Preserving Bali’s Cultural & Literary History through the Palm Leaf Project

Image of Lontar palm leaf book in Balinese script. (Image by Tropenmuseum)

Lontar palm leaf book in Balinese script (Image by Tropenmuseum).

What is lost when globalization dictates modern culture? In Bali, it’s centuries of literature. The Balinese language is still commonly spoken, but the ability to read and write literary works in the Balinese script has largely been lost. Since much of Bali’s culture and history is told in written manuscripts called lontars, the Internet Archive and the linguists at PanLex are teaming up with a group of local Balinese supporters to build new technologies and tools to keep their script and literary culture alive.

Culture is made up of a million little pieces of history, ritual, and everyday life, and that’s exactly what’s written down on Bali’s lontars. These palm leaf manuscripts date back hundreds of years; their subjects include advice on how to build a temple, how to make traditional medicine, and even how to choose the best cock to bet on in a cockfight, based on the date in the Balinese calendar.

Unfortunately, these ancient teachings—which were created by etching script into dried palm leaves and blackening the words with soot—were in danger of being lost forever due to humidity and time. And although they contain vital pieces of Bali’s rich cultural heritage, the lontars are unreadable for most Balinese who conduct their modern lives more and more in Indonesian.

Photograph of lontar leaf from Carcan Meyong (a taxonomy of cats) on PalmLeaf.org

Photograph of lontar leaf from Carcan Meyong (a taxonomy of cats) on PalmLeaf.org

So in 2011, the Internet Archive launched a project with the Culture Office of Bali to photograph and upload to archive.org some 3,000 lontar manuscripts made up of 130,000 palm leaves—making up “90% of Bali’s literature,” according to Bali’s Minister of Culture. The Internet Archive has preserved these texts in the Balinese Digital Library collection, but they realized that simply digitizing the lontars was not enough, as the resulting images were not easy to share or understand.


This year, the Internet Archive began working with PanLex, an organization dedicated to keeping the world’s languages alive, to engineer methods to transcribe some 3,000 palm leaves online. The team discovered that keyboards do not easily support Balinese script and that there was no complete font for the language, so PanLex worked with a font designer to create new fonts and created a new Keyman keyboard that enables users to type Unicode Balinese script on standard keyboards. These new tools empower more people to participate in transcription and makes it easier to use another tool that auto-generates a Romanized version of Balinese. Transforming the Balinese lontars from lifeless PDFs to machine-readable text means the rich cultural information contained within the lontars will be easier to read, format, and share.

The word mantra in Balinese script, rendered correctly in the Vimala font (left) and incorrectly in the Noto Serif Balinese font (right). PanLex worked with font designers to make Balinese script keyable online.

Now thanks to more than 15 local Balinese contributors who are transcribing the lontars online, the digitized texts are published to PalmLeaf.org, where they are available for all. This community-curated Wiki encourages participation by anyone who wishes to contribute to transcribing and translating the lontars. By reading and transcribing the lontars, community partners have an opportunity to absorb the knowledge they contain and share it throughout the world. Through this work, young Balinese are finding more ownership of and connection to their cultural heritage.

“Part of what we’re hoping to change with PalmLeaf.org is to enable the community to take charge of the project and decide how it develops in the future,” says David Kamholz, Project Director at PanLex. “Our goal is to support their hopes of keeping traditional lontar techniques alive and exciting more people to read and be involved in Balinese literature (lontar).”

Image of PanLex Director David Kamholz (2nd from the left) working with local Balinese partners.

PanLex Director David Kamholz (2nd from the left) working with local Balinese partners.

In a time when so many voices around the world go unheard online due to the language they speak, community involvement in this project is imperative. By transcribing the lontars in their original script, the project team places Balinese front and center, helping to normalize the use of Balinese online. Team members in Bali say that preserving these important texts and encouraging the use of their original language supports the social, cultural, and economic well-being for the people of Bali. 

“This work is very helpful to us in Bali. Not everyone has the ability yet to read lontar. This opens access for more of us to learn about and study our literature.”

–Carma Citrawati, Balinese Transcriber

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Faye Lessler is a California-born, Brooklyn-based freelance writer and founder of lifestyle blog, Sustaining Life. She is an expert in mission-driven communications and enjoys writing while sipping black tea in a beam of sunshine.

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Closing the Access Gap in Rural Maryland

In southern Maryland, St. Mary’s County is 54 miles long and there are only three libraries.

“We have people living at one end who might be 25 miles away from a branch,” said Michael Blackwell, Director of the St. Mary’s County Library that operates in the small communities of Leonardtown, Charlotte Hall and Lexington Park.

Michael Blackwell

Yet, many of its rural and suburban residents do have cell phones and tablets. “People in this area are hungry for digital content. In surveys, they say there is not enough. Library digital use is growing, unlike library print use, which is very flat,” said Blackwell. “How to keep up with demand is a real challenge for us.”

That’s why Blackwell sees great promise in expanding the county’s digital offerings through Controlled Digital Lending, the digital equivalent of traditional library lending. CDL opens up access to rural patrons who may not otherwise be able to use the library because of transportation or other barriers. There are children whose parents work three jobs who need books for homework. There are shift workers who work during library hours. There are those for whom a physical trip to the library is simply not possible.

“I’m interested in CDL because a library the size of mine doesn’t have a lot of money,” Blackwell said. “By simply changing the format, we are getting the most out of the books we’ve already paid for. We are not trying to pick John Grisham’s pocket.”

Blackwell also notes that there are many works – including Pulitzer Prize winning books –
that publishers do not make available to libraries in digital form. This is an issue that is beyond rural access, it’s about no one having access at all to books that publishers choose not to provide digitally. For example, James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific,” is not available to libraries in e-book form through the major vendors. It is of interest as a story but also for revealing attitudes about human relations at the time of World War II. If a library wanted to circulate in e-book form, CDL would be the only option. It is, of course, the source for the musical, “South Pacific.”

Now, the St. Mary’s library has about 300,000 titles, including about 30,000 digital holdings. The library’s budget is about $3.8 million a year and the small funding increases usually go to salaries and health insurance, not leaving much for new acquisitions.

With high interest in digital content, CDL is being embraced in rural Maryland.

“We are working with the Internet Archive on a pilot to launch CDL titles through the Library Simplified, or ‘SimplyE,’ app,” added Blackwell. “A state grant is allowing us to deploy the app. Our patrons will be able to get all our e-book content, CDL and vendor-licensed, in one place. We’ll add quality content we can’t get in any other way at no cost other than storing our relevant print copies, ultimately expanding our offerings by thousands of titles. Our book hungry patrons will be much more likely to find a great title they want while they wait for the best sellers we can license.”

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Claim your Passport to Knowledge at the World Night Market

Our job is providing ‘Universal Access to All Knowledge.’
Knowledge comes from many places. 
Explore. Enjoy. Leave your mark.
Brewster Kahle,
    Founder & Digital Librarian, Internet Archive

World Night Market Design by Yiying Lu

We invite you to join us for the Internet Archive’s biggest bash of the year: World Night Market, Wednesday, October 23, 5-10 PM. We’ll be closing the street and throwing a block party for our friends, neighbors and partners to celebrate our impact with partners around the world.

Get Your Tickets Now

When you arrive from 5- 7 pm, we will give you your Passport to food trucks with our favorite foods from Singapore to Mexico City to Delhi; beer & wines from around the world; Lion Dancers and music, playful tattoos, plus hands-on demonstrations of the Internet Archive’s latest innovations and partnerships. 

Stamp your Passport to Knowledge at these demo stations:

Get your own passport when your check in, then be sure to collect the stamps at every station
Enter a Virtual Reality Archive where you can spin an LP, read a book, or watch a film.
Internet Archive engineer, Mek Karpeles, shows off the latest features of OpenLibrary.org

Then from 7-8 PM the Great Room program begins! In a world in which truth seems to be fracturing, what’s a library’s role? To weave the trusted knowledge held by libraries into the World Wide Web itself.  We’ve invited our partners and builders to share their herculean efforts to make media more accessible and reliable than ever.

You won’t want to miss:

Brewster Kahle at the October 2018 Annual Bash
  • Information Activist, Carl Malamud on freeing the information of India
  • Open Access visionary, Lisa Petrides on building an diverse, inclusive, and equitable Universal K-12 School Library for all
  • Internet Archive’s Alexis Rossi & Jason Buckner on making talk & news radio searchable, comparable and ultimately, accountable
  • Brewster Kahle on our project with Wikimedia Foundation to take readers deeper and ensure the integrity of the world’s online encyclopedia
  • Plus the Internet Archive Hero Award and a major announcement about our future direction

And after the program, be sure to stay for the dancing, DJs and dessert on our side patio.

Having knowledge you can trust has never been more important. So let’s celebrate— get your passport now to the World Night Market!

Get your Tickets Here

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Protecting Unique Canadiana Works

Technology is enabling libraries in Canada to promote diversity, safeguard historic documents, and expand access — all while helping to save the planet.

The Hamilton Public Library in the Canadian province of Ontario has nearly two dozen branches. Providing digital content to users in geographically remote areas is one of many reasons that the library has recently embraced Controlled Digital Lending, the digital equivalent of traditional library lending.

Paul Takala,
Hamilton Public Library

“It’s such an environmentally friendly, cost effective way of making titles available,” said Paul Takala, CEO/Chief Librarian of the library. “If we digitize it, somebody doesn’t have to go to the library to get it and we don’t have to ship books around. It just makes a lot of sense.”

The library also has rare and fragile Canadiana content that is not available anywhere else or able to be physically loaned out. This includes history of the local area, land documents, first-hand accounts of settlers, a large collection of photographs and a unique collection of works published in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Lisa Weaver,
Hamilton Public Library

“Now we have the technology to share so many stories from so many voices through this platform to anybody 24/7, ” said Lisa Weaver, Director of Collections & Program Development at the library. “The preservation of books that CDL allows us to do and access that CDL allows us to provide is invaluable.”

When Hamilton joined Open Libraries, it was able to identify 53,000 books in its physical holdings that Internet Archive had already digitized. Those books were added to Open Libraries to increase lending counts for those titles. For example, the library digitized three titles that cover unique pieces of Canadian history: “The Trail of the Black Helmut” by G. Elmore Reamon (1957), “The Art of Northwest Coast Indians” by Robert Bruce Inverarity (1950) and “The Clockmaker” by Thomas Haliburton (1958), the first internationally best-selling author of fiction from what is now Canada. With the assistance of Internet Archive, Hamilton will later this year accelerate its scanning of older titles and some of its unique Canadiana collection to share beyond the library walls.

Researchers and genealogists have been particularly interested in discovering the digitized material. The new format allows users to access resources when they wish, during their commute, wherever they are, or even when the library is not physically open. The program also helps students who want to read classics that are not in copyright and now widely available.

“CDL helps us provide access to the broadest number of resources to the broadest number of Canadians,” Weaver said. “Having books in digital format also supports customers with print disabilities access the content.”

As more libraries partner with Internet Archive to make their collections available via CDL, more will be giving back and adding to the shared collection. “Part of the mission of public libraries is to educate residents about the history and richness of their communities,” said Takala. “It’s about making more items available to our customers. The benefits are clear.”

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Academic Authors Find Larger Audience

For Robert Darnton, the benefit of Controlled Digital Lending to academic authors is obvious: More people can read their work.

As the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and the University Librarian, Emeritus at Harvard University, Darnton has long been a champion of broadening access to information. He also sees the value of making materials more widely available when it comes to his own research outputs.

Darnton has made two of his books, which are both still in print, freely available online: Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France (Harvard University Press, l968) and The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, l775-l800 (Harvard University Press, l979). Several other of his titles are available to borrow electronically through the Internet Archive’s Open Library.

Robert Darnton

Eventually, Darnton said he’d like all his titles to be digitized. “I feel it’s in my best interest to reach as large a public audience as I possibly can,” said Darnton. He believes the exposure online helps with the marketing of his books. Indeed, there was an increase in sales of the Mesmerism book once it was digitized.

Many academics don’t rely on books for income and it’s rare that royalties continue after a few years. “What authors want when that ceases is to reach readers. This is the best way to do it,” Darnton said. “CDL is a good system and a way to really improve people’s access to literature without harming anyone.”

In higher education, resources from one campus library to another can vary widely. Even at Harvard, Darnton said it’s not possible to make all books available — let alone small libraries with limited budgets. Libraries can benefit from interlibrary loans and digital lending can provide even greater relief from isolation for institutions without the means of expanding their collections.

“CDL can make an enormous difference, even for such privileged environments as Harvard,” Darnton said. “There is momentum behind CDL. It is not just the way to go, but the way things are going.”

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Unlocking Marooned Assets Through Digitization

Being able to lend an array of materials is fundamental to what public libraries do and Controlled Digital Lending–the digital equivalent of traditional library lending– is another tool for libraries to fulfill that mission, according to John Chrastka, executive director of EveryLibrary, a national organization dedicated to building voter support for libraries.

“There are numerous marooned assets within library collections. From 1924 to early the 2000s, there is content that is relevant to certain lines of inquiries or communities, yet it is trapped on paper,” said Chrastka, an early endorser of CDL. “Liberating it into an environment where it could be shared to one user at a time allows those marooned assets to be put back to work. So much public money has been spent over the years acquiring material that is now essentially isolated and cut off from actual use.”

John Chrastka,
EveryLibrary

“CDL is a way to ensure that books purchased with public dollars are used in the way they were intended to further education, enjoyment and entertainment,” said Chrastka. Technology has advanced in a way that can practically expand access and renew productivity of older titles to better serve the public. It moves the issue of access beyond location.

EveryLibrary is promoting the value of CDL on many fronts, including how it can open up materials to special populations. For example, there is a collection of oral histories from early Czech immigrants to the United States in a suburban Chicago library. It used to be that many descendants lived nearby and could walk to the library to look up those materials, but they have since moved. While the materials are physically stuck in Illinois, families and scholars elsewhere may be interested if only they had digital access, noted Chrastka.

CDL can also unlock commercial historical documents from the 1920s to the dawn of the computer age. Hidden in the information announcements of businesses may be solutions to problems of today – products that could be useful in future research and development for new companies.

Added Chrastka: “[CDL] is not something that is aspirational. This is about access. It is a core competency of libraries they should be exercising.”

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What Happens When Everyone who Experienced an Event is Gone?

The evacuation of San Francisco’s Japanese American community in 1942, when the U.S. government forcibly removed all those of Japanese ancestry, including US citizens, from the West Coast.

How do we mark an event in time? The Etruscans used the concept of saeculum, the period of time from the moment something happens until the time when everyone who experienced that event has died. For Japanese Americans who were rounded up on the West Coast, herded onto trains and buses and incarcerated in desolate camps for years, we are approaching that saeculum.

Mary Tsuchiya graduated from Topaz High School in 1945, in a camp outside Delta, Utah.

My mother, Mary Tsuchiya Hanamura, was just 14 when she was put behind barbed wire. Today, she is 91. “They are putting Felicity Huffman in jail for 14 days for her crime,” my mother said last week. “They imprisoned me for three-and-a-half years.”

I was startled by my mother’s off-hand remark. It’s incredibly rare these days to hear an honest reflection like this—so reticent is my mother to speak out and now almost all of her family and friends from that time are gone. So how do we preserve their stories, pass them on, weave them into the fabric of our collective consciousness?  

That is the work of the cutting-edge cultural heritage organization, Densho. 23 years ago, its founder Tom Ikeda, an ex-Microsoft executive, realized that putting the Japanese American story online was critical. He foresaw this day when for so many digital learners, if materials aren’t online, it’s as if they don’t exist. The Internet Archive has joined hands with Densho to make sure the Densho Visual History Collection— hundreds of hours of oral history videos—are now downloadable, backed up with multiple copies, transferred to new video formats over time, and maintained forever. And together we’ve made this video collection even more accessible to anyone who has an internet connection.

The Internet Archive is partnering with Densho to preserve and provide access to 21,591 video clips of oral histories by Japanese Americans.

Recently, my son, Kenny Okagaki, sent me this text:

Kenny and his grandmother, Mary Hanamura

I was thrilled that Kenny was interested in John Okada’s searing 1957 account, No-No Boy, which is such a seminal book for anyone who wants to understand our community’s complex responses to the government that imprisoned us. We own this book, but Kenny lives in Los Angeles now, hours away. 

Where could my recent college graduate read this novel immediately online, for free?

This week at a community event at the Internet Archive, Tom Ikeda and I were happy to announce that you can now borrow No-No Boy here, at the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration on archive.org. Working with scholars from Densho, we’ve selected, purchased and digitized more than 500 important books about WWII experiences of Japanese Americans. “There are so many books that we’ve heard about, but you can’t find them in your local library,” Tom explained. “This collection is a treasure! Now anyone in the world can borrow these hard to find volumes.”

Densho’s founder and Executive Director, Tom Ikeda, shared his organization’s audacious goal at an event for 125 community members at the Internet Archive on Sept 24th.
You can now borrow 500 books about the Japanese American experience online, for free at https://archive.org.

Now anyone with an Internet Archive account can borrow these books for free. Since we’ve digitized them, you can search across the collection for a name, an event, a reference. Anyone around the world with an internet connection can utilize these important resources. We’re thankful to the Department of Interior & National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Site’s program, for partially funding this work.

Our next step is to weave these 500 books into the place where people go first for online information: Wikipedia. Working with scholars and Wikipedia editors, we are turning the footnotes into clickable links that take you to the exact page of the reference. Along the way, we are correcting factual errors, providing context, and making sure that at the end of this saeculum, the voices of those who lived through the incarceration will still be a source of truth.

We are living in an era when people wonder if truth really matters, if disinformation will drown out reality. That’s why I’m proud to be part of a team that is dedicating itself to the facts. We want every teacher, scholar, journalist, editor, and reader to know: the Japanese American incarceration really happened. And it must never happen to another community again.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wendy Hanamura is the Internet Archive’s Director of Partnerships. She has been a foreign television correspondent based in Tokyo, a nightly reporter for CBS, and produced the documentary, “Honor Bound: A Personal Journey—the story of the 100th and 442nd Regimental Combat Team.”

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University of Alberta Opens Up Digital Access to Historic Curriculum Materials

Anyone interested in learning about what was taught in Alberta schools in the past century used to go to the basement of the H. T. Coutts Education and Kinesiology and Physical Education Library at the University of Alberta. There, users would ask to be let into a locked room to view the historical curriculum collection.

Now, many of the historic textbooks are online and available through Controlled Digital Lending, the digital equivalent of a traditional library lending. It’s making for a new chapter in educational research at the urban university, which has about 40,000 students.

“It’s important for me to trace ideas in curriculum over time,” said Cathryn van Kessel, Assistant Professor of Education who is studying feminist issues in curriculum documents and textbooks. “The digitized collection allows researchers to shave countless hours off of our data collection. Being able to access electronic copies with searchable text is invaluable.”

Kim Frail, H.T. Coutts Library

CDL is also useful for the growing number of students taking online classes at the university and researchers who live outside of Edmonton or in other provinces, said Kim Frail, Public Services Librarian at the H.T. Coutts Library on campus.

The University of Alberta Libraries is Canada’s second-largest research library containing more than 5.2 million titles, 7.5 million volumes, 1.3 million e-books and 1,100 databases. They were also the first to adopt CDL in Canada.

The education library received a bequest from estate from Marie Wiedrick, wife of a former faculty member, Laurence Wiedrick, that has been used to fund the digitization project . With the help of the Internet Archives, which set up a scanning facility on campus, the university is more than halfway through digitizing approximately 6000 books that were used in Alberta schools from 1885 to 1985.

Many of the books in the Wiedrick Collection are becoming fragile and deteriorating as they were physically checked out. CDL provides an alternative format that allows the originals to be preserved.

“We think it’s a great legacy for the [Wiedrick] family because it allows broader access to the collection,” said Frail, who works with education researchers at the library that functions as a quasi-academic and public library used by the broader community.
In one education course, students examine the representation of Indigenous people over time in historical textbooks. In graduate-level courses that focus on the history of curriculum, students select a certain 10-year period to study how the teaching of certain subjects has changed. Having digital content makes it easier for students to access the materials, especially with regards to curriculum documents or “Programs of Study” from the early 1900s when all the subjects were contained in one book, noted Frail.

Recently, an Alberta researcher received a large grant to work in collaboration with scholars at 17 universities around Canada to examine how history has been taught in the schools over time. Online access to the Wiedrick Collection means that researchers can tap into textbooks in Alberta from any location.

“As we move forward in education, it’s interesting to know where there were gaps – what things were and weren’t being taught,” said Frail.

It’s a particularly useful resource, as well, since librarians have compiled a bibliography that traces what books were used when and for what subject, Frail added. Digitizing the older works enables researchers to conveniently search topics electronically with key words.

“We are hearing great feedback,” said Frail. “It has opened up a whole new realm of research and enabled comparisons over time on a different scale.”

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Internet Archive and Center for Open Science Collaborate to Preserve Open Science Data

Open Science and research reproducibility rely on ongoing access to research data. With funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ National Leadership Grants for Libraries program, the Internet Archive (IA) and Center for Open Science (COS) will work together to ensure that open data related to the scientific research process is archived for perpetual access, redistribution, and reuse. The project aims to leverage the intersection between open research data, the long-term stewardship activities of libraries, and distributed data sharing and preservation networks. By focusing on these three areas of work, the project will test and implement infrastructure for improved data sharing in further support of open science and data curation. Building out interoperability between open data platforms like the Open Science Framework (OSF) of COS, large scale digital archives like IA, and collaborative preservation networks has the potential to enable more seamless distribution of open research data and enable new forms of custody and use. See also the press release from COS announcing this project.

OSF supports the research lifecycle by enabling researchers to produce and manage registrations and data artifacts for further curation to foster adoption and discovery. The Internet Archive works with 700+ institutions to collect, archive, and provide access to born-digital and web-published resources and data. Preservation at IA of open data on OSF will enable further availability of this data to other preservation networks and curatorial partners for distributed long term stewardship and local custody by research institutions using both COS and IA services. The project will also partner with a number of preservation networks and repositories to mirror portions of this data and test additional interoperability among additional stewardship organizations and digital preservation systems.

Beyond the prototyping and technical work of data archiving, the teams will also be conducting training, including the development of open education resources, webinars, and similar materials to ensure data librarians can incorporate the project deliverables into their local research data management workflows. The two-year project will first focus on OSF Registrations data and expand to include other open access materials hosted on OSF. Later stage work will test interoperable approaches to sharing subsets of this data with other preservation networks such as LOCKSS, AP Trust, and individual university libraries. Together, IA and COS aim to lay the groundwork for seamless technical integration supporting the full lifecycle of data publishing, distribution, preservation, and perpetual access.

Project contacts:
IA – Jefferson Bailey, Director of Web Archiving & Data Services, jefferson [at] archive.org
COS – Nici Pfeiffer, Director of Product, nici [at] cos.io

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Giving New Life to Out-of-Print Books Through Controlled Digital Lending

Dean Bartoli Smith’s book of poetry about growing up in Baltimore came out in 2000. American Boy was long past its sales life until it was resurrected by being digitized by the Internet Archive and made available through one-at-a-time digital lending (a model known as Controlled Digital Lending).

Dean Bartoli Smith, Poet and Director, Duke University Press

“It’s uniquely personal to me because some of the poems deal with my parents’ divorce at the age of seven,” says Smith of the 68-page collection of poems. “My mother became a family law attorney and would give my book to clients who were dealing with custody situations. She passed away in January and as a tribute to her, I wanted there to be free access to that book.”

The poems reflect Smith’s journey to adulthood and issues of the day, such as Vietnam and the plight of Native Americans. It is geared for readers 10 and up. Initially, about 1,000 copies were printed by Washington Writers Publishing House and now the book is available by print on demand.

“I think there is a big need to be able to provide access to these books that are out of print,” said Smith, who is director of the Duke University Press and a 1989 graduate of the Masters of Fine Arts program at Columbia University, “I didn’t go about writing as a way to make a living. Poets are writing poetry to make sense of the world and to share. If someone can benefit from something that I’ve written, then all the more power.”

Smith also wrote Never Easy, Never Pretty: A Fan, A City, A Championship Season, a nonfiction trade book about the Baltimore Ravens 2012 Super Bowl season published by Temple University Press in 2013. Each chapter starts with a line of poetry about football from an established poet. While still in print, Smith said he may eventually explore having that title digitized by the Internet Archive.

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