by Wendy Hanamura
At the Internet Archive, we believe that libraries can be instruments of change.
So we are proud to announce that the Internet Archive is one of eight groups named semi-finalists today in 100&Change, a global competition for a single $100 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The competition seeks bold solutions to critical problems of our time. Here’s how we propose creating transformative, lasting change:
Our vision empowers libraries to unlock their rich analog collections for a new generation of learners, enabling free, long-term, public access to knowledge.
In today’s digital world, a new generation explores knowledge largely through their computers and phones. So as digital librarians, we worry when millions of books, representing a century of knowledge, are still not accessible online to scholars, journalists, students, and the public. Libraries have been stymied by huge costs, restrictions on eBooks, and missing technology. The legal path forward has not been clear. All of this means libraries haven’t been able to meet the digital demands of a new generation. And access to libraries is still not universal or equitable.
Our plan provides libraries and learners with free digital access to four million books. With our partners, we will curate, digitize, and enable digital lending of these digital volumes to any library in the country that owns the physical book. We plan to start with the books most widely held and used in libraries and classrooms. The scale of the project will help reduce digitization costs by 50 percent or more. How do we know this can work? We’ve been prototyping this model for six years at Open Library, digitizing 540,000 modern books originating from 100 partners. Through Open Library, we lend books to the public in a manner that respects the rights of authors and publishers, in a process that mirrors the traditional way libraries circulate physical books.
What makes this a gamer-changer? Today, the Internet Archive already offers public access to 2.5 million books in the public domain, and 540,000 modern works. We need to be bigger and bolder. At the Internet Archive, we only lend one copy at a time, so in order to serve more learners, we seek thousands of libraries to join us. That can happen if we build the technical infrastructure that allows libraries everywhere to leverage those digital books. Plus, this is an issue of dollars-and-cents. Libraries should never pay to digitize a book more than once. Right now libraries pay an average of $17.50 for each interlibrary loan of a physical book. As books become electronic, those funds can be directed to more urgent needs. And above all, this grant will help all libraries become digital libraries, releasing the tremendous value in the collections they have curated over centuries.
With so many brilliant, effective thinkers applying to 100&Change, it always felt as if our chances were one in a hundred—and indeed they were! There was robust participation: 7,069 competition registrants submitted 1,904 proposals. Of those, 801 passed an initial administrative review and were evaluated by a panel of expert judges who each provided ratings on four criteria: meaningfulness, verifiability, durability, and feasibility. MacArthur’s Board of Directors made the final selection. To be one of eight semifinalists from 800 qualified applicants is a tremendous honor.
And as we work hard to hone our plans in the months ahead, here’s what propels us forward: Eileen Alfaro, the Internet Archive’s brightest rising star. Every day after school, this San Francisco fifth-grader does her homework at the Internet Archive, while her mother Roxana works. A straight-A student, Eileen loves nothing more than reading. We can put four million of the best books into her hands. Forever. For free.
Our proposal? Making libraries instruments of change for a new generation of learners like Eileen.
A summary of the Internet Archive’s solution, an overview video of its project and a MacArthur video describing our proposal is available here www.macfound.org/InternetArchive.