or self-quarantine can continue to read and thrive during this time of crisis, keeping themselves and others safe.
This is a response to the scores of inquiries from educators about the capacity of our lending system and the scale needed to meet classroom demands because of the closures. Working with librarians in the Boston area, led by Tom Blake of Boston Public Library, who gathered course reserves and reading lists from college and school libraries, we determined which of those books the Internet Archive had already digitized. Through that work we quickly realized that our lending library wasn’t going to scale to meet the needs of a global community of displaced learners. To make a real difference for the nation and the world, we would have to take a bigger step.
“The library system, because of our national emergency, is coming to aid those that are forced to learn at home, ” said Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. “This was our dream for the original Internet coming to life: the Library at everyone’s fingertips.”
Public support for this emergency measure has come from over 100 individuals, libraries and universities across the world, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “Ubiquitous access to open digital content has long been an important goal for MIT and MIT Libraries. Learning and research depend on it,” said Chris Bourg, Director of MIT Libraries. “In a global pandemic, robust digital lending options are key to a library’s ability to care for staff and the community, by allowing all of us to work remotely and maintain the recommended social distancing.”
We understand that we’re not going to be able to meet everyone’s needs; our collection, at 1.4 million modern books, is a fraction of the size of a large metropolitan library system or a great academic library. The books that we’ve digitized have been acquired with a focus on materials published during the 20th century, the vast majority of which do not have a commercially available ebook. This means that while readers and students are able to access latest best sellers and popular titles through services like OverDrive and Hoopla, they don’t have access to the books that only exist in paper, sitting inaccessible on their library shelves. That’s where our collection fits in—we offer digital access to books, many of which are otherwise unavailable to the public while our schools and libraries are closed. In addition to the National Emergency Library, the Internet Archive also offers free public access to 2.5 million fully downloadable public domain books, which do not require waitlists to view.
We recognize that authors and publishers are going to be impacted by this global pandemic as well. We encourage all readers who are in a position to buy books to do so, ideally while also supporting your local bookstore. If they don’t have the book you need, then Amazon or Better World Books may have copies in print or digital formats. We hope that authors will support our effort to ensure temporary access to their work in this time of crisis. We are empowering authors to explicitly opt in and donate books to the National Emergency Library if we don’t have a copy. We are also making it easy for authors to contact us to take a book out of the library. Learn more in our FAQ.
A final note on calling this a “National Emergency” Library. We lend to the world, including these books. We chose that language deliberately because we are pegging the suspension of the waitlists to the duration of the US national emergency. Users all over the world have equal access to the books now available, regardless of their location.
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.