Like campuses across the country, Howard University in Washington, D.C., shut down last March when COVID-19 hit. Most of its nearly 6,000 undergraduate students have been remote learning ever since.
Without access to the physical library, demand for e-books has increased. The university recently joined the Open Libraries program to expand the digital materials that students can borrow. Through the program, users can check out a digital version of a book the library owns using controlled digital lending (CDL).
Amy Phillips, head of technical services for Howard University Libraries, learned about the opportunity last fall through the Washington Research Library Consortium. Howard is one of nine D.C.-area libraries in the nonprofit consortium, which recently collaborated with the Internet Archive to do an overlap analysis of its shared collection. When the digital materials became available to use for free through the consortia, Howard decided to join, too.
After Alisha Strother, metadata librarian, ran an analysis of books in the Howard collection by International Standard Book Number (ISBN), it was discovered that more than 14,000 books matched a copy that the Internet Archive had acquired and digitized. Howard decided to join the Open Libraries program in January. This means that students can now check out these Howard books from across the country as they engage in online instruction.
“I see this as being an important resource for students to be able to access materials from anywhere,” Phillips said. “And I think it will have value and be heavily utilized even when we are back on campus.”
Howard is one of nearly 100 historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the United States. One of Howard’s most important entities is the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, which is recognized as one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive repositories for the documentation of the history and cultural of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas and other parts of the world. Portions of its materials are also now available for digital borrowing through the Open Libraries program. The collection will now have greater exposure since it had previously only been accessible onsite for researchers who scheduled appointments.
“This opens up a premier collection to public usage. From a scholarly and cultural point of view, this material is very much in demand,” Phillips said. “Looking forward, we think it will get a lot of traffic.”
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color, prompting Howard to be cautious and extending online learning into the spring semester for most all students, Phillips said. The university is doing all it can to connect students with resources and its libraries have been investing more in digital items. But budgets are limited and licensing agreements curb the library’s ability to broadly lend e-books.
“The Internet Archive has been an important way to open up more library materials to students,” said Phillips, adding that it’s new and just beginning to be promoted to students and faculty. “We’re excited and we know this will have a positive impact on student success and scholarship.”
Since 2016, a global community of developers, organizers, entrepreneurs, and academics have gathered to share ideas and approaches to building a Decentralized Web. The DWeb they dreamt of would stand in stark contrast to today’s Web, where a handful of powerful, centralized corporations rule over our data, social networks, and network infrastructure. The DWeb would enable people to have control over their own digital lives. In order to “lock the Web open,” DWeb infrastructure would be distributed itself, in ways that could be foolproof against concentrated control. And as Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle also said, it’s a Web that needs to be more “private, secure, and fun”.
While several thousand people have participated in DWeb-related events and discussions organized by the Internet Archive, we still lacked a general consensus about the principles we collectively stand for. What values do we share beyond giving people more control, and not being “centralized”? What specific features did DWeb projects need to have to be considered, well, DWeb? These were the underlying questions that motivated us to create these DWeb Principles.
What are the shared values of the DWeb community?
The Internet Archive has been one of the lead organizers of DWeb events since 2014. As one of the world’s largest repositories of online knowledge and culture, the Internet Archive has a stake in ensuring that the Web remains free and open. It has brought together those who are transparent about their approaches and are interested in engaging across projects to learn and collaborate.
It would have been impossible to capture what the DWeb means for everyone in these principles. That’s why from the onset, this project was meant to exemplify the values of a specific group of people—those who continue to show up and engage in these conversations about the DWeb. That includes large organizations, community networks, individual developers, policy people, artists, and journalists. Each in their own way, they’re creating building blocks of a Decentralized Web that actively invites participation.
Why create yet another set of principles?
As stewards, we felt that we needed to crystallize the shared vision of this community, to demonstrate how and why we are building a Decentralized Web. Our aim is to identify our guiding principles through discussion and distill them into a living document that we can point to. It is to create a set of practical guiding values as we design and build the Web of the future.
But beyond the document itself, the objective is to help set some ethical norms for the DWeb. If we all see ourselves as contributors to the Web, we hope these values will help people examine what they are building and for what purpose. It is to inspire projects that are driven by these values, and to hold each other accountable to ensure we continue to uphold them.
How We Developed DWeb Principles Version 1.0
John Conor Ryan and I began to work on these principles beginning in May 2020. Wendy Hanamura, Director of Partnerships at the Internet Archive, asked us jointly to lead this project. Though we agreed on many things, we also brought starkly different perspectives and experiences around what it meant to build tech for good. Those differences created a healthy environment for open exchange.
So how do you develop something as centralized as a unified set of principles for a diverse, decentralized group? In order to have something to work with, the two of us began by creating a draft ourselves. It was meant to be a starting point, a mound of clay that could be reformed and moulded by active participants in the DWeb space.
From there, we went through several rounds of reshaping, with the editing process involving over 30 individuals. These were the phases of its development:
Phase 1: Initial Draft — The stewards of the project, Mai and John, drafted a rough document for the DWeb community to discuss and consider. It was commented on and edited by other contributors. (May – Jun 2020)
Phase 2: First Feedback — Introduced the project to individuals in the DWeb community and solicited their comments and ideas. Presented the working draft at the DWeb Meetup on July 29, 2020. (Jun – Sep 2020)
Phase 3: Focus Groups — Held a series of focus group conversations with DWeb community members about the Principles to discuss intent, purpose, and future application (Sep – Dec 2020).
Phase 4: Revise Principles — Incorporate feedback from focus group discussions into the draft Principles. (Dec 2020)
Phase 5: Second Feedback & Gather Support — Solicit final round of feedback on the Principles. (Jan 2021)
Phase 6: Publish the Principles — Launch the first version of the Principles on the DWeb website. Hold DWeb Meet-up to launch the new website and present Principles. (Feb 2021)
Every single word in this document was thoroughly and repeatedly dissected and examined. What were the implications of certain terminologies? For example, what is presumed when we use the word “empower” versus “enable”? Why did we decide not to use the term “user”, and instead opt for “people” or “individual”? We worked with the contributors to be as deliberate as possible with our language.
It was through this process that we illuminated something crucial about the aims of the Decentralized Web community: That it is about more than the technical infrastructure, it is about social and organizational norms and aspirations. Technical specifications can enable or prevent certain outcomes, of course. But what is fundamental and subversive about this Decentralized Web movement is that it is about elevating both individual and collective human agency. It is about creating more just and equitable relations between people, and creating networks that help us address the urgent challenges, not exacerbate them.
A large part of this project was reflecting on the inherited dynamics that we take for granted with the internet we have today. By putting into words our shared ideals for a better web of the future, we had to shed certain assumptions about what constitutes success.
Our contributors continued to point to other sets of principles that articulate values raised in this one, but often with more depth and clarity. We decided that it was important to acknowledge those other principles. The DWeb Principles are not designed to supplant these other frameworks, nor does pointing to them mean that all of those in this DWeb community agree with all that is said in them. It is meant to signify that we are not alone in our pursuit for more fun, equitable, and secure networked systems, and stand alongside these other communities’ efforts.
This process resulted in five overarching principles, with sub points that expand upon them. The principles are ordered from specific to general, beginning with more explicit technical features of a DWeb:
1) Technology for Human Agency 2) Distributed Benefits 3) Mutual Respect 4) Humanity 5) Ecological Awareness
What Comes Next
We hope this is an accurate snapshot of the types of concerns that this DWeb community engages with and upholds as we strive to build better networks. We hope people will read it, share it, and even take what they agree with and remix it if they’d like. If someone were to be inspired by these principles, adapt it for their own needs and put forth their own version, we would see that as a success on its own.
Being explicit about what a project stands for is a big first step in establishing trust, not just among its contributors, but also with the people who use their tools and services. A strong value statement allows others to hold organizations accountable, to ensure that they continue striving for their highest aspirations while doing all they can to avoid making harmful tradeoffs.
At least knowing where projects stand for, at least knowing what they care about, is a big first step in our ability to know which projects are worth investing in with our time, energy and attention. These principles define what values the DWeb community stands for, not just what it stands against. We hope this document will help guide those who are already creating the building blocks of the DWeb, and appeal to those who want to join the movement to build better, more resilient decentralized webs of connection and knowledge.
Mai Ishikawa Sutton is a co-founder and editor of COMPOST, an online decentralized magazine about the digital commons, Associate Producer of DWeb Projects and DWeb Camp 2019, and Digital Commons Fellow with the Commons Network. Their previous projects and employers include People’s Open Network, Oakland Public Library, Shareable, and Electronic Frontier Foundation.
John Conor Ryan has focused on corporate strategy, while thinking as a mathematician and physicist, looking at ways to succeed where the technology is new and difficult, and the path to success not evident. He previously was part of the People Centered Internet project, with Vint Cerf and MeiLin Fung, and with the One Laptop Per Child project his wife co-led. John has more recently cofounded two startups based on decentralized technologies.
Sometimes they arrive tied up in string because their binding is broken. Others are in envelopes to protect the brittle pages from further damage.
Aging books are sent from libraries to the Internet Archive for preservation. Thanks to the careful work of the nearly 70 people who scan at digitization centers in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, the books get a second life with a new audience.
Scanners sometimes call these “Last Chance Books” and they take pride in restoring them. As they turn the pages one at time to be photographed and digitized, they develop a daily cadence—but it must be adjusted with fragile materials.
“We do our best with the flaking or cracking pages,” said Andrea Mills, digitization program manager for the Internet Archive stationed in Toronto, Canada. “You have to be really cautious that the flake doesn’t fall off and cover a word. It’s almost like a puzzle.”
Some books that land at the Internet Archive digitization centers date back to the 1700s. They are fiction and nonfiction, journals and pamphlets covering a range of topics. And, it can be surprising to learn what reviving the material means to patrons.
“We chuckled when we digitized a book on sea captains. We thought – who will care? And then a year later, it had hundreds of views,” said Elizabeth MacLeod, senior manager of satellite digitization services who manages remote operations out of Wilmington, North Carolina.
Digitization helps preserve materials that are no longer in circulation at their holding library because they are falling apart. It also gives new exposure to books that are out of print that may otherwise be forgotten.
Both Mills and MacLeod began working for the Internet Archive more than 10 years ago as book scanners – also known as Scribe operators. Mills has an arts degree in jewelry design and teaching; MacLeod studied biology. They were both drawn to the mission of the Internet Archive and share a passion of connecting people with resources.
Over the years, Mills and MacLeod have worked closely with librarians and archivists around the world to digitize their collections, learning more with each project. They now manage digitization and support sites with training and best practices, many embedded in libraries, in 10 countries and upwards of 30 locations. Digitizing is a somewhat solitary task and some people “get in the zone” while scanning; others are very chatty or listen to music, Mills said.
Many employees have worked together for nearly a decade and there is a friendly, collaborative vibe at the centers. “We have all sorts of people—artists, printers and photographers. They are people who are meticulous and love books,” Mills said. A recent viral video shared on the Internet Archive’s Twitter account features Scribe operator Eliza Zhang, who has worked at the Archive for more than ten years. Book conservators from larger institutional partners also offer additional training for Internet Archive operators on best practices for handling their unique collections.
MacLeod says the scanners are all committed to providing a service to readers and it’s satisfying to help people with disabilities connect with books, “It’s energizing to be part of an organization that is thinking outside the box,” she said. “I want people to be able to have more access to whatever they are trying to find.”
Added Mills: “I’m an information junky. I love the search and the hunt and the finding the answer. The power of the internet and digitization is that you can find that answer faster. It just sort of opens up the possibilities of what you can do.”
Written by Professor Tom Gally, University of Tokyo, and Katie Barrett, Internet Archive & JET Program Alum Translations by Tomoki Sakakibara, University of Tokyo
(日本語はページ下部にあります。 Scroll down for Japanese version.)
As our global society grows ever more connected, it can be easy to assume that all of human history is just one click away. Yet language barriers and physical access still present major obstacles to deeper knowledge and understanding of other cultures, even on the world wide web. That is why the Internet Archive is thrilled to announce a new partnership with the University of Tokyo General Library. Spearheaded by Masaya Nakatake as a member of the UTokyo Academic Archives Project Office, the Internet Archive partnership provides expanded access and a digital backup for some of the library’s most precious artifacts.
Since June 2020, our Collections team has worked in tandem with library staff to ingest thousands of digital files from the General Library’s servers, mapping the metadata for over 4,000 priceless scrolls, texts, and papers. The collection, representing meticulous digitization efforts by Japanese historians and scholars, showcases hundreds of years of rich Japanese history expressed through prose, poetry, and artwork.
Most of the works are written in Japanese, but some of them include illustrations that can be appreciated by anyone now. A search through the collection for 地震 (jishin, “earthquake”), for example, yields a fascinating set of depictions of earthquakes and their impact in past centuries.
In one satirical illustration, thought to date from shortly after the 1855 Edo earthquake, courtesans and others from the demimonde, who suffered greatly in the disaster, are shown beating the giant catfish that was believed to cause earthquakes. The men in the upper left-hand corner represent the construction trades; they are trying to stop the attack on the fish, as rebuilding from earthquakes was a profitable business for them.
Other highlights are high-resolution images from the Kamei Collection of original etchings from Opere di Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Francesco Piranesi e d’altri, originally published by Firmin Didot Freres in Paris between 1835 and 1839.
We hope this partnership and collection will expand access to history and culture from Japan and spur a new generation of usage and scholarship.
About the University of Tokyo General Library
The University of Tokyo was established in 1877 as the first national university in Japan. As a leading research university, UTokyo offers courses in essentially all academic disciplines at both undergraduate and graduate levels and conducts research across the full spectrum of academic activity. The University of Tokyo Library System is composed of 30 libraries, with the General Library being the largest among them. While providing services to the researchers and students of UTokyo, the General Library also plays a central role in the operation and management of the Library System. The General Library’s history can be traced back nearly 130 years to the university’s founding and it now houses approximately 1.3 million books, including rare collections inherited from academies in the Edo period.
About the Internet Archive
The Internet Archive is one of the largest libraries in the world and home of the Wayback Machine, a repository of 475 billion webpages. Founded in 1996 by Internet Hall of Fame member Brewster Kahle, the Internet Archive now serves more than 1.5 million patrons each day, providing access to 70 petabytes of data—books, web pages, music, television, and software—and working with more than 800 library and university partners to create a digital library, accessible to all. To make a donation to the Internet Archive, please visit https://archive.org/donate/
The glass rises and falls. Quickly and efficiently, a woman turns the pages to the rhythmic beep of the cameras. She never misses a beat.
In its first 48 hours, this tweet about book scanning at the Internet Archive went viral, reaching 7.7 million people. More than 1.5 million people viewed the video, liking it 70,000 times and retweeting it 24,000 more. At the center of it all sits Eliza Zhang, a book scanner at the Internet Archive’s headquarters in San Francisco since 2010. When I asked Eliza what she likes about her job, she replied, “Everything! I find everything interesting. I don’t feel it is boring. Every collection is important to me.”
Eliza, a college graduate from southern China, immigrated to the United States in 2009, seeking a new life and new opportunities. She landed in San Francisco during the midst of an economy-crushing recession. But through a city program called JobsNOW, the Internet Archive hired Eliza and scores of other job seekers, training them to digitize, quality control, and upload metadata for books, newspapers, periodicals and manuals. Often our digitizing staff are making these analog texts available online for the first time.
Raising the glass with a foot pedal, adjusting the two cameras, and shooting the page images are just the beginning of Eliza’s work. Some books, like the Bureau of Land Management publication featured in the video, have myriad fold-outs. Eliza must insert a slip of paper to remind her to go back and shoot each fold-out page, while at the same time inputting the page numbers into the item record. The job requires keen concentration.
If this experienced digitizer accidentally skips a page, or if an image is blurry, the publishing software created by our engineers will send her a message to return to the Scribe and scan it again.
Listening to 70s and 80s R & B while she works, Eliza spends a little time each day reading the dozens of books she handles. The most challenging part of her job? “Working with very old, fragile books. The paper is very thin. I always wear rubber fingertips and sometimes gloves when I scan newspapers, because of the ink,” she explained.
Tweets Spark a New Interest in Digitization
Eliza is one of about 70 Scribe operators at the Internet Archive, working in digitization centers embedded in libraries across the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. The operations are led by Elizabeth MacLeod, who manages our remote operations, and Andrea Mills, who is stationed at the University of Toronto, with support from managers and operators in each center.
“We try to meet libraries where they are,” said MacLeod, who manages remote operations from her home office in North Carolina. “From digitizing a few shipments a year at one of our regional centers to setting up and staffing full-service digitization within the library itself, we have a flexible approach to our library partnerships.”
Across Twitter, another common question arose: “Why hasn’t this job been automated?” To many, the repetitive act of turning the pages in a book and photographing them seems like the natural task for a robot. In fact, some 20 years ago, we tested commercial book scanners that feature a vacuum-powered page-turning arm. It turns out those automated scanners didn’t really work well for brittle books, rare volumes, and other special collections—the kinds of material our library partners ask us to digitize.
“Clean, dry human hands are the best way to turn pages,” said Mills, from her socially-distanced office at the University of Toronto. In her 15 years on the job, she has worked with hundreds of librarians to hone our digitization operations, balancing our need to preserve the original pages with minimal impact during the imaging process. “Our goal is to handle the book once and to care for the original as we work with it,” Mills explained.
So what does it take to be a Scribe operator? “It takes a level of zen,” wrote Brewster Kahle, founder and digital librarian of the Internet Archive, responding to one of the many threads about the video that popped up on Reddit. “It takes concentration and a love of books. For those who love working with books and libraries, it fits well.”
As for the hardware used for digitization, like much at the Internet Archive, the equipment is engineered and purpose-built for the job. In the viral video, Eliza is operating the original Scribe machine, designed more than 15 years ago, and Scribe software that was developed in-house and refined continuously over years of operation. “The variation in books makes [automation] difficult to do quickly and without damage,” Kahle elaborates. “We do not disbind the books, which also makes automation more difficult.”
18,000 Books and Climbing
In the decade Eliza has been working with the Internet Archive, she has scanned more than 3 million pages, 14,000 foldouts, and 18,000 items (mostly books).
And what about all the sudden social media attention? Eliza shrugs. She’s never been on Twitter before. “My goal is to guarantee zero errors,” she said. “I want to give our readers a satisfying experience.”
Digitize With Us
The Covid-19 pandemic has both created higher demand for digital content as well as shuttered some of our scanning centers for health and safety. We have reopened following local and national health guidelines and continue to engage with new libraries on their digitization projects.
The Internet Archive is wholly dependent on Ubuntu and the Linux communities that create a reliable, free (as in beer), free (as in speech), rapidly evolving operating system. It is hard to overestimate how important that is to creating services such as the Internet Archive.
When we started the Internet Archive in 1996, Sun and Oracle donated technology and we bought tape robots. By 1999, we shifted to inexpensive PC’s in a cluster, running varying Linux distributions.
At this point, almost everything that runs on the servers of the Internet Archive is free and open-source software. (I believe our JP2 compression library may be the only piece of proprietary software we use.)
For a decade now, we have been upgrading our operating system on the cluster to the long-term support server Linux distribution of Ubuntu. Thank you, thank you. And we have never paid anything for it, but we submit code patches as the need arises.
Does anyone know the number of contributors to all the Linux projects that make up the Ubuntu distribution? How many tens or hundreds of thousands? Staggering.
Ubuntu has ensured that every six months a better release comes out, and every two years a long-term release comes out. Like clockwork. Kudos. I am sure it is not easy, but it is inspiring, valuable and important to the world.
We started with Linux in 1997, we started with Ubuntu server release Warty Warthog in 2004 and are in the process of moving to Focal (Ubuntu 20.4).
Depending on free and open software is the smartest technology move the Internet Archive ever made.
The Internet Archive has reached a new milestone: 2 million. That’s how many modern books are now in its lending collection—available free to the public to borrow at any time, even from home.
“We are going strong,” said Chris Freeland, a librarian at the Internet Archive and director of the Open Libraries program. “We are making books available that people need access to online, and our patrons are really invested. We are doing a library’s work in the digital era.”
The lending collection is an encyclopedic mix of purchased books, ebooks, and donations from individuals, organizations, and institutions. It has been curated by Freeland and other librarians at the Internet Archive according to a prioritized wish list that has guided collection development. The collection has been purpose-built to reach a wide base of both public and academic library patrons, and to contain books that people want to read and access online—titles that are widely held by libraries, cited in Wikipedia and frequently assigned on syllabi and course reading lists.
“The Internet Archive is trying to achieve a collection reflective of great research and public libraries like the Boston Public Library,” said Brewster Kahle, digital librarian and founder of the Internet Archive, who began building the diverse library more than 20 years ago.
“Libraries from around the world have been contributing books so that we can make sure the digital generation has access to the best knowledge ever written,” Kahle said. “These wide ranging collections include books curated by educators, librarians and individuals, that they see are critical to educating an informed populace at a time of massive disinformation and misinformation.”
Everyday about 3,500 books are digitized in one of 18 digitization centers operated by the Archive worldwide. While there’s no exact way of identifying a singular 2 millionth book, the Internet Archive has chosen a representative title that helped push past the benchmark to highlight why its collection is so useful to readers and researchers online.
On December 31, The dictionary of costume by R. Turner Wilcox was scanned and added to the Archive, putting the collection over the 2 million mark. The book was first published in 1969 and reprinted throughout the 1990s, but is now no longer in print or widely held by libraries. This particular book was donated to Better World Books via a book bank just outside of London in August 2020, then made its way to the Internet Archive for preservation and digitization.
As expected from the title, the book is a dictionary of terms associated with costumes, textiles and fashion, and was compiled by an expert, Wilcox, the fashion editor of Women’s Wear Daily from 1910 to 1915. Given its authoritative content, the book made it onto the Archive’s wish list because it is frequently cited in Wikipedia, including on pages like Petticoat and Gown.
Now that the book has been digitized, Wikipedia editors can update citations to the book and include a direct link to the cited page. For example, users reading the Petticoat page can see that page 267 of the book has been used to substantiate the claim that both men & women wore a longer underskirt called a “petticote” in the fourteenth century. Clicking on that reference will take users directly to page 267 in The dictionary of costume where they can read the dictionary entry for petticoat and verify that information for themselves.
An additional reason why this work is important is that there is no commercial ebook available for The dictionary of costume. This book is one of the millions of titles that reached the end of its publishing lifecycle in the 20th century, so there is no electronic version available for purchase. That means that the only way of accessing this book online and verifying these citations in Wikipedia—doing the kind of research that students of all ages perform in our connected world—is through a scanned copy, such as the one now available at the Internet Archive.
Donations play an important role
Increasingly, the Archive is preserving many books that would otherwise be lost to history or the trash bin.
In recent years, the Internet Archive has received donations of entire library collections. Marygrove College gave more than 70,000 books and nearly 3,000 journal volumes for digitization and preservation in 2019 after the small liberal arts college in Detroit closed. The well-curated collection, known for its social justice, education and humanities holdings, is now available online at https://archive.org/details/marygrovecollege.
Just like The dictionary of costume, many of the books supplied for digitization come to the Archive from Better World Books. In its partnership over the past 10 years, the online book seller has donated millions of books to be digitized and preserved by the Archive. Better World Books acquires books from thousands of libraries, book suppliers, and through a network of book donation drop boxes (known as “book banks” in the UK), and if a title is not suitable for resale and it’s on the Archive’s wish list, the book is set aside for donation.
“We view our role as helping maximize the life cycle and value of each and every single book that a library client, book supplier or donor entrusts to us,” said Dustin Holland, president and chief executive officer of Better World Books. “We make every effort to make books available to readers and keep books in the reading cycle and out of the recycle stream. Our partnership with the Internet Archive makes all this possible.”
The Archive provides another channel for customers to find materials, Holland added.
“We view archive.org as a way of discovering and accessing books,” said Holland. “Once a book is discoverable, the more interest you are going to create in that book and the greater the chance it will end up in a reader’s hands as a new or gently used book.”
Having books freely available for borrowing online serves people with a variety of needs including those with limited access to libraries because of disabilities, transportation issues, people in rural areas, and those who live in under-resourced parts of the world.
Sean, an author in Oregon said he goes through older magazines for design ideas, especially from cultures that he wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise: “It gives me a wider understanding of my small place in the global historical context.” One parent from San Francisco said she uses the lending library to learn skills like hand drawing to draw characters and landscapes to interact deeper with her child.
The need for information is more urgent than ever.
“We are all homeschoolers now. This pandemic has driven home how important it is to have online access to quality information,” Kahle said. “It’s gratifying to hear from teachers and parents that are now given the tools to work with their children during this difficult time.”
Kahle’s vision is to have every reference in Wikipedia be linked to a book and for every student writing a high school report to have access to the best published research on their subject. He wants the next generation to become authors of the books that should be in the library and the most informed electorate possible.
Adds Kahle: “Thank you to all who have made this possible – all the funders, all the donors, the thousands who have sent books to be digitized. If we all work together, we can do another million this year.”
Lillian Michelson was celebrated as a “force of nature” librarian devoted to helping Hollywood filmmakers get the details right at an event on January 27 to unveil a new online home at the Internet Archive for her extensive collection of books, photos, scrapbooks and clippings.
The Michelson Cinema Research Library was opened with an animated version of the research icon cutting a virtual ribbon to an audience of more than 300 people watching online. The public got a first glimpse of 1,300 books that are now digitally available—part of a million items in the rich collection that Michelson donated to the Internet Archive in December.
“Now, for the first time, anyone, anywhere on the planet can go roam into the halls of Lillian’s research library,” said Thomas Walsh, a production designer and former president of the Art Directors Guild, speaking on a panel at the event. “It’s a really unique, eclectic collection. The books go back to the 1700s. Nothing she had is in print anymore. It’s an extraordinary range of material.”
Walsh looked for nearly eight years to find a place to house the content, which art directors and others relied on for creating accurate visual backstories to movies. Whether it was finding blueprints of a nuclear submarine or photos of the interior of a 1950s police station, Michelson was respected for being tenacious in pursuit of answers to inform movie productions. In Michelson’s decades of research, she worked on movies such as Rosemary’s Baby, Scarface, Fiddler on the Roof, Full Metal Jacket, The Graduate, and The Birds.
Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian and founder of the Internet Archive, said he was amazed when he opened up the first boxes from the Michelson Library and saw the variety and extent of raw materials. Making an internet equivalent of the library will be a huge challenge, but one that also is a great opportunity.
“It’s not just a hodge-podge of used books. It is a complete collection that served a community. It comes with a focus,” Kahle said of the Michelson Cinema Research Library that filled some 1600 boxes on 45 pallets. “The Internet Archive is starting to receive whole libraries. The idea of bringing those online is not just bringing those books and materials online. It’s bringing a community online.”
Daniel Raim, Academy Award-nominated director and panelist at the event, described Michelson as a storyteller whose work was central to helping create a movie’s narrative.
“I always found it fascinating to spend time in Lillian’s library— — and now online at the Internet Archive—it sparks your imagination,” said Raim, who produced and directed a 2015 documentary Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, about Michelson, now 92, and her husband, Harold, a storyboard artist and production designer, who died in 2007. The film pays tribute to the beloved couple and their contribution behind the scenes to some of the greatest movies in the past 50 years.
After the panel discussion, the Internet Archives hosted a viewing party of the documentary.
Bay State College’s Boston Campus has donated its entire undergraduate library to the Internet Archive so that the digital library can preserve and scan the books, while allowing Bay State to gain much needed open space for student collaboration. By donating and scanning its 11,000-volume collection centered on fashion, criminal justice, allied health, and business books, Bay State’s Boston campus decided to “flip entirely to digital.”
When it came to what to do with the books, Jessica Neave, librarian at Bay State College, had to get creative. “I didn’t have a library close by willing to take our collection,” Neave explained. Shortly after reaching out to our partners at Better World Books, she stumbled upon the Inside Higher Education article about the Marygrove College Library donation. This led Neave to our physical item donation form, where she laid out her library’s tight timeline to deaccession its entire print collection. “You guys made it so easy,” Bay State’s librarian said. “It couldn’t have been any easier!”
Under the direction of Neave, an Internet Archive team packed and shipped the 11,000 books in the first week of December.
Considering the future of Bay State’s books, its librarian is hopeful, noting, “Thanks to the Internet Archive, the books can live on as a cohesive collection.” Patrons can look forward to thumbing through historic fashion and textile books, texts on the history of the Civil Rights Movement, graphic novels, and even Bay State’s collection of historically banned young adult books.
For nearly 100 years, the Marygrove College library was the hub of activity on campus. The small, liberal arts college in Detroit didn’t have a student union, so the library served as the heartbeat of campus, offering students a place to study, learn and socialize.
“The Marygrove library was very unique. It was a place where students came for help and to see their classmates,” says Laura Manley, a librarian from 2005-2015. “If they didn’t understand something about an assignment, they would find out from others and network in the library.”
As enrollment dropped and financial pressures mounted, the college closed in December 2019. The fate of the library collection was uncertain. Administrators explored avenues to sell or dispose of the books but decided instead to donate the entire collection to the Internet Archive. More than 70,000 volumes were boxed up and then scanned into a digital format. The physical copies were put into storage and the Archive makes one digital version of each item available for free check out through its Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) program.
Rather than shut its doors permanently, the library has a new home online. The Internet Archive celebrated the reopening of the Marygrove College Library last October, offering a way for the heart of the Marygrove campus to keep beating.
“I was thrilled with the idea that the collection went as a body and could live on,” says Jennifer Meacham, who worked at the library for 15 years. “The library had a long history of expanding to meet the growing needs of the student body as it changed.”
Marygrove began as a Catholic women’s college, eventually becoming co-ed and predominantly African American, reflecting the demographics of the surrounding community. Professors emphasized not just learning in the classroom, but the importance of making the world a better place, says Meacham. That translated into a need for materials on social justice issues. And because librarians worked closely with students, they were able to learn about their specific research projects and purchase materials tailored to their interests.
As Meacham curated the children’s book collection at Marygrove, she intentionally bought books with black and brown characters covering issues that were relatable to students who teachers graduating from the college would have in class. Once the collection was made available online, Meacham says she eagerly browsed through the diverse collection and was pleased to know it is now freely available to anyone.
Jeffrey Zachwieja was hired in 1996 as a reference and instruction librarian as Marygrove was beginning to move from card catalogues to an automated system with electronic databases. “We wanted to preserve the past, but move to the future,” says Zachwieja, who built the library’s first website. Care was taken to keep the collection current while keeping books that reflected the deep history of various fields of study at the college, including education and religion.
The library became a go-to spot for technology, providing many students with their only access to the internet or a computer. Librarians provided individual support to students as they navigated new platforms and software programs.
Students needing help at the library reflected the span of the student body from undergraduates who had come through the Detroit Public Schools to graduate students in their 30s and 40s. Manley says it was fulfilling to work with the students one-on-one, especially those who had limited technology experience and relied heavily on the library.
Meacham says the library tried to provide a range of services in all things related to information. Librarians recommended materials for research papers, direction on bibliographies, feedback to make sure students weren’t plagiarizing, and an audience to practice a presentation. “The library was seen as a human resource,” she says. “We had a very good reputation and would bend over backwards for students and faculty,” she says.
Manley says the experience at Marygrove changed how she viewed access to education.
“I went from thinking when I first started my career that people should succeed by merit. But what I witnessed is there were all kinds of bright students who should have knowledge readily available. But they had to struggle because of reasons that were no fault of their own,” says Manley. “Whether they didn’t have a solid enough K-12 or it was socioeconomics, not everyone starts at the same playing field. Sometimes you have to bring someone up to speed to be able to fly. They are just as worthy and have just as much potential.”
Librarians at Marygrove went beyond their traditional role to help support students. “Our goal was to help students succeed. Once they had a foundation, they could do anything,” Manley says.