To celebrate National Library Week 2022, we are taking readers behind the scenes to Meet the Librarians who work at the Internet Archive and in associated programs.
Sawood Alam was born and raised on a farm in a remote village of India with no smartphones, television or electricity.
“Books were one of the only means of learning and entertainment for us,” said Alam, who checked out as many books as he could from his school library every Thursday. “I had to take my buffalo out every afternoon. It was a boring task out in the field with no one to talk to, so books were my companions.”
When he was 10 years old, Alam helped at his school library, which was all run by children. He said he learned a lot about sorting, indexing and categorizing books—the beginning of a lifelong passion.
Nearly two decades later, Alam completed his PhD in computer science with a specialty in web archiving from Old Dominion University. He was part of the Web Science and Digital Libraries Research Group at the university.
Alam joined the staff of the Internet Archive as a web and data scientist in 2020. Working with the Wayback Machine team, Alam supports researchers from all around the world conducting analyses with Internet Archive collections. When someone has a research question that involves interaction with Wayback Machine APIs or downloading a large number of archived web pages, he helps prepare the data and provides technical assistance. Alam tries to improve the discoverability of items in massive web collections. His data insights and quality assurance efforts enhance web crawling and Wayback Machine operations.
Alam also collaborates with partners from academia, industry, and organizations on various research, development and standardization efforts. His own research has focused on archive profiling, interoperability and cooperation among archives, which are all topics the data scientist writes about and shares on Twitter.
Formal academic training in the field of web archiving is uncommon, said Alam. With his background, he’s able to understand the data scientists’ research needs, he said, making his skills a perfect match for his position at the Internet Archive.
“‘Universal Access to All Knowledge’ is something that certainly resonates for me,” Alam said of the Internet Archive’s mission. “I would like to focus on making it more global.”
In recognition of his contribution to the library community with digital preservation, Alam received the NDSA 2020 Future Stewards Innovation Award.
Beyond his work at the Internet Archive, Alam serves the digital library and web archiving communities by peer-reviewing research papers and chairing sessions in journals and conferences in the fields of his interest and participating in conversations of International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) with focus towards interoperability, collaborations, and other related topics.
Favorite items in the Internet Archive for Alam? “I established a volunteer-driven online Unicode Urdu books library, UrduWeb Digital Library, during my graduation years. My first language is Urdu so when I see books and materials in Urdu in the Internet Archive it brings me joy. Thanks to the Wayback Machine, I was able to narrate the lost story of the evolution of Urdu blogging on the 20th anniversary of the Internet Archive.”