The Million Manual March

An arbitrary but still amazing milestone has passed:

The Internet Archive now has over one million manuals, instruction sheets and informational pamphlets in its Manuals collection. They range into every field of study or product and extend back, in some cases, well past a century!

People have been uploading manuals of every stripe into the Internet Archive for well over a decade, not to mention instruction booklets and related works in collections of partner organizations which are not in the main collection. In the past few years, efforts to mirror both manual repositories out in the world as well as documentation collecting by individuals have put our materials into the stratosphere of this staggering number.

While we gaze upon a nine-digit mountain of manuals, let’s talk about why this is so important and what it means.

Since we’ve had technology and tools, we’ve had instructions on how to use them. Passed along by demonstration, discussion or written forms, the critical link between having possessions and making the most of them has been the unit of knowledge called The Manual.

It’s a very general idea, and one that can range wildly in terms of depth, quality, and approach. Some items hand you a scant single printed page with poorly constructed diagrams. Others are multi-volume tomes that give exacting detail down to the smallest theory of operation. (The manuals for a Boeing 747 airplane weigh more than a 747!)

Considering the manual, one impression might be that they’re only of interest to someone in possession or with interest in the specific item or procedures being addressed.

But manuals are much more than just instructions of operation, or a listing of the components inside a product. They’re windows and insights into the priorities and approaches that companies and individuals take with the tools and goods they sell. And in many cases, the artistic and visual efforts to make an item clear to the reader has led to truly breathtaking visual feats.

With this many manuals and documents, a person trying to find the exact manual they need for something they own will always be a little difficult. Here’s some quick suggestions.

  • First try searching for the product name, with just the company and the model number. If the company does not make that many items (as opposed to a large multinational), just putting in the company name may be enough.
  • Sometimes there will be just one manual for an entire product family. If so, searching for the company name and the product type (like “Angelcorp CD Player”) will put you on the right track.
  • There is also a “Full-Text Search” under the search box you can select which will look inside the documents in the manuals, allowing you to search for model numbers or information in a much deeper way.

Naturally, a collection of this size is rather hard to browse through – there are manuals coming in by the thousands every month, and we are working to get them into proper sub-collections and headings, as well as improving metadata. The work is never done with a project like this, but the joy and wonders never cease.

So enjoy a million manuals, and we’ll see you at two million!

A shout out and deep thank you to all the different communities and individuals worldwide who have assembled manuals mirrored from external sites like manualzzz, manualsbase and iFixit, as well as by uploading in some cases scanning and uploading thousands of manuals to the Internet Archive personally, for being the reason this collection has grown so large.

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