To celebrate National Library Week 2022, we are taking readers behind the scenes to Meet the Librarians who work at the Internet Archive and in associated programs.
Alexis Rossi has always loved books and connecting others with information. After receiving her undergraduate degree in English and creative writing, she became a book editor and then worked in online news.
In 2006, Rossi joined the staff of the Internet Archive. She was working on the launch of the Open Library project when she recognized the need to learn more about how to best organize materials. She enrolled at San Jose State University and earned her Master’s of Library and Information Science in 2010.
“It gave me a better grasp of how to hierarchically organize information in a way that is sensible and useful to other libraries,” Rossi said. “It also gave me better familiarity with how other more traditional libraries actually work—the types of data and systems they use.”
Rossi concentrated on web interfaces for library information, understanding digital metadata, and how to operate as a digital librarian. In addition to overseeing the Open Library project, at the Internet Archive, Rossi managed a revamp of the organization’s website, ran the Wayback Machine for four years, founded the webwide crawling program, and is currently a librarian and director of media & access.
“One of the themes of my life is trying to empower people to do whatever they want to do,” said Rossi, who grew up in Monterey, California, and now lives in San Francisco. “Giving people the resources to teach themselves—whatever they want to learn—is my driving force.”
Rossi acknowledges she is privileged to have means to avail herself to an abundance of information, while many in other parts of the world do not. There are so many societal problems she cannot solve, Rossi said, but she believes her work is making a contribution.
“We can build a library that allows people to access information for free, wherever they are, and however they can get to it, in whatever way. That, to me, is incredibly important,” Rossi said. It’s also rewarding to help patrons discover new information and recover materials they may have thought were lost, she added.
When she’s not working, Rossi enjoys making funky jewelry and elaborate cakes (a skill she learned on YouTube).
Among the millions of items and collections in the Internet Archive, what is Rossi’s favorite? Video and audio recordings of her dad, now 73, playing the piano, organ and accordion: “It’s just so good. It’s such a perfect little piece of history.”
Filmmakers responded with enthusiasm and creativity to a call from the Internet Archive to make short films using newly available content from 1925 in celebration of Public Domain Day. They discovered a new freedom in being able to remix film clips with Greta Garbo, magazine covers with flappers, and sheet music from standards like “Sweet Georgia Brown” – all downloadable for free and reusable without restriction.
For the contest, vintage images and sounds were woven into films of 2-3 minutes that conveyed a sense of whimsy, nostalgia, and humor. While some were abstract and others educational, they all showcased ingenuity and possibility when materials are openly available to the public.
“The Internet Archive has spent 24 years collecting and archiving content from around the world…now is the time to see what people can do with it,” said Amir Saber Esfahani, director of special arts projects at the Internet Archive. He was a judge in the December short-film contest along with Carey Hott, professor of art and design at the University of San Francisco, and Brewster Kahle, digital librarian and founder of the Internet Archive.
The judges reviewed 23 entries and chose a winner based on creativity, variety of 1925 content (including lists of all sources), and fit for the event (fun, interesting and captivating). These new creative works may also be available for reuse, as indicated by the license term selected by the creator.
First place: Danse des Aliénés
Joshua Curry, a digital artist from San Jose, won first place for his submission, Danse des Aliénés (Dance of the Insane), in which he layers pieces of film on three panes with images rising and falling music to “Dance Macabre” (Dance of Death) performed by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. The format was inspired by the poem dramatized in triptych in the short film In Youth, Beside the Lonely Sea. His creation included flashes of Greta Garbo, ghosts from Koko Sees Spooks and colorful designs flowing in and out of the frames.
Curry, who has been making experimental videos since the 1980s, says the project was a perfect fit for his artist techniques, where he likes to stress and transform film in new ways. His film had a glitchy, broken feel that is in line with the aesthetic he often uses (See his other work at lucidbeaming.com.)
“I wanted it to be evocative and for people to appreciate it as a stand-alone piece of art,” says Curry, 49. “My visual goal was to produce something challenging that a wide variety of people could connect to – despite being mostly abstract and sourced from 95-year-old content.”
While Curry’s studio is modern and full of electronic equipment, working with the 1925 content and hearing music with cartoonish voices making novelty, popping sounds their cheeks was a welcome break. “One day when I was choosing the music, I was driving around the city listening to songs and felt like I was transported back in time,” Curry says.
He says it was also a pleasure to have easy access to the public domain content without commercial gatekeeping or legal obstacles, which he often encounters with digital material he wants to remix. As it happens, Curry just completed a class in multimedia copyright. He says he works hard to operate within the rules because he wants his video creations to survive online and not be taken down because of copyright infringement allegations.
Having the works for this project in the public domain meant less time trying to get the content and more time to focus on the creative process. “It was like being a little kid who was told he couldn’t have cake and then one day saying: ‘Dive in!’,” Curry said of the access to the 1925 material in the Internet Archive.
Receiving the contest’s top honors was particularly meaningful, says Curry, because he works in Silicon Valley where the Internet Archive has “great nerd cred” and is a library that people revere.
“I was proud to win with weirdness,” Curry says. “My piece was abstract, without narration or titles, and an authentic tribute to the pioneering work of the experimental films I made use of.”
To learn more about Curry’s inspirations and to hear from him directly, watch the director’s commentary that was captured during the Public Domain Day event.
Arden Spivack-Teather, 12, and Sissel Ramierz, 13, both of San Francisco, won third place for their short film, Fashion of the 1920s. It traces the evolution of women’s clothing from tight-fitting styles that required corsets to drop-waisted, loose dresses popularized by flappers. “Women could finally be chic and comfortable at the same time,” the film notes. “Every time you notice a fabulous flowing frock, thank the 20s.”
Arden found out about the contest through her mom, Cari Spivack, a staff member at the Internet Archive, and decided to partner with her friend, Sissel, a classmate since kindergarten who she had collaborated with for a winning science fair project in fifth grade. On Zoom and FaceTime, the girls looked through old McCalls magazines and decided to focus on the changing style of women’s clothing.
“It was really fun to use our creativity and find things that would look good together,” said Arden, who had never before made a film. Although the research, script and editing were a challenge, she says she hopes to do it again.
Spivack said she enjoyed seeing her daughter explore the material in the Archive, giggling and musing at the kitchen table about the tonics and ads she discovered. “It was exactly what I was hoping would happen — that they would be gripped by fascination of a time period that was long gone. They could travel back and learn on their own, paging through a magazine just like someone their age would have in 1925.”
The diversity of approaches people had with the films was impressive, added Spivack.
“It’s a good introduction to what can be done with old materials. You can use them to learn and to educate others. Or you can reuse them to make something that’s completely unexpected or never seen before,” Spivack said. “As archivists everything is important. But you don’t know why until you see what it can turn into or what it informs in the future.”
Yo Hey Look!by Adam Dziesinski, which pieced together film clips where something caught an actor’s eye, from a baby in a wicker stroller to a woman with a bob haircut dancing to a man in a Bowler hat laughing.
Michaela Giles made a time-lapse film of her using oil pastels, pencils, paints, and pens to draw a profile of a woman gracing the front of a vintage publication in 1925 Magazine Cover Recreation.
Public Domain Day by Subhashish Panigrahi explained the basics of how copyright works with text interspersed with cartoon clips, colorful paintings, and magazine covers.
25 Dad Jokes from 1925 by Anirvan Chatterjee was a compilation of jokes gathered from vintage middle school and high school yearbooks from Iowa, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Oregon, California. Among the corny humor: “Why is the ocean so angry? It’s been crossed too many times,” and “What are the three most often words used in school? I don’t know.”
The films were shown at the December 17 Public Domain Day virtual party, where the creators were asked to discuss their projects in breakout room discussions. You can view a livestream of the event here.
On January 1st, 2021, many books, movies and other media from 1925 will enter the public domain in the United States. Some of them are quite famous — jump ahead to see lists of those well known books and movies that you can enjoy on the Internet Archive — or take the scenic route with me.
What does this all mean? Essentially, many items created in 1925 in the US that are still under copyright will become free and open for people to use in any way they see fit in the new year. But check out Duke Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain article for a more in-depth explanation.
As part of this yearly ritual, I explore our collections to unearth these newly freed items, and I invariably run across a few things that hit a nerve. This year, it started with this intertitle in “Isn’t Life Terrible?” Less than 20 seconds into this 1925 film, and suddenly I’m dumped back into 2020.
Rude, right? I don’t even have a front yard to enjoy during shelter in place.
Gondolas still glide under the Bridge of Sighs, and the Tower of Pisa is still leaning, but the 1925 version of the Colosseum certainly lacks today’s fake gladiator photo ops.
Looking at the past with the eyes of today
Every toe dipped into the past has the potential to surprise or shock. The story of a pantry shelf, an outline history of grocery specialties is only mildly interesting on the surface. Essentially, it’s a sales pitch to food manufacturers encouraging them to advertise in a set of women’s magazines. The book contains short case histories of successful food brands like Maxwell House Coffee, Campbell Soup, Coca Cola, etc. (all of whom advertise with them, naturally).
The book gives you a glimpse of why people were so enthusiastic about mass produced, packaged foods. Unsanitary conditions, bugs in your sugar, milk going bad over night; things modern shoppers never think about.
It puts this glowing praise of Kraft Cheese into perspective: “…a pasteurized product, blended to obtain a uniformity of quality and flavor, a thing greatly lacking in ordinary types of cheese.” (page 149)
That’s pretty entertaining if you’re a cheese lover. I think most people would agree that Kraft cheese is no longer on the cutting edge.
But keep poking around and you find a much deeper cultural divergence. While The story of a pantry shelf is extolling the virtues of the home economics training available at Cornell, you stumble across this horrifying sentence (page 12).
I was not expecting to read about orphaned babies being used as “learning aids” while flipping through stories about Jell-O. Intellectually, I know that attitudes towards children have changed over the years — the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set federal standards for child labor, wasn’t even passed until 1938. But this casual aside tossed in amongst the marketing hype still packs an emotional punch. It’s important to remember how far we have come.
Even writing that was forward-thinking for the time, like the booklet Homo-sexual life, is terribly backward according to today’s standards. It’s from the Little Blue Book series — we have many that were published in 1925, and the publisher was quite prolific for many years. The series provided working class people with inexpensive access to all kinds of topics including philosophy, sexuality, science, religion, law, and government. Post WWII, they published criticism of J. Edgar Hoover and the founder was subsequently targeted by the FBI for tax evasion. But in 1925, they were going strong and one of their prolific writers was Clarence Darrow.
Controversies of the Age
Darrow was writing about prohibition for the Little Blue Book series in 1925, but that is also the year he defended John T. Scopes for teaching evolution in his Tennessee classroom. The Scopes Trial generated a huge amount of publicity, pitting religion against science, and even giving rise to popular songs like these two 78rpm recordings from 1925.
Like the Scopes trial, prohibition had its passionate adherents and detractors. This was the “Roaring 20s” — the year The Great Gatsby was published — with speakeasies and flappers and iconic cocktails. And yet the pro-prohibition silent film Episodes in the Life of a Gin Bottle follows a bottle around as it lures people into a state of dissolution.
And the most unchanging part of this particular season, of course — children still anticipate the arrival of Santa Claus with questions, wishes and schemes.
The silent film Santa Claus features two children who want to know where Saint Nick lives and how he spends his time. We follow him to the North Pole (Alaska in disguise) to see Santa’s workshop, snow castle, reindeer, and friends and neighbors. Jack Frost, introduced around 14:20, appears to be wearing the prototype for Ralphie’s bunny suit in “A Christmas Story” (but with a magic wand). Stick around for the sleigh crash at 20:45, and right around 22:20 Santa wipes out on the ice.
And just in case you’re still doing your holiday shopping, I feel like I should pass on a recommendation from this ad in a 1925 The Billboard magazine: Armadillo Baskets make beautiful Christmas gifts. And you can still buy vintage versions online – trust me, I looked. You’re welcome.
Juneteenth celebrates when enslaved people actually became free in 1865. The date, June 19th, commemorates General Gordon Granger of the Union Army announcing the executive order in Galveston, Texas, freeing all enslaved people in Texas.
Community access TV stations around the country have shown local celebrations of Juneteenth for years, and we thought this 2013 talk by Dr. Shennette Garrett-Scott at the Allen Public Library in Texas (via Allen City TV) was particularly helpful in understanding the history of this important day.
Commercial radio broadcasting began in the 1920s, bringing entertainment, news and music into people’s homes. Now, instead of needing to play a 78rpm disc on your phonograph, you could just tune in to listen to popular songs.
But why are we focusing on 1923? Because for the first time in 20 years, new works are entering the public domain in the United States (read more: 1,2, 3). And those works were all published in, you guessed it, 1923.
Afghan Media Resource Center’s correspondent interviewing a Muj Commander, 1991
Journalists and others risk their lives to keep the public informed in times of conflict. War imagery provides us with important information in the moment, and creates a trove of invaluable archival content for the future.
Please be aware that this collection contains some disturbing photos of violence and its aftermath (though we have not included any in this blog post).
The Afghan Media Resource Center (AMRC) was founded in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1987, by a team of media trainers working under contract to Boston University. The goal of the project was to assist Afghans to produce and distribute accurate and reliable accounts of the Afghan war to news agencies and television networks throughout the world. Beginning in the early 1980’s amidst a news blackout imposed by the Soviet backed Kabul government, foreign journalists had become targets to be captured or killed. The AMRC was an effort to overcome the substantial obstacles encountered by media representatives in bringing events surrounding the Afghan-Soviet war to world attention.
An armed Muj posing for the camera, 1988
Beginning in 1987, a series of six week training sessions were conducted at the AMRC original home in University Town, Peshawar, Pakistan. Qualified Afghans were recruited from all major political parties, all major ethnic groups and all regions of Afghanistan, to receive professional training in print journalism, photo journalism and video news production. Haji Sayed Daud, a former television producer and journalist at Kabul TV before the Soviet invasion, was named AMRC Director.
After the completion of their training, 3-person teams were dispatched on specific stories throughout Afghanistan’s 27 provinces, with 35mm cameras, video cameras, notebooks, and audio tape recorders. Photo materials were distributed internationally through SYGMA and Agence France Press (AFP). Video material was syndicated and broadcast by VisNews (now Reuters), with 150 broadcasters in 87 countries, Euronews and London-based WTN (now Associated Press), Thames Television, ITN, Swedish, French, Pakistani and other regional networks.
A young girl carrying clean drinking water, 1989
In 2000 AMRC began publishing a popular and influential newspaper in Kabul: ERADA (Intention). With one interruption, ERADA publication continued until 2012.
Beyond the AMRC archive, the AMRC conducted dozens of training programs and workshops for writers and radio journalists, including training programs for Refugee Women in Development (REFWID). The AMRC also established radio and TV studios in the provincial capitaol, Jalalabad, and produced radio and TV programs, including educational radio dramas, for a variety of international organizations. AMRC also conducted public opinion polls in Afghanistan, including an extensive Media Use Survey in Afghanistan, financed by InterMedia, a Washington, D.C. group.
Armed Muj pulling out an unexploded missile, 1989
The AMRC collection spans a critical period in Afghanistan’s history – (1987 – 1994), including 76,000 photographs, 1,175 hours of video material, 356 hours of audio material, and many stories from print media.
An Afghan weaving carpet, 1990
In 2012 AMRC received a grant to digitize the entire AMRC archive, to preserve the collection at the U.S. Library of Congress. AMRC senior media advisors Stephen Olsson and Nick Mills were trained in the digitization processes by the Library of Congress, then spent two weeks in Kabul training the AMRC staff. The digitization and metadata sheets (in English, Dari and Pashto) were completed in 2016, and were welcomed into the Library of Congress with a formal ceremony. We are now making the entire AMRC collection available through our on-line partner, The Internet Archive.
Now the entire collection is readily available to scholars, researchers and publishers. All royalties for commercial use of the photo images and video material will continue to support the non-profit work of the AMRC.
Jason Scott, free-range archivist, reporting in as 2017 draws to a close.
As part of our end-of-year fundraising drive, I thought it might be fun to tweet highlighted parts of the vast stacks of content that the Internet Archive makes available for free to millions. A lot of folks know about our Wayback Machine and its 20+ years of website history, but there’s petabytes of media and works available to see throughout the site. I called it “30 Days of Stuff”, and for the last 30 days I’ve been pointing out great items at the Archive, once a day.
You won’t have to swim upstream through my tweets; here on the last day, I’ve compiled the highlighted items in this entry. Enjoy these jewels in the Archive’s collection, a small sample of the wide range of items we provide.
Books and Texts
The Latch Key of my Bookhouse was one of the first books scanned by the Internet Archive in its book scanner tests, and it’s a 1921 directory of Children’s Literature that is filled with really nice illustrations that came out great.
Also in the DTIC collection is The Battalion Commander’s Handbook 1980, which besides the crazy front page of stamps, approvals and sign-offs, is basically a manager’s handbook written from the point of view of the US Army.
There are hundreds of tractor manuals at the Archive. Hundreds! Of all types, languages (a lot of them Russian) and level of information. Tractors are one of those tools that can last generations and keeping the maintenance on them in the field can make a huge difference in livelihood.
A lovely 1904 catalog for plums called The Maynard Plum Catalogue was scanned in with one of our partner organizations and it’s a breathless and inspiring declaration of the future wonder of the plums this wizard of plum-growing, Luther Burbank, was bringing to the world.
Xerox Corporation released “A Metamorphosis of Creative Copying” in 1964, which seems to function as both promotion for Xerox and a weird gift to give to your kids to color in.
In 2014, a short zine called The Tao of Bitcoin was released, telling people the dream of $10,000 bitcoin would be real.
The 1888 chapbook Goody Two-Shoes has lovely illustrations, and a fine short story.
Inside that directory was an ad for a school of whistling that said it taught using the methods of Agnes Woodward, and a quick scan of the Archive’s stacks showed that we had an entire copy of her book Whistling as an Art!
The medical treatise Sleep and Its Derangements, from 1869, is William A. Hammond, MD’s overview of sleep, and what can go wrong. Scanned from the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, it’s one of many thousands of books we’ve scanned with partners.
Let Hartman Feather Your Nest could be described as “A furniture catalog” in the same way the Sistine Chapel could be described as “a place of worship”. The catalog is a thundering, fist-pounding declaration of the superiority of the Hartman enterprise and the quality and breadth of furniture and service that will arrive at your door and be backed up to the far reaches of time.
Photoplay considered itself the magazine for the motion picture industry in the first part of the 20th century, and this multi-volume compilation of photos, articles and advertisements is a truly lovely overview.
A magazine created by the Walt Disney Company to trumpet various parts of Disneyland and its attractions was called Vacationland, and this Fall 1965 issue covers all sorts of stuff about the park’s first decade.
Rescued from a warehouse years ago, a collection of Hollywood movie “B-Roll”, unused secondary scenes often filmed by different crew, has been digitized. My personal favorite is [Western Film Scenes], which is circa 1950s footage of a Western Town, all of it utterly fake but feeling weirdly real, to be used in a western. Don’t miss everyone standing around looking right at you and looking like they agree quite energetically with you!
No compilation could be complete without the legendary Duck and Cover, a cartoon/PSA that explained the simple ways to avoid injury in a nuclear blast. Just lie down! It’ll be fine. Please note: This Probably Won’t Work. But the song is very catchy.
The very weird Electric Film Format Acid Test from 1990 has a semi-interested model holding up a color bar plate in a wide, wide variety of film and video formats. Filmed just a few blocks away from the Internet Archive’s current headquarters.
I snuck in a 1992 interview with the Archive’s founder, Brewster Kahle, back when he was 33 and working at WAIS, a company or two before the Archive and where he is asked about his thoughts on information and gathering of data. It’s quite interesting to hear the consistency of thought.
The Office of War Information worked with Disney to create “Dental Health“, a film to show to troops about proper dental care. It’s a combination of straightforward animation and industrial film-making worth enjoying.
We have a collection of hours of the radio show The Shadow from 1938-1939, starring Orson Welles at 23, at the height of his performance powers, playing the dual main role.
For Christmas Eve, we pointed to “Christmas Chopsticks”, a 1953 78rpm record of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” performed to the tune of the classic piano piece “Chopsticks”; one of tens of thousands of 78rpm records the Archive has been adding this year.
On Christmas, a user of the Archive uploaded two obscure albums he’d purchased on eBay – remnants of the S. S. Kresge Company, which became K-Mart, and which were played over the PA system for shoppers. He got his hands on Albums #261 and #294.
Earlier in the month before the user uploaded those Christmas albums, I linked to a different holiday collection of K-Mart items, a 1974 Reel-to-Reel that started with a K-Mart jingle and went full holiday from there.
Before he was a (retired) talk show host, and before he was a stand-up comedian, David Letterman worked and trained in radio. Happily, we have recordings of Dave Letterman, DJ, from when he was 22, at Ball State University.
Ron “Boogiemonster” Gerber has been hosting his weekly pop music recycling radio show, “Crap from the Past”, for over 25 years, and he’s been uploading and cataloging his show to the Archive for well over 10 of those years, including all the way back to the beginning of his show. The full Crap From The Past archive is up and is hundreds of hours of fun.
The truly weird “Conquer the Video Craze” is a 1982 record album with straightforward descriptions of how to beat games like Centipede, Defender, Stargate, Dig Dug, and more. This album has been sampled from by multiple DJs to bring that extra spice to a track.
Over 3,000 shows at the DNA Lounge are at the archive, including “Bootie: Gamer Night“, which combines mash-up tracks and video games. Bootie has been playing at DNA Lounge for years, and puts the audio from one song with the singing from another, and… it’s quite addicting, like games. This night was for the nearby Game Developers’ Conference being held the same week.
In 2011, as part of a “retrocomputing” competition, we saw the release of “Paku-Paku”, a pac-clone program which ran in an obscure early PC-Compatible graphics mode that was very colorful and very small (160×100) and was built perfectly for it. You can play the game in your browser by clicking here.
Psion Chess is a game for the Macintosh that can play both you and itself with pretty high levels of skill and really sharp and crisp black and white graphics. It makes a really great screensaver in self-playing mode.
People often overuse a phrase like “Barely scratched the surface”, but I assure you there are millions of amazing items in the archive, and it’s been a pleasure to bring some to light. While the 30 Days of Stuff was a fun way to stretch out a month of fundraising with stuff to see every day, we’re here 24/7 to bring you all these items, and welcome you finding jewels, gems and clunkers throughout our hard drives whenever you want.
Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles (2016, 83 minutes) is an experimental documentary tracing the changing city of Los Angeles (1920s-1960s), showing how its landscape expresses an almost infinite collection of mythologies. Made from home movies and studio-produced “process plates” — background images of the city shot by studio cinematographers for rear projection in feature films — Lost Landscapes depicts places, people, work and daily life during a period of rapid urban development. While audience members are encouraged to comment, discuss and ask questions during the screening of this silent film, it is also a contemplative film that shows the life and growth of the U.S.’s preeminent Western metropolis as the sum of countless individual acts.
Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles is the latest of Rick Prelinger’s “urban history film events,” featuring rediscovered and largely-unseen archival film footage arranged into feature-length programs. Unlike most screenings, the audience makes the soundtrack — viewers are encouraged to identify places, people and events; ask questions; and engage with fellow audience members. While the films show Los Angeles as it was, the event encourages viewers to think about (and share) their ideas for the city’s future. What kind of a city do we want to live in?
Rick Prelinger is an archivist, filmmaker, and educator. He teaches at UC Santa Cruz and is a board member of Internet Archive. His films made from archival material have played at festivals, museums, theaters, and educational institutions around the world. Lost Landscapes of San Francisco (11 episodes, 2006-2016) plays every autumn in San Francisco. He has also made urban history films in Oakland and Detroit, and is currently producing a New York film for an autumn premiere. He thanks Internet Archive and its staff for making this film possible.
Join us for an evening of fun, nostalgia and learning with a screening of the rarest, corniest and weirdest films from the Internet Archive’s collection of Educational Media. This curated screening of digitized and 16mm films will also include favorites as voted by IA users and staff.