Category Archives: Lending Books

As Calls to Ban Books Intensify, Digital Librarians Offer Perspective

Image credit: Roger Nomer | The Joplin Globe

From Texas to Virginia to Pennsylvania, there is a growing movement to challenge books in schools that some suggest are inappropriate for students. Concern goes beyond explicit content; it now includes opposition to LGBTQIA material, the history of racism, and material that may cause discomfort to readers.

While efforts to ban books are not new, the solutions to counter censorship are—thanks to technology that is used to create access for all. 

The Internet Archive’s Open Library (https://openlibrary.org) does not face the same local pressures that many school districts or school libraries do. At a time when students and teachers may be encountering limited access to content in their local community, the Internet Archive acquires and digitizes material for its online library, and lends a wide array of books for free to anyone, anytime.

For example, the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books in the past decade are available in a curated collection. Among the titles: The Glass Castle by Jennette Walls, banned for offensive language and sexually explicit content; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, cited as being insensitive, anti-family and violent; and Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin, challenged for its LGBTQIA content and the perceived effects on young people who would read it. 

Books dealing with gay and trans rights have long been targeted in school libraries. There are more than 1,800 titles in Open Library’s LGBTQ Collection—sorted, searchable and available to borrow online for free. Many of the novels, memoirs and works of history are not otherwise accessible to people who live in rural areas or places where those materials are explicitly banned. 

Browse Open Library’s LGBTQ Collection, one of the many curated collections available through Open Library.

New Challenges, New Responses

The new efforts to ban books are taking a much broader view of limiting access. Across the country, some objectors say books like Beloved by Toni Morrison, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, should not be discussed or available in schools. As these lists are made public, Open Library’s volunteer team of Open Librarians take action to ensure that these books remain accessible to all.

Recently, Open Library created a collection of books removed from circulation in the Goddard School District in Kansas. It includes The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Fences by August Wilson, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1987. A small collection of banned books from Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley features Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitgerald.

View the collection of 850 books challenged in Texas.

Open Library’s lead community librarian, Lisa Seaberg, is curating a collection of 850 books that have recently been challenged in Texas. Among the books targeted are ones that mention human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, contain material that might make students feel uncomfortable or distressed because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive. 

What’s become caught up in this “wide net,” said Seaberg, are books about health education, teen pregnancy, civics, philosophy, religion, anthropology, inventions, encyclopedias and, ironically, a novel about book censorship in a high school. Those who favor removing certain books see an opportunity and momentum, she said, but the difference in this moment is that libraries are able to provide access to titles regardless of where the reader is located. 

One reason books get banned is because political forces within an area become stronger than the populace, said Mek, who leads the Open Library team for the Internet Archive. “Open Library is trying to bridge these inequity gaps across geographies and social classes. We invite the populace to come together and participate in a digital sanctuary where our rich and diverse cultural heritage isn’t subject to censorship by the few with special interests.”

“[T]here’s a difference between sharing an opinion and robbing someone of the opportunity to form their own.”

Mek, Open Library team lead

At the most basic level, banning books is about restricting access to knowledge, said Lisa Petrides, chief executive officer and founder of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME). 

“The impact of this on schools means that students are exposed to a limited set of world views, which is extremely detrimental to critical thinking, reflective analysis and discussion,” said Petrides. “Perhaps even more importantly as we are seeing today, this means that educators and librarians are increasingly put in difficult situations, having to face the threat of reprisal from administrators or school boards, who are themselves increasingly less willing to stand up for the First Amendment rights of their teachers and learners.”   

The Path Forward

Everyone’s perspectives should matter and be represented in the democratic process. A library must offer diverse materials so people can draw their own conclusions, said Mek.  He embraces the oft-cited quote from librarian Jo Godwin: “A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.”

“It’s important for informed members of society to share their opinions,” he says. “But there’s a difference between sharing an opinion and robbing someone of the opportunity to form their own. To change hearts and minds, write a compelling book—don’t take authors you disagree with off the shelves. The Open Library community is honoring these values by giving contested titles their spots back on the shelf.”

Seaberg says, hopefully, recent book challenges will ultimately fail and access to a range of books will be restored. “If students walk into a library and they have books that only present one side of an issue, or are only relatable to a certain group in a culture, it excludes a lot of people,” she says. “They might not even know this other content exists.”


You can browse a full list of Open Library’s curated collections here. To volunteer for Open Library and help curate collections, please visit https://openlibrary.org/volunteer#librarian.

Looking Back at the Million Book Project

Years ago, many people rejected the idea of reading a book on a screen. Fortunately, others had a vision for the potential of digitizing the world’s knowledge.

One of those pioneers was Carnegie Mellon Professor Raj Reddy. The Internet Archive recently hosted a virtual event to honor him and celebrate the 20th anniversary of his Million Book Project that included Reddy, Vint Cerf of Google, Moriel Schottlender of the Wikimedia Foundation, Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive, Mike Furlough of HaithiTrust, and Liz Ridolfo of the University of Toronto.

Since Reddy’s dream of providing universal access to all human knowledge—instantly to anyone, anywhere in the world—others have embraced the mission.  Advocates of mass digitization discussed the tremendous impact that open access to creative works online has had on society, the challenges ahead, and potential, if more books are unleashed.

“There are tens of millions of digitized books available on the internet now. Many of these are born digital. Many more are being converted from print copies,” said Mike Furlough, executive director at HathiTrust, which has a collection of 17.5 million digital books. “This is really a human accomplishment that represents decades, if not centuries, of intellectual labor, physical labor to steward and preserve these items.”

Reddy said he knew his vision two decades ago was just the beginning and there is a huge amount of room to improve the utility of digital works. “It’s time for us to put our heads together to find a way to create digital libraries and archives that are far more useful than what we have today,” he said.

Many agreed more must be done to expand efforts, build a sustainable infrastructure and raise awareness of the shifting role of libraries to provide digital materials.

“I think we should ask more questions: What aren’t we digitizing? What are the economic or political forces that are constraining our choices and what corrective measures can we take?”

Mike Furlough, executive director, HathiTrust

Internet Archive Founder Brewster Kahle said Reddy was right that bringing our full history online for the next generation is important, but it’s not been easy technically or institutionally.

“If we’ve ever wondered why you’d want digital books, the year 2020 told us why. The global pandemic hit and shut down school libraries, public libraries, and college libraries,” Kahle said. “We got calls from professors, teachers and homeschoolers, desperate to find some way in their Zoom classrooms to bring books to kids.”

The Internet Archive responded, explaining how libraries could extend access digitally to books that were in their physical collections. This helped make a big difference on the ground, and Kahle says policies are changing so libraries are confident in serving their digital learners. For instance, as libraries spend $12 billion a year on materials, Kahle said they should be able to purchase (not lease) e-books to fulfill their mission of service to users.

There was also a push among panelists for digitization to be more inclusive of works from all kinds of authors, recognizing what is being scanned is what’s already been obtained by libraries. “I think we should ask more questions: What aren’t we digitizing? What are the economic or political forces that are constraining our choices and what corrective measures can we take?” Furlough said.

The future interaction with knowledge involves the digitization of books and expanding the diversity of voices is critical, said Moriel Schottlender, principal system architect with the Wikimedia Foundation.

“Making resources available to anyone online is key and this is really what we’re striving for,” said Schottlender, noting Wikipedia’s mission is to be a beacon of factual information that is verifiable, neutral and transparent. “Our goal is that everyone in the world should be able to contribute to the sum of all knowledge. But not everyone has equal access to knowledge, to books, to journals, to libraries, to educational materials…We use digitization to increase equity.”

“Our goal is that everyone in the world should be able to contribute to the sum of all knowledge. But not everyone has equal access to knowledge…We use digitization to increase equity.”

Moriel Schottlender, principal system architect, Wikimedia Foundation

There is growing demand for all kinds of digital information, said Liz Ridolfo, special collections projects librarian at University of Toronto Libraries.. Donors want items digitized for a variety of reasons including to protect rare items, to reach a broader audience, and to free up physical space for other materials. Especially during the pandemic, Ridolfo said, it has been useful to have a curated collection of online teaching and reference materials.

Vint Cerf, vice president and internet evangelist at Google, said people are increasingly going online to get answers to questions—often turning to YouTube to view how-to videos. That demand for “just-in-time learning” is not a substitute for long-form content, he said, but it’s an interesting phenomenon that may draw people to the internet to learn more.

Looking ahead, Reddy said there is a need for big change to address the broken copyright law. His aspiration is that by 2031, there will be a frictionless, streamlined copyright regime, in which authors register for no fee, but can extend the copyright of a work indefinitely if they want by paying a prescribed fee. For users, he proposes access to copyright material for fair use in less than five minutes. They could pay a required fee, as prescribed by the data for a single copy use. If the copyright is not registered with the national digital library, then fines for copyright violations of unregistered copyright material should be nominal.

“Let’s take Raj’s vision here and make it come true,” Kahle said. “Who should argue against the streamline system where fair uses are easy. Where compensation is understood, where there’s registration and the actual copyrighted materials are in repositories that are long-term protected. Let’s just do this.”

2021 Library Leaders Forum Recap

This year’s Library Leaders Forum brought more than 1,300 people together for virtual discussions across the month of October. All of the public sessions were recorded and are available for viewing at https://www.libraryleadersforum.org. Check out the following highlights:

Library Leaders Forum Sessions

October 13
Session I: Community Dialogue
Hear from library leaders as they navigate the challenges of the ebook marketplace & their concerns about the future of library collections. Watch now

October 20
Session II: Community Impact
Hear firsthand from educators & librarians about the value of digitized library collections for the patrons, students, and communities they serve. Watch now


2021 Internet Archive Hero Award

Librarians Kanta Kapoor & Lisa Radha Weaver have been named the recipients of the 2021 Internet Archive Hero Award for helping their communities stay connected to digital books during the pandemic. Watch the awards ceremony


Conference Workshops

October 7
Controlled Digital Lending: Unlocking the Library’s Full Potential

Hear from the authors of the new CDL policy document. Watch now

October 12
Empowering Libraries Through Controlled Digital Lending

Learn how CDL works, the benefits of the Open Libraries program, and the impact that the program is having for partner libraries and the communities they serve. Watch now

October 27
Resource Sharing with the Internet Archive

Learn about the Internet Archive’s new resource sharing initiatives and how your library can participate. Watch now

Celebrating Kanta Kapoor: 2021 Internet Archive Hero Award Recipient

Kanta Kapoor, manager of support services, Milton Public Library, Milton, Ontario.

Kanta Kapoor was the first in her family to go to a university. Growing up in New Delhi, she was determined to become an independent woman, and she knew education was the key to success.

“I understand the value of knowledge—to survive in this world, to make a living and make informed decisions,” said Kapoor, who excelled in school and worked at public and university libraries in India for several years before moving to Canada in 2012.

Kapoor developed an expertise in emerging technologies and became an advocate for open sharing of information. Now, she is manager of support services at the Milton Public Library (MPL) in Ontario. In that role, she helped MPL become an early adopter of the Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program, which offers digital access to the physical books that a library owns through the library practice known as controlled digital lending (CDL).

For her efforts to broaden access and embrace innovative practices, Kapoor has been named a recipient of the 2021 Internet Archive Hero Award. The annual award recognizes those who have exhibited leadership in making information available for digital learners all over the world. Past recipients have included Michelle Wu, Phillips Academy, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the Grateful Dead.

Kanta helping patrons at Milton Public Library.

In her career, Kapoor has focused on leveraging technology to improve services to the community. She has a master’s degree in library science and gained a specialty in open-source software and data management through additional graduate studies at the University of Toronto.

Kapoor said she was drawn to MPL in 2019 because the leadership team was forward thinking and there was an opportunity to expand community-led projects.

“We were challenged to think outside of the box and become champions throughout Canadian public libraries to stay ahead of the curve,” Kapoor said.  

“In my career, I’ve seen many changes—and it’s still evolving. We need to continue to adapt and embrace new technology.”

Kanta Kapoor, 2021 Internet Archive Hero Award recipient

In her newly created position, she helped improve services for patrons and library staff alike with new technology, mobile apps and digitization of materials. When she was introduced to the Open Libraries program, Kapoor said she was impressed by the ability to provide millions of digitized books to users across the world. MPL decided this was the direction it wanted to go and became one of the first public libraries in Canada to embrace CDL and embed a link to Open Libraries in its catalogue.

MPL’s Mark Williams, chief librarian and chief executive officer, credits Kapoor’s strong leadership skills in building the partnership with the Internet Archive, which helped the MPL community during the earliest days of COVID-19 closures.

“It meant we were able to provide our patrons with access to tens of thousands of digitized materials at a time when they were more welcome than ever, during the pandemic lockdowns, while also being able to donate over 40,000 items for the benefit of a truly global audience,” he said. “We are incredibly fortunate that Kanta is part of the MPL team and her  compassion, graciousness, humility and ultimately exemplary leadership have been put to good use.”

Milton Public Library, Milton, Ontario

MPL expanded its partnership by donating physical items to the Archive, obtained a state-of-the-art digitization scanner, and became involved with Library Futures, a coalition of libraries and other stakeholders championing equitable access to knowledge.

Kapoor has helped promote materials available through CDL on the library’s web page, newsletters, and social media. So far, the response by users has been positive and Kapoor is reaching across her professional networks to educate her colleagues about the potential benefits.

“I encourage my fellow librarians to participate in this wonderful project to help their communities out,” Kapoor said. “In my career, I’ve seen many changes—and it’s still evolving. We need to continue to adapt and embrace new technology. I would like to see more libraries joining hands together to serve the community.”

Celebrating Lisa Radha Weaver: 2021 Internet Archive Hero Award Recipient

Lisa Radha Weaver, director of collections and program development, Hamilton Public Library, Hamilton, Ontario.

As a child, Lisa Radha Weaver says she spent most Sunday afternoons at the Kitchener Public Library in Ontario. She has fond memories of the friendly library staff helping her load up as many books as she could carry home.

Then, as a college student at Trent and Queen’s Universities, Weaver again was struck by how kind and generous the people were behind the reference desk at the library. Finally, she asked: How do you get this job?

Weaver learned about the pathway to become a professional librarian. So, after finishing her undergraduate degree in education, she earned her master of library and information science at Western University in London, Ontario.

“I knew that I wanted to serve the public in the same way that I had always been served at all the libraries that I had the privilege of growing up with in the first half of my life,” said Weaver, now director of collections and program development at Hamilton Public Library (HPL) in Ontario.

But that public service role was tested in the spring of 2020 when HPL closed due to COVID-19, as she and her fellow library staff were left wondering how they were going to get books to members who were now locked out of their physical collection. Weaver had been instrumental in helping HPL become an early adopter of the Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program, which offers digital access to the physical books that a library owns. Because of the collections team’s hard work, HPL patrons had access to tens of thousands of books from the safety of their homes, and could continue to read and learn while the physical library remained closed.

Lisa Radha Weaver presents Hamilton Public Library’s 1-Millionth eBook user, Connie Vissers, with a special HPL tote bag prize on October 28, 2020 at the Terryberry Branch.

In recognition of her contributions in her 20-plus year career, and her foresight in leading HPL into new digital lending practices, Weaver has been named the recipient of the 2021 Internet Archive Hero Award. The annual award recognizes those who have exhibited leadership in making information available for digital learners all over the world. Past recipients have included Michelle Wu, Phillips Academy, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the Grateful Dead

Weaver has long been committed to broadening access to information. Not everyone is as lucky as she was to have an adult bring them to the library, she says. Others don’t live nearby or work hours that limit their ability to physically visit a branch. To serve the changing needs of users, she has embraced digitizing collections and innovative outreach. 

Weaver led efforts at HPL to become an early adopter of Controlled Digital Lending, as well as identify special collections to donate to the Internet Archives for digitization.  

“CDL means removing barriers to access to collections in a way that is sustainable, accessible and equitable. With one library card, users have access to THE library, not just your local branch, system, region, province, state or even country,” Weaver said. “CDL means great breadth and depth in collections access. No one library can have all the books. CDL helps all libraries work together to best support each member to find what they are looking for, when and where they are looking for it.”

“I just really believe the library should be there for everyone, where they are and when they need it.”

Lisa Radha Weaver, 2021 Internet Archive Hero Award Recipient

The timing of HPL’s embrace of CDL in the fall of 2019 was fortuitous. When the physical buildings had to close due to the pandemic in March 2020 for three months, the library was positioned to provide users with digital access to its collection through the Internet Archive.

“Our hearts were a little bit less heavy, knowing that at least that part of our collection continued to be accessible to people,” Weaver said. “We had positive feedback.”

HPL also beefed up its own virtual library collection and created a range of online programming. Weaver says it developed an online reference system so users could call, email or chat to get connected to the resources or collections, which was especially helpful to teachers and students. Staff also phoned older members of the library to just check in and some were thankful to learn about new ways to access the library online.

Weaver says her team at the library is fearless and collaborative in how they approach their work.

She credits support from her administration and green light from the library’s legal team with the success of the CDL at Hamilton. Management promotes the notion of a “freedom to fail card” to encourage risk-taking, which says she seized upon to embark on the practice. Also, the library got a legal option that it shared widely backing up the notion that it was well within the library’s right to participate. “Those two things really allowed us to step forward confidently with the Internet Archive in this project,” Weaver said.

Hamilton Public Library, Hamilton, Ontario.

Since 2019, Weaver has joined the call for wider acceptance of CDL. She has participated in several panel presentations with librarians to explain the details of CDL. She has also lobbied with others in Washington, D.C., making the case to lawmakers on Capitol Hill for policy that supports the practice. Weaver is known for her professionalism and thoughtfulness in promoting the benefit of CDL.

“The ‘c’ in CDL is controlled. One copy, one use,” Weaver said. “We already own these books. Why did we buy these books, if not, for the broader library community to access?  None of us are closing our libraries because we are running out of books, so doesn’t it make sense to share? Most people buy into that idea.”

Before joining HPL in 2018, Weaver was with the Toronto District School Board as manager of collections and extension services for 13 years. In that role, she coordinated operations with the largest library system in Canada and worked with diverse communities to expand digital access to learning materials for students. Weaver was honored by the Ontario School Library Association with the 2006 Mover and Shaker Award and the 2016 Award for Technical Service.

The motivation in all her work is simple: “I just really believe the library should be there for everyone, where they are and when they need it.”  

Librarians Kanta Kapoor and Lisa Radha Weaver to Receive 2021 Internet Archive Hero Award

Announced today at the Library Leaders Forum, librarians Kanta Kapoor (Manager, Support Services, Milton Public Library) and Lisa Radha Weaver (Director, Collections and Program Development, Hamilton Public Library) will each receive this year’s Internet Archive Hero Award for helping their communities stay connected to digital books during the pandemic. They will be presented their awards at next week’s Library Leaders Forum session—register now.

The Internet Archive Hero Award is an annual award that recognizes those who have exhibited leadership in making information available for digital learners all over the world. Previous recipients have included librarian and professor of law Michelle Wu, Phillips Academy, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the Grateful Dead.

This year, we were looking for libraries and librarians who rose to the challenge—this was the year that libraries and librarians have been needed like never before. We wanted to acknowledge the hard work of people who went above and beyond to meet the needs of their communities.

Kanta and Lisa both exemplify the spirit of an Internet Archive Hero:

  • They helped both of their organizations become early adopters of Controlled Digital Lending in 2019. Of course no one knew it at the time, but that early move helped their patrons stay connected to resources throughout library closures of 2020 and 2021 by already having tens of thousands of digitized books available through each library’s participation in the Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program.
  • They donated collections to the Internet Archive that no longer fit their library’s local collection development priorities, so that we could preserve and digitize the books, and make them available to digital learners everywhere. You can learn more about the theater books donated from Hamilton Public Library and the 30,000 books donated by Milton Public Library.
  • They were resources to their professional networks, acting as a point of reference for other librarians interested in learning more about Controlled Digital Lending.
  • They thought broadly about access to collections, considering not only, “What helps my local community?” but also, “What helps the global community?”

In addition to their shared achievements, they also brought their individual strengths to their work:

Kanta’s persistent, steady, and polite pushes—whether about donations logistics, joining Open Libraries, or offering suggestions to expand the program—are what it takes to make things happen. Kanta’s gracious and humble nature belie her steely resolve and approach to program advancement: Kanta just kept at it, politely, until she got the results that she thought was right for her library and her community.

Lisa has joined discussions about Controlled Digital Lending since 2019, participating in several panel presentations for librarians and even participating in discussions with US lawmakers and policy experts alongside ALA Annual in Washington, D.C. Lisa’s professionalism and thoughtfulness helped librarians new to the practice of Controlled Digital Lending understand how their library could benefit.

Celebrate

Join with us in celebrating Kanta and Lisa at next week’s Library Leaders Forum. Registration is free for the virtual event.

Library Leaders Forum
October 20 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET – Register now

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

The kind of materials that Stanford English professor Margaret Cohen uses in her work, including the history of ocean travel in the period known as the “Age of Sail,” can be difficult to find.

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

Books and illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries needed in her research and teaching are often tucked away in rare book collections. For about five years, Cohen has been turning to the Internet Archive for help. And that access was even more critical during the pandemic when physical libraries were closed.

“It’s really enriched the arguments I can make about cultural history,” Cohen said. “The availability of documents and the very intensive work of tracking these down has become so much easier. The Internet Archive is a very user-friendly tool.”

The Biodiversity Heritage Library has been a resource to Cohen in teaching her English class, Imagining the Ocean. She has discovered manuals from Philip Henry Gosse, who created the first public aquarium, envisioning them as beautiful ocean gardens.  Cohen also shares her screen with students to discuss drawings of the sails, seashore and sea-anemones from the Victorian Age that she accesses through the Archive.

Actinologia britannica, 1860, Plate V.

“Access to the history of science is useful to me. I’m a literature professor, but the imagination spans across different areas,” said Cohen, the Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French Language, Literature, and Civilization and Director, Center for the Study of the Novel.

In her own research of oceanic studies, Cohen explores the importance of diversity and reality in marine environments. She tapped into the Internet Archive to fact-check information for A Cultural History of the Sea, (Bloomsbury, April 2021), a six-volume series that she edited chronicling the vital role oceans have played over time.

In researching her upcoming book, The Underwater Eye: How the Movie Camera Opened the Depths and Unleashed New Realms of Fantasy to be published by Princeton University Press, Cohen said the Wayback Machine was critical in confirming sources on websites that were no longer live.

Punch, 1879, Vol 76

The Sci-Fi/Horror collection of the Internet Archive has been useful to Cohen in teaching a course on Gothic film—especially since YouTube recently took down many of its films in that genre, she said.

Much of the material Cohen is looking for is in the public domain (such as Punch, a satirical British magazine that dates back to the mid-1800s ) but the documents are fragile because of their age. She has also  appreciated being able to borrow classic books of literary criticism, such as the collection on novel studies that supports her graduate course, Genres of the Novel. 

 “People’s time is limited and having access to this material facilitates scholarship,” Cohen said of the benefits of digitized documents. “I understand why publishers need to make money and I publish myself, but free access to information, particularly for nonprofit use, is a gift.”

Graduate Student: Internet Archive an “absolutely indispensable resource”

Although Casey Patterson spent much of the COVID-19 lockdown in a dank San Francisco basement apartment, he says he felt lucky in many ways.

The graduate student in English from Stanford University stayed healthy and—despite not having physical access to a library—was able to research his dissertation, teach classes, and prepare for job interviews. This was possible because of online access to materials through the Internet Archive.

Graduate student and educator, Casey Patterson

Patterson, who is entering the sixth year of his doctoral program, offered to teach an online African American literature class to undergraduates as soon as COVID-19 shut down the campus and the university shifted to virtual instruction.

“I just felt a degree of duty to sign up for a lot of teaching. I wanted to be able to support students and knew the transition to online education was going to be rocky,” said Patterson, who also taught an Intro to Black Studies course during the pandemic. “It was chaotic. Obviously, we had a really tough time trying to figure out how to keep students engaged and make education a humane process.”

Instead of expecting students to buy several books, and without the ability for them to check out books in a library, Patterson turned to the Internet Archive. Patterson found works of Black critics such as Toni Morrison and C.L.R. James and their writings about 19th century authors Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Melville to use in class. He downloaded classics including Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn to the Canvas learning management system and made them immediately available to students.

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

Casey Patterson, graduate student

“It’s super helpful when you’re asking students to read 10 short passages from three different novels,” Patterson said of using the Internet Archive. “It would be cruel to ask them to buy all of the books or track them down to the library. This way you put them right at the students’ fingertips.”

Patterson also relied on text from the Internet Archive for his own research. For his dissertation, he is examining the role of educational history as a way of understanding African American literary studies and the institutionalization of Black studies as a discipline.

This spring, he interviewed for an academic job in which he was asked to prepare a lesson plan syllabus for a teaching demonstration. Having access to The Book of American Negro Poetry, works of African-American poet Phillis Wheatley, and essays by Alice Walker enabled Patterson to put together materials from the convenience of his apartment on a tight deadline.

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

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

In the summer of 2019, Patterson had used the Internet Archive in his Fandom research, another area of interest. He’d run across a citation to a website that was no longer available online and was able to track it down through the Wayback Machine. But since the pandemic, Patterson says he’s come to value the Internet Archive for its collection of primary sources.

“Knowledge is for everybody. The more we can do to break down the barriers that make it inaccessible, the better off everyone is,” said Patterson. “The Internet Archive is one great example of how we can do that almost with a click of a button.”

Reading Online Books a “Highlight” for Students During Pandemic

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

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

Educator and graduate student Luca Messarra.

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

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

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

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

Back to School with the Internet Archive: Fall 2021

Back in March 2020, teachers were asking themselves a nearly unthinkable question: “How are we going to get books in students’ hands with our schools & libraries closed?” We’ve heard from hundreds of teachers about the challenges they faced in connecting remote learners with books during COVID. Here is their story:

And here we are in August of 2021, with another school year about to start, and educators are still asking this same question. As a nonprofit dedicated to Universal Access to All Knowledge, the Internet Archive provides a number of free resources for parents, students, teachers, and librarians around the world. Check out these tools for remote learning:

Curated Collections

  • Our site is packed with free, kid-friendly learning resources
  • Looking for ways to bring diverse representation into your classroom reading? Find books that support the LGBT+ community in Open Library.
  • In 2015, ten-year-old Marley Dias set out to increase representation of books in which black girls are the main character with her #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign. Inspired by Marley, we want to support schools to make learning more inclusive. Find more than 300 of the curated titles in our library. 

Lesson Plans

  • Looking for lesson plans? Browse our collection to find detailed notes on hundreds of books and themes this summer, including Gulliver’s Travels and Don Quixote.
  • Do your students struggle with math? Online tutor The Math Sorcerer has put together a list of math books and resources for self-studying, covering a range of topics and abilities. Borrow the books and help your students gain confidence with math.

Tips for Using Our Library

How long can I borrow a book? How many books can I check out at once? Find all the information you need to know about borrowing books from the lending library in our online tutorials and get reading!

Learn More

Follow #LearnWithIA on Twitter throughout the month of August for additional tips & resources!