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 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
  5. Donate to the Internet Archive

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

69 thoughts on “Announcing a National Emergency Library to Provide Digitized Books to Students and the Public

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    1. Mary Augusta

      Chris

      That has to be one of the best comments around. Thank you and the IA for this offering. IA, BHL, and ther digital libraries are more important now than ever before.

      Reply
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  6. Stephanie Willen Brown

    So, librarian to librarian, is this unlimited simultaneous users? Y’all have digitized a book that one of my faculty wants his students to read (by tomorrow! when they will virtually meet the author!). Author and professor will be thrilled.

    ❤️

    Reply
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  11. Tucker Taylor

    I’ve already filled 2 requests for our faculty and I haven’t even gone through the entire list!

    Reply
  12. Linda Allcorn

    Please advise of the process a public library will follow to make The National Emergency Library available to our library patrons.

    Thank you of sharing this great idea!

    Reply
    1. chrisfreeland Post author

      Hi Linda – The books are available to your patrons now. You can direct users to the National Emergency Library at https://archive.org/details/nationalemergencylibrary where they can search for books or authors using our “Search the collection” box along the left of the screen. Users can check out up to 10 books at a time with our waitlists are suspended.

      Reply
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    1. chrisfreeland Post author

      Hi Lucie – Yes, our books are available equally to all users, regardless of where they are located. Please do share with your university students in Canada!

      Reply
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  18. Ellen

    Could you help me understand why this is something you can do now but not all of the time? Are normal copyright rules being suspended?

    Reply
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  21. John Gilmore

    Thank you for supporting students with this expansion of access to already-digitized books.

    I tried to read your FAQ but it sends me to Google. It won’t even display for me because I refuse to let Google run Javascript in my browser, since that’s part of how they spy on everybody for their own profit.

    Surely there is a place on the Internet Archive where you can publish your own FAQ. Friends don’t send friends to Google!

    Reply
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  24. Diane Gould Hall

    This is fantastic! Thank you for doing this. I am a regular supporter of your site and love the books I have access to. So helpful! May the Lord protect all of us during this situation.

    Reply
  25. Uday Modak

    I have no words to express my whole hearted gratitude to you LIBRARIAN THE GREAT ! The readers around the world will be thrilled reading this anouncement ! We are all highly obliged ! Hope every and all the librarians around the world follow this example !

    Reply
  26. DK Fynn

    This is really great to hear. I know that authors and publishers have to make money, but that said, I do hope that they take steps to make their content more easily available to those who really need them.

    One idea that comes to mind–and I’m not sure if it’s been done–is a temporary lifting of exclusive copyright, or maybe something can be done with Creative Commons. Maybe something can be done via ebook readers (like Kindle) where a book can be downloaded for free for a given period of time, then after such time, the book goes back to paid status. I think that would be a nice negotiation between authors, publishers, and readers.

    Reply
  27. S.M.

    My waitlist is now empty and ALL of the books I have been patiently waiting for many weeks (some for months) have vanished, with no way to ever know exactly which titles I had been waiting for. Never thought that waitlist was just going to disappear without any advance notice. I can recall some of the titles that were on my waitlist, but some have been on for so long I can not recall their exact title. Hopefully you can look into this & figure out a way to either email us listing of books that WERE on our waitlists so we can now go download them all, or you could automatically “checkout” them out to our accounts & then email us that they are sitting there waiting for us.

    Reply
  28. Marian B.

    What a great gesture, thank you very much, Chris Freeland.
    I’ll share this with the elderly women I know, who use internet.
    Also, for myself, I’m enjoying reading books much, at archive.org
    It’s an excellent source of many goodies and documentaries for me,
    since about a decade. I’m Dutch and most other Dutchies I know
    have no idea about archive.org being such a treasure box library.
    Much appreciated, I realize how much work and time goes into it.

    Reply
  29. Pinta A.

    [quote]
    Users can check out up to 10 books at a time with our waitlists are suspended.
    [/quote]

    I wanted to ask: When the waitlists come back into effect, will the last 5 books we’ve borrowed suddenly get returned? Or will they, instead, remain borrowed for whatever time they have left and *then* get returned?

    (I ask because I am trying to adjust my reading habits accordingly.)

    Reply
  30. Albie

    Greetings from Nantes in France,
    great idea!! does these include audio books? and being in France I suppose there’s limits on what’s available.
    Meanwhile it’s back to OTR.

    Thanks for all your efforts over the years,

    Albie

    Reply
  31. Marco De Antoni Ratti

    It would be helpful to have such an emergency law being introduced in Italy.

    I will try on my little possibilites to do that.

    Thanks for your precious work.

    Best regards

    Marco De Antoni Ratti

    Reply
  32. Jess

    This is such a blessing! My middle school has been scrambling to figure out what to do about classroom novels we currently don’t have access to, and so far all of them are up here! THANK YOU!

    I have a question though–Since a login is required to access them, could we make sort of a generic school or class login? Some districts might not be super on board with making each student create their own, especially if the students don’t all have their own school email address.

    and once again, THANK YOU SO MUCH

    Reply
    1. The Librarian S

      I have the same question as Jess about whether there is a way to offer students access without requiring them to create accounts using email addresses or other personally identifiable information, since our district will also probably not allow this. If there is any possibility of using a generic school/class login or other workaround you can recommend (might it be acceptable for a teacher to temporarily share a download file with students on the condition that it be destroyed at the end of the loan period?) that would be a game changer. Thank you for any advice and for your work here. Books save lives, now more than ever.

      Reply
  33. Kristin Patrick

    Hello! This is wonderful news. Thank you very much. I notice that account setup requires email verification. Our students can’t receive email from domains outside of our school district. Are there any potentials workarounds? Thank you in advance for any help you can provide.

    Reply
  34. Meghan McCarthy

    Author/illustrator here. I want to help out BUT I rely on school visits to make an income. Those have been cancelled. My other source of income is royalties from my books. If all of my books are now free for all online this could have a big impact on whatever income I have left. Not all authors are rich! Last year I qualified for food stamps (not an exaggeration). Please think of us during this time period as well.

    Reply
    1. chrisfreeland Post author

      Meghan – We understand that authors and creators are being impacted during this crisis, which is why we’ve made a streamlined way for authors to opt out from having their books in the National Emergency Library. You can read more in our FAQs, linked above.

      Reply
  35. Lori Guidis

    Yipeeeeee!!!!

    I am not happy about the circumstances– Covid 19, but I am ecstatic that you are opening wider and wider!!!

    Love to you all,

    Lori

    Reply
  36. Laura

    Are you doing this with books currently under copyright? Have you cleared it with the copyright holders? While we’re all for making books available in times of crisis, it seems unfair to include writers without their knowledge and consent.

    Reply
  37. Mark Templeton

    amazingly supportive and generous action. a lot of students rely on shared books and ibrary holds for class reserves and that’s not possible these days.

    is there any chance you have more recent editions of texts to be added? i need the 8th ed. of something, Readings in Social Psychology by Lesko and you have a much earlier ed. and the articles have changed.

    Reply
  38. Dave Gordon

    This is a huge step for society and how we use technology, not to mention one of many small, positive changes that are taking place during these unpredictable circumstances. Thank you for doing all you can to help us care for one another-

    Reply

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