Tag Archives: NEL

Forging a Cooperative Path Forward: University Presses & the National Emergency Library

A call for help was sounded when it became clear that libraries were going to close indefinitely worldwide. The International Coalition of Library Consortia warned that the current system most libraries operate under was grossly insufficient to meet the crisis. We were in a unique position to respond and offer emergency relief to teachers and students around the world, so that’s what we did. We opened the National Emergency Library (NEL) on March 24, at a time UNESCO was reporting over 390 million students were being impacted. Today UNESCO reports that over 90% of the world’s student population is affected by school closures.

We were operating on pandemic time, but knew it wasn’t going to be the end of the conversation. Three days after we opened NEL, the Association of Research Libraries again urged publishers to maximize digital access. At this time we were busy providing this access to the best of our ability while beginning to respond to legitimate concerns from non-library stakeholders. We had designed an opt-out system for authors from the beginning, and our next big hurdle turned out to be working with university presses — many of whom we partner with — to address their concerns.

University presses react to NEL

In the hectic times of universities closing, we emailed our university press partners of the upcoming launch of NEL. The weekend after launching the NEL, we got a message from colleagues within the university press community saying some were not pleased with the NEL and the use of their published works within it.  Responding quickly, we held an open community call the following Tuesday to hear from directors and other members of the university press community.

There’s no way around it – it was a tough call. While challenging, it also provided an opportunity for the Internet Archive to clarify why we had released the NEL—namely, to support students and educators with temporary access to a digital library while their schools and libraries are closed and their print collections are unavailable. We believed that NEL was necessary to provide educational access to teachers and students who were not in a position to double buy the books their communities had invested in but could not safely distribute. We have since had numerous teachers reach out to us and confirm that this is the case.

However, that doesn’t mean that other stakeholders do not matter to us. We listened to the concerns, and frankly displeasure, of important members of the university press community. John Sherer, Director of UNC Press, was one of these critics and was unhappy with what he and many within the university press community saw as a unilateral move by the Internet Archive.

But something changed during the community call. In hearing our openness to listen to the community and their concerns, Sherer saw a common path forward. “The goals you had articulated aligned so closely with many of our goals and the sense of mission that drives us at UNC Press. Namely, making high quality scholarship as widely available as possible.”  Never one to rest idly, Sherer seized the moment, calculating that “if you all would consider a methodology I believe to be more equitable…I would pitch you on it and see if we could get to the common goal.”

And pitch he did. Along with Dean Smith, Director of Duke University Press, John drafted a Statement of Cooperation to help put structure around a publisher’s participation in the National Emergency Library. Both presses released blog posts (UNC Press here, Duke University Press here) to help contextualize why they disagreed with the process that the Internet Archive took in launching the NEL, and to describe why they ultimately decided to create the Statement of Cooperation so that they could support the National Emergency Library in a way they felt comfortable.

We appreciate the hard work of these university presses to find solutions to work together to provide students and researchers the resources they need during this difficult time. The statement they drafted is intended to be flexible and reusable. We hope that other publishers and presses will follow suit and sign on.

Why are university press books so important?

We consider our partnerships with university presses as a major milestone in making the NEL work for everyone to meet the immediate educational needs of those suffering from the pandemic. The Internet Archive has a long history of collaboration with the university press community, working with MIT Press, Cornell University Press, and others to digitize titles from their backlists.  

We believe that university press books are a cornerstone of the NEL. University press books are evergreen, well-cited in Wikipedia, and are the foundations of much scholarship.The materials published by university presses represent the preeminent scholarly output of America’s research universities. They present peer-reviewed research and analysis of use to policymakers and scholars, and provide materials that help shape and inform a literate and informed culture. In short, university press books are exactly the kind of content that people need access to right now.

The road ahead

It is our wish that the NEL only last as long as it is needed, and that’s why we gave ourselves an end date. We will continue to work with stakeholders during this time to find solutions to make the NEL work the best it can under these emergency conditions. We are proud of our work on the NEL, but not so proud as to not accept thoughtful criticism. We encourage university presses, as well as other stakeholders, to work with us to continue to improve the NEL.

We also know that there are many difficulties facing all stakeholders due to the pandemic. Financial hardships are already being reported across the nation’s universities. University presses face challenges ahead in fulfilling their mission, but do so with an eye towards change. In considering the future, Sherer reflects, “UNC Press has survived world wars, depressions, recessions…and our building even burned to the ground once. We will endure. What we’re working on now is trying to understand what that new landscape might look like and to see if we can help define a values-driven publishing model that can thrive in that new reality.” 

As Sherer later told us, “while we’re pleased that the NEL is making our books available at no cost to readers, I hope that the readers can remember that it wasn’t cost-less to produce those books.” We understand this concern. The Internet Archive uses a system called Controlled Digital Lending which leverages the number of loaned copies to the number of committed uncirculating physical copies and protects against redistribution by using the same digital rights management tools that publishers use; the temporary National Emergency Library, while using the same protections was built to address the suddenly and temporarily uncirculating books locked up in closed libraries.  The original purchase of these books is the traditional way libraries support publishers and authors while also retaining the freedom to decide how to best serve our patrons. The NEL is a short term measure to meet the emergency needs of those impacted by school and library closures. We also welcome a continued dialog with publishers and authors on this issue.

The NEL will soon close and the world will continue to evolve. We need to look forward to how we can help meet the informational and educational needs of this changing world. The Internet Archive will continue to work with university presses and other stakeholders as we all adjust to a dominantly digital world. The Internet Archive is committed to working with presses and publishers to help describe and implement new values-driven publishing models that will be needed in this new world. The world’s digital learners need us all to succeed so they get to read the best humanity has created. 

If you are an academic press or commercial publisher and would like to make your collections available through the National Emergency Library or work together to define a values-driven publishing model, please consider the Statement of Cooperation and reach out with additional questions.

Suspicious Activity in the National Emergency Library? No, just the best kind of activity…

An obsession with Asimov: Steven Cooper’s rapid book borrowing set off alarms at the Internet Archive.

Perhaps Steven Cooper’s pulse quickened when he found this ominous email heading in his inbox:

Subject: Re: your extensive downloading activity on archive.org

For weeks, Cooper, a software engineer in Melbourne, had been checking out ten books at a time from the National Emergency Library, returning them quickly, and checking out more. And more. And more.

The pace and regularity of this patron’s book borrowing seemed to us, well, suspicious. Was this just an automated bot, systematically and rapaciously tearing through our book collection? We assigned our head of security, Mark Seiden, to investigate. Cooper responded to Seiden’s inquiry with this reply:

Thanks for your note. I apologise if I’m causing a problem for you, but let me assure you that there’s no automated process whatever involved — every access to archive.org from my account has been done manually, by me.

Since mid-2017 I’ve been conducting a long-term research project into the works of Isaac Asimov, with the aim of producing the most complete bibliography possible of this incredibly prolific author. The initial version (http://stevenac.net/asimov/Bibliography.htm) was finished at the start of this year, and I used archive.org as one of the major sources of information. However, about a month ago I started a second pass through archive.org’s data, using text searching rather than metadata searching in order to carefully examine every single mention of Asimov to find items I’d missed.


—Sincerely, Steven Cooper

Since 2017, Cooper, a life-long Asimov fan, had been working toward a towering yet very personal goal: compiling the world’s most complete annotated bibliography of the works (in English) by Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) in time for the centennial of his birth, January 2, 2020. “I wanted a complete listing of his works,” Cooper told us. “His fiction, nonfiction. Particularly his nonfiction which is the hardest to assemble because he wrote so much and published it in so many places. This has never been done before, probably will never be done, because he wrote so much.”

A selection of Steven Cooper’s personal collection of Asimov’s writings. According to Cooper’s research, Asimov penned more than 3600 books, essays, reviews, and introductions.
Asimov credits his far-ranging knowledge to his access to the public libraries of New York.

Cooper was able to start compiling his bibliography using several excellent sources including Ed Seiler’s website, Asimov Online, which Seiler compiled decades ago by hand, through painstaking research in libraries and archives, including the index cards that Asimov wrote himself to keep track of his work. Asimov, whose day job was professor of biochemistry at Boston University, penned some 500 books—science fiction novels, of course, but also Asimov’s Guide To Shakespeare, Asimov’s Guide To The Bible, Lecherous Limericks, What Killed the Dinosaurs?

“I write for the same reason I breathe – because if I didn’t, I would die.”

—Isaac Asimov

When Cooper began his task in 2017, he was able to do his research almost entirely online. By his reckoning, one can find almost all of Asimov’s books and anthologies in the Internet Archive. But the real challenge is finding the prolific author’s many other works: introductions, magazine articles, essays and reviews. When Cooper first searched the bibliographic data in archive.org he came up with 1755 results, including 1100 texts, television and radio interviews, translations in Tamil and Hindi. Then he decided to search inside the texts, to look up every time Isaac Asimov’s name appears. The result: 35,000 mentions. 

A sampling of the 630 books by Isaac Asimov in the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library

Since then, Cooper has been going through them chronologically, one by one, “thanking my lucky stars that he has such a unique name.” That’s how he caught the attention of our security experts. “In the vast majority of cases I’m borrowing a book and returning it within a couple of minutes,” Cooper explained. “Just long enough for the text search to run and for me to look at the results and decide that there’s nothing that I’m interested in.” (It turns out that the majority of National Emergency Library patrons borrow the book for less than 30 minutes, suggesting they, like Cooper, are using them for research, or simply to browse.) Every so often, Cooper has a Eureka Moment—stumbling across a new piece of writing he has never seen before. So far he has checked the references up to 2004 and has about 15 more years of Asimov mentions to parse. “I’ve found about 300 new items to add to my archive,” Cooper told me. “That includes a dozen or so articles I was not aware of, so there will be new finds!”

“There is so much more of his work available through the Internet Archive than people generally realize,” Cooper went on to explain. “When I see Asimov forums, it’s really always about his fiction…But his nonfiction is still well worth reading. He’s such a good explainer. If you want to gain a basic understanding of mathematics, physics, chemistry, any kind of science, and history as well, he wrote a great deal of history that is still very readable. You can find it through the Internet Archive.”


In the Internet Archive you will find the March 1939 issue of “Amazing Stories”, which contains Asimov’s first published story, “Marooned Off Vesta

And how does Cooper find researching online from his home office in Melbourne, during this time of proactively staying in one place? “It’s kind of perfect for this current period we’re living through,” he mused. “The Archive has a pretty complete collection of the old Sci Fi magazines that his stories were first published in from the 1940s and 50s. I was able to see them in the original situation and in some cases see the differences between how they were originally published and how they appeared in book form.”

And what do we think the Great Explainer, this clear-eyed observer of history and science would have to say about this time of the COVID pandemic? Perhaps this:

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

—Isaac Asimov

The fruits of Steven Cooper’s labor are now available for anyone to use. His list is 676 pages long, at the moment. Yet, this software engineer with an obsession for Asimov never expected his passion project would be seen by the public, let alone a constellation of science fiction devotees. He did it for himself, to explore the many dimensions of Asimov’s thinking, where the writer’s curiosity would lead him, the clarity with which he would explain the world.He is known as possibly the most wide-ranging writer of the 20th Century,” Cooper ruminated. “I was just interested to see how wide ranging that was. I don’t think anyone has ever read everything he wrote.”

Now, with this new Asimov Annotated Bibliography, perhaps someone will.

Teachers & the National Emergency Library: Stories from the Frontlines of Online Schooling

The numbers are staggering. According to UNESCO:

  • 91% of the world’s learners have been impacted by school closures.
  • 1,576,021,818 learners are cut off from their classrooms
  • 188 countries have shut down schools nationwide.

Obscured in those figures are the individual teachers, librarians and students struggling to carry on classroom instruction without the books they need. Since this pandemic began, we have heard from hundreds of them, reaching out to figure out some way to keep teaching and learning going in their town, church, library or home school. 

Here are some dispatches from teachers, librarians and students on the frontlines of online schooling.

Helping K-12 students connect with books

In one of the first states to shutter schools and order residents to shelter at home, Erin S. is a 6th grade teacher of history and English in Sacramento, California. She’s been scrambling to teach virtually a unit onThe Adventures of Ulysses by Bernard EvslinHer middle school has hundreds of copies of this book, locked away and now beyond reach.  We received this urgent message from Erin, signed, Desperate Teachers!:

During the COVID emergency, students can check out “Ulysses” and renew it after the two week lending period is over.

At our school site, we have enough copies of this book for all of the 6th-grade students (300).  However, since we are not allowed to come to campus to check these books out we were looking for online PDF or ‘checkout’ possibilities.

I came across your website and services, found the copy we are looking for, and it is amazing because it looks like an actual book instead of just a word document.  I checked it out, but then noticed it says I can only borrow it for 14 days. This unit takes us longer than 2 weeks and we also have a lot of students who need this book.  Is there a way to lift the restrictions to borrow this book while we are in school closure?  

I am so grateful and excited to share your services with our students.  Teachers are desperate for any and all help right now and luckily our communities and beyond are coming to the front lines to help advocate for us! We really appreciate all you have done to help us!

At Downtown College Prep school in San Jose, California, one hard-pressed instructor sent us this call for help:

I am an instructional coach at a middle school charter school in San Jose, CA. Currently all the schools in our area are shut down as I’m sure you are aware. I am also leading the teaching of our two 5th grade classes right now. Here is my problem. One of our fifth grade classes was sent home without books to read. The class that I have been teaching literacy in (we lost a teacher mid-year), I sent home with 4 books. Eventually these books are going to run out and I am desperate to get books in these kids hands…or on their screens.

For middle school teacher (and climber!), Terri S., teaching online often presents huge barriers.

Teacher Terri S. of Cloudcroft, NM writes:

I teach all of the 6th, 7th and 8th grade students in my district, and Quarter Four (the time we are in right now) is set aside for a novel study. I cannot pass out our classroom sets of novels and was looking for a way for students to read the books digitally. Your site is a Godsend. Thank you for your help.

From a 7th grade teacher in Fairfield, PA we received this request:

For 25 years, one teacher has taught his favorite novel, “The Pushcar War.”

I have taught “The Pushcart War” novel in my class for most of my 25 years in education, and it is my favorite novel. I notice that you have it on your website to borrow as well as listen.

With schools being shut down indefinitely in the state of Pennsylvania, I was not able to give each student a copy of this novel from my classroom before we closed, and I had no idea that schools would be shut down this long. Is there any way my students can have an Open Library account set up…in order for them to enjoy this book during this unprecedented time? 


About one hundred miles from the epicenter of the outbreak, in Franklinville, New Jersey, Anne Papiano is the Media Specialist for the Delsea Regional High School District. It’s April, but she’s already worrying about how to get summer reading list books to students in her district. Her district owns physical copies of these books, but if schools remain closed for the entire school year, she won’t be able to reach them. She explains:

Media Specialist, Anne Papiano, works close to COVID’s epicenters in New York and New Jersey.

Our students will be unable to check out our schools’ physical copies of the required summer reading books. I am writing to you to request that access to the National Emergency Library be extended throughout the summer (perhaps until September 2020). This will give students who do not have the means to purchase their own copies to have equitable access to digital copies…for their summer assignments.

Thank you for working on behalf of those of us who are promoting literacy, even through difficult times.

From college professors and librarians

The impact is not limited to public K-12 school students. In the University of Washington article, “Why the National Emergency Library Matters to Huskies,” UW Libraries answered this central question:

As a Librarian, how does this impact your work to facilitate e-book orders for classes?

UW Librarians have been fielding ebook requests for required textbooks over the last week. Before the Emergency Library was announced, Librarians faced a common challenge– in many cases, there was simply no multi-user ebook available for the Libraries to order — this changed dramatically with the opening of the National Emergency Library.

History Librarian, Theresa Mudrock says this has made a real difference, but challenges still exist.

“Today, I was able to inform 10 instructors that the books they needed were now available, whereas yesterday they were not,” said Mudrock.

Over at George Washington University in Washington, DC, history professor, Tyler Anbinder, explained how his students are using the National Emergency Library:

My students could not finish the semester without the National Emergency Library. It has been a total lifesaver. Not for books that are “in print” electronically. My library has been buying those.  But for all the 30 to 50-year-old books that are out of print but essential for doing good history research.


Professor Anbinder also shared this message with consent from a sophomore in his course on Abraham Lincoln, caught off guard without access to her university’s library for this week’s reading:

College sophomore, Meaghan Burnes, had to leave campus before checking out all the books she needs to complete her coursework this semester.

Dear Professor Anbinder,

I have spent the past two days searching every inch of my house to find my copy of Lincoln’s Quest for Union. After trying to think of any place where this book might have gone, I remembered that the reason I cannot find it is because I do not have it. I was planning on borrowing it from the library because I was not able to buy each book. I would have gotten it from Gelman before I left DC, but we were all under the impression that we would be returning to campus on April 5th. 

I am so sorry, this is a huge mistake on my part. How should I proceed with this?

Sincerely,

Meaghan Burnes

Professor Anbinder was able to send her directly to this copy in the National Emergency Library so Meaghan could do the class reading in time.

Another college librarian, Amanda Dinscore, from Fresno State Library, sent us this note:

Many thanks to you and your IA colleagues for the National Emergency Library. Just found a book for a faculty member who was really frustrated about not being able to access a print copy of a book that I immediately found on the NEL. Win!

Authors React

But what is a win for teachers, librarians and students, comes at a cost, some say, in lost book sales for publishers and authors. Katie Smith offered perspectives from both authors and learners in her article for Book & Film Globe, including this viewpoint from a writer and homeschooling parent:

Writer and parent Amber DeGrace cites the Internet Archive as pivotal in her ability to transition to homeschooling her children. “What makes the Internet Archive so beneficial for educational purposes is that many older or out-of-print books that might not be available on bookselling sites are readily available here,” she tells Book & Film Globe. “For instance, a recommended book for my kids’ history curriculum is Morning Girl by Michael Dorris. While I could have purchased it on Amazon, I can’t afford to buy all these supplemental resources, and our local libraries have been closed for weeks.” It was, however, available for borrowing in the National Emergency Library.

Even Professor Anbinder, who is enthusiastic about the availability of older literature in the National Emergency Library, closed his message acknowledging, “I certainly understand how the authors of recent books would be mad to find their books there.”

No one has criticized the National Emergency Library more forcefully than New York Times bestselling author, Chuck Wendig. So we appreciated this honest exchange following Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog, with a writer and public librarian named Rachel:

RACHEL

March 31, 2020 @ 11:39 AM

Your argument is very compelling. It will certainly make me rethink telling any patrons to take a look at the “emergency” library.

The only counterarguments I could offer are from problems we are having on this side of the publishing/reader process.

For example: as I am a fan, I have already purchased your books for my patrons the old-fashioned way. We own them. But no one can use them. Is that your problem? Eh– no. Because of this issue, though, I’ve spent $3,000 of my materials money this month buying digital versions of books we already own. And… that’s it. No more money. It took everything I have to buy all those stupid Erin Hunter books so middle schoolers will stop doing the unspeakable things middle schoolers do when left idle. Also not your problem– unless they start roving in 6th grade gangs a la The Warriors.

It would help if digital books weren’t insanely expensive. On average, an adult book costs me about $65. THEN, it can only be checked out 26 times. After 26 checkouts, it disappears from the collection and I have to buy it again. That’s $2.50 every time someone checks a book out. And digital readers have a bad habit of checking out multiple books at a time whether they read them or not because they don’t have to return them.

So I feel like THAT is the actual problem. And if digital providers weren’t trying to gouge the eyeballs out of public libraries, this conversation would be over.

Just some thoughts. Stay safe.

Reply

TERRIBLEMINDS
March 31, 2020 @ 11:54 AM

There is a huge issue with how pricing is set up, and different publishers have made that more (and in some cases less) difficult, in what I assume is an effort to promote print and not yield the field to digital. And there’s a big conversation to have in that, and about that, and authors have attempted (sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much) to facilitate a better deal for libraries on behalf of the author/publisher.

Lessons Learned

Last week we released a first look at some trends in use of the National Emergency Library.  Corroborating what we are hearing from professors, our patrons are seeking older books: more than 90% of the books borrowed were published more than 10 years ago and two-thirds were published during the 20th century.  Most patrons who borrow books from the National Emergency Library are reading them for less than 30 minutes, suggesting they are using the book for research as a reference check, or perhaps they are simply browsing as in a library or bookstore.

In the few weeks since the National Emergency Library was established, much has been said in the Twittersphere about the very real needs of publishers and authors. Completely missing in the debate are the voices of the 1,576,021,818 students worldwide cut off from their books—books already purchased by their schools, public libraries and community colleges. For a few weeks, until this educational and public health crisis subsides, the National Emergency Library is trying to help fill this void.

The National Emergency Library – Who Needs It? Who Reads It? Lessons from the First Two Weeks

At a time when every day can feel like a month, it’s hard to believe that the National Emergency Library has only existed for two weeks. Recognizing the unique challenges of connecting students and readers with books now on shelves they cannot reach, the Internet Archive loosened the restrictions on our controlled digital lending library to allow increased lending of materials. Reactions have been passionate, to say the least—elation by teachers able to  access our virtual stacks, concern by authors about the program’s impact, and fundamental questions about our role as a library in these dire times when one billion students worldwide are cut off from their classrooms and libraries.

For those of you who are being introduced to us for the first time due to the National Emergency Library: Welcome! The doors of the Internet Archive have been open for nearly 25 years and we’ve served hundreds of millions of visitors—we’ve always got room to welcome one more. And for those of you who have tracked our evolution through the years, we know you have questions.

When we turned off waitlists for our lending library on March 24th, it was in response to messages and requests we’d been getting from many sources—librarians who were closing their doors in response to lockdowns, school teachers who were concerned their students could no longer do research and discovery through the primary sources they had on campus, and organizations we respected who knew we had the capability to fill an unexpected gap. A need that we knew we could provide quickly in response.

We moved in “Internet Time” and the speed and swiftness of our solution surprised some and caught others off guard. In our rush to help we didn’t engage with the creator community and the ecosystem in which their works are made and published. We hear your concerns and we’ve taken action: the Internet Archive has added staff to our Patron Services team and we are responding quickly to the incoming requests to take books out of the National Emergency Library. While we can’t go back in time, we can move forward with more information and insight based on data the National Emergency Library has generated thus far.

The Internet Archive takes reader privacy seriously, so we don’t have specific analytics or logs to share (we took the government to court to assure we didn’t have to do that,) but we do have some general information that may be of use to authors, publishers and readers about the ways patrons are using the National Emergency Library. We will be sharing more in the coming weeks of this crisis.

Majority of books are borrowed for less than 30 minutes

Even with a preview function where readers can see the first few pages of a book, most people who go through the check out process are looking at the book for less than 30 minutes, with no more interactions until it is automatically returned two weeks later. We suspect that fewer than 10% of books borrowed are actually opened again after the first day (but we have more work to do to confirm this). Patrons may be using the checked-out book for fact checking or research, but we suspect a large number of people are browsing the book in a way similar to browsing library shelves.

The total number of books that are checked out and read is about the number of books borrowed from a town library

Trying to compare a physical check-out of a book with a digital check-out is difficult. Assuming that the number of physical books borrowed from a library corresponds to digitally borrowed books that are read after the first day, then the Internet Archive currently lends about as many as a US library that serves a population of about 30,000.

Our usage pattern may be more like a serendipitous walk through a bookstore or the library stacks. In the real world, a patron takes a book off the shelf, flips through to see if it’s of interest, and then either selects the book or puts it back on the shelf. However, in our virtual library, to flip fully through the book you have to borrow it. The large number of books that have no activity beyond the first few minutes of interaction suggest patrons are using our service to browse books.

90% of the books borrowed were published more than 10 years ago, two-thirds were published during the 20th century

The books in the National Emergency Library were published between 1925 and 5 years ago, because books older than that are in the public domain—out of copyright and fully downloadable. Books newer than 5 years are not in the National Emergency Library. Unlike the age of most books in bookstores, the books readers are borrowing are older books, with 10% being from the last 10 years. Two-thirds of these books were published during the 20th century.

And when people find what they need, it solves a problem, such as this subject librarian who found a book published in 1975:

A bit of Fun: Some of the least common subject catagories of borrowed books

These subject tags come from library catalog records and other annotations by organizations such as ISKME has done with the Universal School Library collection, assigned to aid search and discovery of resources for educators.

We’ll continue to glean and share what we can as this project continues and we hope that the needs that gave rise to the National Emergency Library come to an end soon.

Internet Archive responds: Why we released the National Emergency Library

"Sorry Library Closed sign" with reflection of library and campus in the glass.

Last Tuesday we launched a National Emergency Library—1.4M digitized books available to users without a waitlist—in response to the rolling wave of school and library closures that remain in place to date. We’ve received dozens of messages of thanks from teachers and school librarians, who can now help their students access books while their schools, school libraries, and public libraries are closed.

We’ve been asked why we suspended waitlists. On March 17, the American Library Association Executive Board took the extraordinary step to recommend that the nation’s libraries close in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In doing so, for the first time in history, the entirety of the nation’s print collection housed in libraries is now unavailable, locked away indefinitely behind closed doors.  

This is a tremendous and historic outage.  According to IMLS FY17 Public Libraries survey (the last fiscal year for which data is publicly available), in FY17 there were more than 716 million physical books in US public libraries.  Using the same data, which shows a 2-3% decline in collection holdings per year, we can estimate that public libraries have approximately 650 million books on their shelves in 2020.  Right now, today, there are 650 million books that tax-paying citizens have paid to access that are sitting on shelves in closed libraries, inaccessible to them. And that’s just in public libraries.

And so, to meet this unprecedented need at a scale never before seen, we suspended waitlists on our lending collection.  As we anticipated, critics including the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers have released statements (here and here) condemning the National Emergency Library and the Internet Archive.  Both statements contain falsehoods that are being spread widely online. To counter the misinformation, we are addressing the most egregious points here and have also updated our FAQs.

One of the statements suggests you’ve acquired your books illegally. Is that true?
No. The books in the National Emergency Library have been acquired through purchase or donation, just like a traditional library.  The Internet Archive preserves and digitizes the books it owns and makes those scans available for users to borrow online, normally one at a time.  That borrowing threshold has been suspended through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency.

Is the Internet Archive a library?
Yes.  The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity and is recognized as a library by the government.

What is the legal basis for Internet Archive’s digital lending during normal times?
The concept and practice of controlled digital lending (CDL) has been around for about a decade. It is a lend-like-print system where the library loans out a digital version of a book it owns to one reader at a time, using the same technical protections that publishers use to prevent further redistribution. The legal doctrine underlying this system is fair use, as explained in the Position Statement on Controlled Digital Lending.

Does CDL violate federal law? What about appellate rulings?
No, and many copyright experts agree. CDL relies on a set of careful controls that are designed to mimic the traditional lending model of libraries. To quote from the White Paper on Controlled Digital Lending of Library Books:

“Our principal legal argument for controlled digital lending is that fair use— an “equitable rule of reason”—permits libraries to do online what they have always done with physical collections under the first sale doctrine: lend books. The first sale doctrine, codified in Section 109 of the Copyright Act, provides that anyone who legally acquires a copyrighted work from the copyright holder receives the right to sell, display, or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner. This is how libraries loan books.  Additionally, fair use ultimately asks, “whether the copyright law’s goal of promoting the Progress of Science and useful Arts would be better served by allowing the use than by preventing it.” In this case we believe it would be. Controlled digital lending as we conceive it is premised on the idea that libraries can embrace their traditional lending role to the digital environment. The system we propose maintains the market balance long-recognized by the courts and Congress as between rightsholders and libraries, and makes it possible for libraries to fulfill their “vital function in society” by enabling the lending of books to benefit the general learning, research, and intellectual enrichment of readers by allowing them limited and controlled digital access to materials online.”

Some have argued that the ReDigi case that held that commercially reselling iTunes music files is not a fair use “precludes” CDL. This is not true, and others have argued that this case actually makes the fair use case for CDL stronger.

How is the National Emergency Library different from the Internet Archive’s normal digital lending?
Because libraries around the country and globe are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Internet Archive has suspended our waitlists temporarily. This means that multiple readers can access a digital book simultaneously, yet still by borrowing the book, meaning that it is returned after 2 weeks and cannot be redistributed.  

Is the Internet Archive making these books available without restriction?
No. Readers who borrow a book from the National Emergency Library get it for only two weeks, and their access is disabled unless they check it out again. Internet Archive also uses the same technical protections that publishers use on their ebook offerings in order to prevent additional copies from being made or redistributed.

What about those who say we’re stealing from authors & publishers?
Libraries buy books or get them from donations and lend them out. This has been true and legal for centuries. The idea that this is stealing fundamentally misunderstands the role of libraries in the information ecosystem. As Professor Ariel Katz, in his paper Copyright, Exhaustion, and the Role of Libraries in the Ecosystem of Knowledge explains: 

“Historically, libraries predate copyright, and the institutional role of libraries and institutions of higher learning in the “promotion of science” and the “encouragement of learning” was acknowledged before legislators decided to grant authors exclusive rights in their writings. The historical precedence of libraries and the legal recognition of their public function cannot determine every contemporary copyright question, but this historical fact is not devoid of legal consequence… As long as the copyright ecosystem has a public purpose, then some of the functions that libraries perform are not only fundamental but also indispensable for attaining this purpose. Therefore, the legal rules … that allow libraries to perform these functions remain, and will continue to be, as integral to the copyright system as the copyright itself.” 

Do libraries have to ask authors or publishers to digitize their books?
No. Digitizing books to make accessible copies available to the visually impaired is explicitly allowed under 17 USC 121 in the US and around the world under the Marrakesh Treaty. Further, US courts have held that it is fair use for libraries to digitize books for various additional purposes. 

Have authors opted out?
Yes, we’ve had authors opt out.  We anticipated that would happen as well; in fact, we launched with clear instructions on how to opt out because we understand that authors and creators have been impacted by the same global pandemic that has shuttered libraries and left students without access to print books.  Our takedowns are completed quickly and the submitter is notified via email. 

Doesn’t my local library already provide access to all of these books?
No. The Internet Archive has focused our collecting on books published between the 1920s and early 2000s, the vast majority of which don’t have a commercially available ebook.  Our collection priorities have focused on the broad range of library books to support education and scholarship and have not focused on the latest best sellers that would be featured in a bookstore.

Further, there are approximately 650 million books in public libraries that are locked away and inaccessible during closures related to COVID-19.  Many of these are print books that don’t have an ebook equivalent except for the version we’ve scanned. For those books, the only way for a patron to access them while their library is closed is through our scanned copy.

I’ve looked at the books and they’re just images of the pages. I get better ebooks from my public library.
Yes, you do.  The Internet Archive takes a picture of each page of its books, and then makes those page images available in an online book reader and encrypted PDFs.  We also make encrypted EPUBs available, but they are based on uncorrected OCR, which has errors. The experience is inferior to what you’ve become accustomed to with Kindle devices.  We are making an accessible facsimile of the printed book available to users, not a high quality EPUB like you would find with a modern ebook.

What will happen after June 30 or the end of the US national emergency?
Waitlists will be suspended through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later.  After that, the waitlists will be reimplemented thus limiting the number of borrowable copies to those physical books owned and not being lent. 

Announcing a National Emergency Library to Provide Digitized Books to Students and the Public

To address our unprecedented global and immediate need for access to reading and research materials, as of today, March 24, 2020, the Internet Archive will suspend waitlists for the 1.4 million (and growing) books in our lending library by creating a National Emergency Library to serve the nation’s displaced learners. This suspension will run through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later. 

During the waitlist suspension, users will be able to borrow books from the National Emergency Library without joining a waitlist, ensuring that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials that the Internet Archive has digitized for the remainder of the US academic calendar, and that people who cannot physically access their local libraries because of closure or self-quarantine can continue to read and thrive during this time of crisis, keeping themselves and others safe.  

This library brings together all the books from Phillips Academy Andover and Marygrove College, and much of Trent University’s collections, along with over a million other books donated from other libraries to readers worldwide that are locked out of their libraries.

This is a response to the scores of inquiries from educators about the capacity of our lending system and the scale needed to meet classroom demands because of the closures. Working with librarians in the Boston area, led by Tom Blake of Boston Public Library, who gathered course reserves and reading lists from college and school libraries, we determined which of those books the Internet Archive had already digitized.  Through that work we quickly realized that our lending library wasn’t going to scale to meet the needs of a global community of displaced learners. To make a real difference for the nation and the world, we would have to take a bigger step.

“The library system, because of our national emergency, is coming to aid those that are forced to learn at home, ” said Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. “This was our dream for the original Internet coming to life: the Library at everyone’s fingertips.”

Public support for this emergency measure has come from over 100 individuals, libraries and universities across the world, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  “Ubiquitous access to open digital content has long been an important goal for MIT and MIT Libraries. Learning and research depend on it,” said Chris Bourg, Director of MIT Libraries. “In a global pandemic, robust digital lending options are key to a library’s ability to care for staff and the community, by allowing all of us to work remotely and maintain the recommended social distancing.”

We understand that we’re not going to be able to meet everyone’s needs; our collection, at 1.4 million modern books, is a fraction of the size of a large metropolitan library system or a great academic library. The books that we’ve digitized have been acquired with a focus on materials published during the 20th century, the vast majority of which do not have a commercially available ebook.  This means that while readers and students are able to access latest best sellers and popular titles through services like OverDrive and Hoopla, they don’t have access to the books that only exist in paper, sitting inaccessible on their library shelves. That’s where our collection fits in—we offer digital access to books, many of which are otherwise unavailable to the public while our schools and libraries are closed. In addition to the National Emergency Library, the Internet Archive also offers free public access to 2.5 million fully downloadable public domain books, which do not require waitlists to view.

We recognize that authors and publishers are going to be impacted by this global pandemic as well. We encourage all readers who are in a position to buy books to do so, ideally while also supporting your local bookstore. If they don’t have the book you need, then Amazon or Better World Books may have copies in print or digital formats. We hope that authors will support our effort to ensure temporary access to their work in this time of crisis. We are empowering authors to explicitly opt in and donate books to the National Emergency Library if we don’t have a copy. We are also making it easy for authors to contact us to take a book out of the library. Learn more in our FAQ.

A final note on calling this a “National Emergency” Library.  We lend to the world, including these books. We chose that language deliberately because we are pegging the suspension of the waitlists to the duration of the US national emergency.  Users all over the world have equal access to the books now available, regardless of their location.

How you can help:

  1. Read books, recommend books, and teach using books from the National Emergency Library
  2. Sponsor a book to be digitized and preserved
  3. Endorse this effort institutionally or individually
  4. Share news about the National Emergency Library with your social media followers using #NationalEmergencyLibrary

If you have additional questions, please check out our FAQ or contact Chris Freeland, Director of Open Libraries.

Update 3/30: To read our latest announcement about the National Emergency Library, please read our post Internet Archive responds: Why we released the National Emergency Library