Lillian Michelson was celebrated as a “force of nature” librarian devoted to helping Hollywood filmmakers get the details right at an event on January 27 to unveil a new online home at the Internet Archive for her extensive collection of books, photos, scrapbooks and clippings.
The Michelson Cinema Research Library was opened with an animated version of the research icon cutting a virtual ribbon to an audience of more than 300 people watching online. The public got a first glimpse of 1,300 books that are now digitally available—part of a million items in the rich collection that Michelson donated to the Internet Archive in December.
“Now, for the first time, anyone, anywhere on the planet can go roam into the halls of Lillian’s research library,” said Thomas Walsh, a production designer and former president of the Art Directors Guild, speaking on a panel at the event. “It’s a really unique, eclectic collection. The books go back to the 1700s. Nothing she had is in print anymore. It’s an extraordinary range of material.”
Walsh looked for nearly eight years to find a place to house the content, which art directors and others relied on for creating accurate visual backstories to movies. Whether it was finding blueprints of a nuclear submarine or photos of the interior of a 1950s police station, Michelson was respected for being tenacious in pursuit of answers to inform movie productions. In Michelson’s decades of research, she worked on movies such as Rosemary’s Baby, Scarface, Fiddler on the Roof, Full Metal Jacket, The Graduate, and The Birds.
Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian and founder of the Internet Archive, said he was amazed when he opened up the first boxes from the Michelson Library and saw the variety and extent of raw materials. Making an internet equivalent of the library will be a huge challenge, but one that also is a great opportunity.
“It’s not just a hodge-podge of used books. It is a complete collection that served a community. It comes with a focus,” Kahle said of the Michelson Cinema Research Library that filled some 1600 boxes on 45 pallets. “The Internet Archive is starting to receive whole libraries. The idea of bringing those online is not just bringing those books and materials online. It’s bringing a community online.”
Daniel Raim, Academy Award-nominated director and panelist at the event, described Michelson as a storyteller whose work was central to helping create a movie’s narrative.
“I always found it fascinating to spend time in Lillian’s library— — and now online at the Internet Archive—it sparks your imagination,” said Raim, who produced and directed a 2015 documentary Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, about Michelson, now 92, and her husband, Harold, a storyboard artist and production designer, who died in 2007. The film pays tribute to the beloved couple and their contribution behind the scenes to some of the greatest movies in the past 50 years.
After the panel discussion, the Internet Archives hosted a viewing party of the documentary.
For nearly 100 years, the Marygrove College library was the hub of activity on campus. The small, liberal arts college in Detroit didn’t have a student union, so the library served as the heartbeat of campus, offering students a place to study, learn and socialize.
“The Marygrove library was very unique. It was a place where students came for help and to see their classmates,” says Laura Manley, a librarian from 2005-2015. “If they didn’t understand something about an assignment, they would find out from others and network in the library.”
As enrollment dropped and financial pressures mounted, the college closed in December 2019. The fate of the library collection was uncertain. Administrators explored avenues to sell or dispose of the books but decided instead to donate the entire collection to the Internet Archive. More than 70,000 volumes were boxed up and then scanned into a digital format. The physical copies were put into storage and the Archive makes one digital version of each item available for free check out through its Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) program.
Rather than shut its doors permanently, the library has a new home online. The Internet Archive celebrated the reopening of the Marygrove College Library last October, offering a way for the heart of the Marygrove campus to keep beating.
“I was thrilled with the idea that the collection went as a body and could live on,” says Jennifer Meacham, who worked at the library for 15 years. “The library had a long history of expanding to meet the growing needs of the student body as it changed.”
Marygrove began as a Catholic women’s college, eventually becoming co-ed and predominantly African American, reflecting the demographics of the surrounding community. Professors emphasized not just learning in the classroom, but the importance of making the world a better place, says Meacham. That translated into a need for materials on social justice issues. And because librarians worked closely with students, they were able to learn about their specific research projects and purchase materials tailored to their interests.
As Meacham curated the children’s book collection at Marygrove, she intentionally bought books with black and brown characters covering issues that were relatable to students who teachers graduating from the college would have in class. Once the collection was made available online, Meacham says she eagerly browsed through the diverse collection and was pleased to know it is now freely available to anyone.
Jeffrey Zachwieja was hired in 1996 as a reference and instruction librarian as Marygrove was beginning to move from card catalogues to an automated system with electronic databases. “We wanted to preserve the past, but move to the future,” says Zachwieja, who built the library’s first website. Care was taken to keep the collection current while keeping books that reflected the deep history of various fields of study at the college, including education and religion.
The library became a go-to spot for technology, providing many students with their only access to the internet or a computer. Librarians provided individual support to students as they navigated new platforms and software programs.
Students needing help at the library reflected the span of the student body from undergraduates who had come through the Detroit Public Schools to graduate students in their 30s and 40s. Manley says it was fulfilling to work with the students one-on-one, especially those who had limited technology experience and relied heavily on the library.
Meacham says the library tried to provide a range of services in all things related to information. Librarians recommended materials for research papers, direction on bibliographies, feedback to make sure students weren’t plagiarizing, and an audience to practice a presentation. “The library was seen as a human resource,” she says. “We had a very good reputation and would bend over backwards for students and faculty,” she says.
Manley says the experience at Marygrove changed how she viewed access to education.
“I went from thinking when I first started my career that people should succeed by merit. But what I witnessed is there were all kinds of bright students who should have knowledge readily available. But they had to struggle because of reasons that were no fault of their own,” says Manley. “Whether they didn’t have a solid enough K-12 or it was socioeconomics, not everyone starts at the same playing field. Sometimes you have to bring someone up to speed to be able to fly. They are just as worthy and have just as much potential.”
Librarians at Marygrove went beyond their traditional role to help support students. “Our goal was to help students succeed. Once they had a foundation, they could do anything,” Manley says.
A coalition of advocacy and public interest groups has joined forces to launch the Library Futures Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) committed to upholding the right of libraries to provide users with materials in the new digital environment.
The new organization launched its website on January 25 and will work to empower libraries to fulfill their mission of providing equal and equitable access to culture for the public good.
“We need to preserve the significant value of library collections that benefit learning, research, intellectual enrichment of the public — but in the digital space,” said Kyle K. Courtney, board chair of Library Futures, and a copyright advisor and program manager at the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication. “Libraries have been a fundamental part of worldwide access to knowledge.”
The pandemic has underscored the urgency for libraries to transform to the digital age, Courtney said. The need for libraries to be able to provide digital material is a consumer issue that Library Futures hopes will gain traction with the broader public. “We are hoping to win hearts and minds to effectuate change,” Courtney said.
Library Futures was triggered by the challenge that libraries face accessing digital materials from publishers. Libraries have long co-existed with publishers and are trustworthy partners, but there has been a shift in the relationship in the digital world, Courtney said. Library Futures will advocate for less-restrictive licensing agreements for e-content, content ownership and stewardship, broad digital access for the public, and implementing the practice of Controlled Digital Lending (CDL), where patrons can borrow one secure digital copy of a book for every print book that a library owns.
Executive Director of Library Futures Jennie Rose Halperin says it’s critical for libraries to stand up from a position of strength to assert the role that libraries have in society.
“When you think about the power of the internet – to have any piece of information at your fingertips is amazing. And yet, the ways publishing captures knowledge globally means that dream cannot be realized,” said Halperin, who has worked as a librarian and digital strategist for Creative Commons and Harvard University Law School. “I believe libraries play a crucial and unique role in changing that paradigm.”
The agenda for Library Futures will include awareness building, education, outreach, and advocacy.
The Internet Archive is among the initial coalition partners supporting Library Futures. Others include: Authors Alliance, Boston Public Library, Creative Commons, EveryLibrary, Public Knowledge, Readers First, SPARC, and Special Libraries Association.
“I care about libraries lending, purchasing and preserving materials,” said Halperin. “As a coalition and advocacy organization, Library Futures is positioned to bring together organizations into conversation with libraries, archives, museums and the entire cultural heritage community to effectuate change.”
As part of its initial public programming, on February 10 Library Futures will co-host a panel discussion with the Internet Archive focused on dispelling myths about Controlled Digital Lending. Registration for the webinar is free and open to the public.
Authorized readers have special access to millions of digitized books through the Internet Archive’s program, connecting patrons with print disabilities to a vast digital library.
Doug Wilson says he’s a bit of a “bookaholic.” As senior pastor of a nondenominational church in West Covina, California, he surrounds himself with books at his office and study at home.
“I’m a voracious reader and love learning,” said Wilson, who recalls taking a wagon to the library every week as a kid and bringing back a stack of books. “I find life intriguing.”
The 64-year-old said his vision has never been great, but within the last year noticed it was worsening. Wilson was struggling to read print with small font sizes or in low light. An avid user of the Internet Archive, he learned about the Archive’s program for users with print disabilities, which allows authorized users to skip waitlists for the ebook collection and download protected EPUBs and PDFs. Wilson applied for the program and was granted access, with great results.
“It’s so helpful to be able to have multiple resources open at once on my computer,” said Wilson, who looks up material online from ancient thought to contemporary theology for his sermons. “It’s been wonderful to find something on just about anything.”
Signing up for the program was easy and fast, said Wilson. Students and researchers associated with a university can obtain access through their university library or student success center. For those outside higher ed, the process is run by Jessamyn West at the Vermont Mutual Aid Society, who receives requests through an online form from patrons around the world. People who qualify for the program include those with blindness, low-vision, dyslexia, brain injuries and other cognition problems who need extra time to interact with materials. Since October 2018, West has welcomed more than 5,600 users into the program.
“It makes a real difference to people’s lives,” said West. “Especially nowadays when many people are stuck at home and working with limited resources, having a world of accessible books available to them opens doors and expands horizons. I’ve seen people checking out books on drawing and painting, books about art history and comparative religions, and just a lot of fiction. The collection is truly extensive.”
With expanded access to digitized books, Wilson said he has been reconnecting with works written by many of his mentors through the digital theological collections. “It’s been a profound gift to discover those books that have been influential in my life. Getting access has been another way to be encouraged and mentored even from a distance,” said Wilson, adding he is in a season of life when many of those people are passing away. “The service has been so generous and a supplement to my own library.”
Being able to find the exact resource he needs from home and late at night is a convenience that Wilson said he values. Wilson has enjoyed books from Marygrove Library, a collection full of religious and social justice materials that was recently donated and made available online.
In an era with competing forms of information and disinformation, Wilson said the Internet Archive is important. “Wisdom is hard to come by,” said Wilson. “We are barraged with data in our culture. It can be hard to ferret out what’s real. To have access to actual information and works that have stood the test of time is a godsend.”
To learn more about the Internet Archive’s program for users with print disabilities, and to verify eligibility, please visit the program web page.
Filmmakers responded with enthusiasm and creativity to a call from the Internet Archive to make short films using newly available content from 1925 in celebration of Public Domain Day. They discovered a new freedom in being able to remix film clips with Greta Garbo, magazine covers with flappers, and sheet music from standards like “Sweet Georgia Brown” – all downloadable for free and reusable without restriction.
For the contest, vintage images and sounds were woven into films of 2-3 minutes that conveyed a sense of whimsy, nostalgia, and humor. While some were abstract and others educational, they all showcased ingenuity and possibility when materials are openly available to the public.
“The Internet Archive has spent 24 years collecting and archiving content from around the world…now is the time to see what people can do with it,” said Amir Saber Esfahani, director of special arts projects at the Internet Archive. He was a judge in the December short-film contest along with Carey Hott, professor of art and design at the University of San Francisco, and Brewster Kahle, digital librarian and founder of the Internet Archive.
The judges reviewed 23 entries and chose a winner based on creativity, variety of 1925 content (including lists of all sources), and fit for the event (fun, interesting and captivating). These new creative works may also be available for reuse, as indicated by the license term selected by the creator.
First place: Danse des Aliénés
Joshua Curry, a digital artist from San Jose, won first place for his submission, Danse des Aliénés (Dance of the Insane), in which he layers pieces of film on three panes with images rising and falling music to “Dance Macabre” (Dance of Death) performed by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. The format was inspired by the poem dramatized in triptych in the short film In Youth, Beside the Lonely Sea. His creation included flashes of Greta Garbo, ghosts from Koko Sees Spooks and colorful designs flowing in and out of the frames.
Curry, who has been making experimental videos since the 1980s, says the project was a perfect fit for his artist techniques, where he likes to stress and transform film in new ways. His film had a glitchy, broken feel that is in line with the aesthetic he often uses (See his other work at lucidbeaming.com.)
“I wanted it to be evocative and for people to appreciate it as a stand-alone piece of art,” says Curry, 49. “My visual goal was to produce something challenging that a wide variety of people could connect to – despite being mostly abstract and sourced from 95-year-old content.”
While Curry’s studio is modern and full of electronic equipment, working with the 1925 content and hearing music with cartoonish voices making novelty, popping sounds their cheeks was a welcome break. “One day when I was choosing the music, I was driving around the city listening to songs and felt like I was transported back in time,” Curry says.
He says it was also a pleasure to have easy access to the public domain content without commercial gatekeeping or legal obstacles, which he often encounters with digital material he wants to remix. As it happens, Curry just completed a class in multimedia copyright. He says he works hard to operate within the rules because he wants his video creations to survive online and not be taken down because of copyright infringement allegations.
Having the works for this project in the public domain meant less time trying to get the content and more time to focus on the creative process. “It was like being a little kid who was told he couldn’t have cake and then one day saying: ‘Dive in!’,” Curry said of the access to the 1925 material in the Internet Archive.
Receiving the contest’s top honors was particularly meaningful, says Curry, because he works in Silicon Valley where the Internet Archive has “great nerd cred” and is a library that people revere.
“I was proud to win with weirdness,” Curry says. “My piece was abstract, without narration or titles, and an authentic tribute to the pioneering work of the experimental films I made use of.”
To learn more about Curry’s inspirations and to hear from him directly, watch the director’s commentary that was captured during the Public Domain Day event.
Arden Spivack-Teather, 12, and Sissel Ramierz, 13, both of San Francisco, won third place for their short film, Fashion of the 1920s. It traces the evolution of women’s clothing from tight-fitting styles that required corsets to drop-waisted, loose dresses popularized by flappers. “Women could finally be chic and comfortable at the same time,” the film notes. “Every time you notice a fabulous flowing frock, thank the 20s.”
Arden found out about the contest through her mom, Cari Spivack, a staff member at the Internet Archive, and decided to partner with her friend, Sissel, a classmate since kindergarten who she had collaborated with for a winning science fair project in fifth grade. On Zoom and FaceTime, the girls looked through old McCalls magazines and decided to focus on the changing style of women’s clothing.
“It was really fun to use our creativity and find things that would look good together,” said Arden, who had never before made a film. Although the research, script and editing were a challenge, she says she hopes to do it again.
Spivack said she enjoyed seeing her daughter explore the material in the Archive, giggling and musing at the kitchen table about the tonics and ads she discovered. “It was exactly what I was hoping would happen — that they would be gripped by fascination of a time period that was long gone. They could travel back and learn on their own, paging through a magazine just like someone their age would have in 1925.”
The diversity of approaches people had with the films was impressive, added Spivack.
“It’s a good introduction to what can be done with old materials. You can use them to learn and to educate others. Or you can reuse them to make something that’s completely unexpected or never seen before,” Spivack said. “As archivists everything is important. But you don’t know why until you see what it can turn into or what it informs in the future.”
Yo Hey Look!by Adam Dziesinski, which pieced together film clips where something caught an actor’s eye, from a baby in a wicker stroller to a woman with a bob haircut dancing to a man in a Bowler hat laughing.
Michaela Giles made a time-lapse film of her using oil pastels, pencils, paints, and pens to draw a profile of a woman gracing the front of a vintage publication in 1925 Magazine Cover Recreation.
Public Domain Day by Subhashish Panigrahi explained the basics of how copyright works with text interspersed with cartoon clips, colorful paintings, and magazine covers.
25 Dad Jokes from 1925 by Anirvan Chatterjee was a compilation of jokes gathered from vintage middle school and high school yearbooks from Iowa, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Oregon, California. Among the corny humor: “Why is the ocean so angry? It’s been crossed too many times,” and “What are the three most often words used in school? I don’t know.”
The films were shown at the December 17 Public Domain Day virtual party, where the creators were asked to discuss their projects in breakout room discussions. You can view a livestream of the event here.
Looking around your home in the new year and wondering what to do with all the stuff you’ve accumulated? You’re not alone — turns out 54% of Americans are overwhelmed by the amount of clutter around them. As people move or downsize, they are often in a dilemma about what to do with their beloved books and records. The same goes for colleges and libraries when they close or relocate. So what’s a preservation-minded person or organization supposed to do with their extra books, records, or other media?
The Internet Archive is here to help! We welcome donations with open arms — from single books to entire libraries. The Internet Archive seeks to preserve and digitize one copy of every book, record, CD, film, and microfilm in support of our mission to provide “Universal Access to All Knowledge.”
“Increasingly, people are turning to the Internet Archive to preserve materials and give them new life online,” said Liz Rosenberg, donation manager. “Staff members can even help to arrange for a convenient pick up of larger donations.”
“We are always looking for items that we don’t have already or ones that are in better shape,” said Rosenberg, who encourages people to check online, if convenient, if a copy is needed. For large collections or donations with special circumstances, Internet Archive will go onsite to pack and ship items at no expense to the donor. “Our goal is to make this process easy for donors.”
Internet Archive receives a variety of materials from individuals and organizations. Boxes can be mailed to facilities in Richmond, California, or brought to drop off locations in the U.S. and England. The Archive tries to digitize materials and make them available publicly, as funding allows.
Recent personal donations have included a collection of railroad maps and atlases from the 1800s. Also, a large collection of fragile 78rpm records was donated by a person in Washington, D.C., and 18,000 LP, 45, and 78 records were donated from a home in Arkansas.
We are happy to give donors a receipt for tax purposes and celebrate the donation on the archive.org site if appropriate.
“We would love to provide a forever home for your media wherever you are located, however much you have,” said Rosenberg. “I love doing this role. It restores my faith in the goodness of the world every day.”
Leaders in the open world, intellectual property & social justice came together with hundreds of supporters to celebrate the works moving into the public domain in January 2021. Livestream available.
The Internet Archive celebrated the upcoming release of works created in 1925 for unrestricted use, from the jazz standard “Sweet Georgia Brown” to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic The Great Gatsby, at a virtual party December 17.
The gathering marked Public Domain Day, January 1, when copyright will be lifted from an array of movies, books, and other works of art produced 85 years ago. A quartet played a medley of songs that will enter the public domain in 2021; the winning entry of a short film contest was shown, paying tribute to works from 1925; and a panel of copyright experts and open advocates discussed today’s information sharing landscape. Watch the celebration now on the captured livestream.
“Why openness? To make the world more equitable, promote social justice, and to find answers in times of pandemic,” said Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. “Public domain gives freedom to enjoy, freedom to share, freedom to fly. It is the gold standard of openness.”
A robust public domain is essential for the future free knowledge, said Katherine Maher, chief executive officer of the Wikimedia Foundation and guest panelist. More than just artifacts of the past (old movies, painting, and books), the public domain includes government works, 3D models of asteroids, and massive data sets to help people better understand the world.
“We all benefit when work enters the public domain and when people choose to dedicate things to the common good – whether it’s art or research or data,” Maher said. “When these works become available for public access and use, everyone can participate in culture and knowledge and we can begin to address vast inequities.”
The recent release by the Smithsonian of nearly three million images and data into public domain was a “big win,” noted Catherine Stihler, chief executive officer of Creative Commons. However, the community needs to remain vigilant.
“We still have to fight the good fight and push back against misguided proposals to extend copyright and ways that lock up our shared cultural heritage,” Stihler said.
Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) said the fastest development of a vaccine in history demonstrates the value of open.
“Access to knowledge is a fundamental human right,” Joseph said. “There has never been a moment in time when the need to promote and protect our ability to quickly and freely share science has been more urgent…For all darkness of 2020, to witness this amazing progress powered by openness has provided some really welcome light.”
The public domain was designed to empower everyone – regardless of economic or political status – to give access to knowledge and all of its building blocks from data to facts, ideas to theories to scientific principles, said Joseph.
Still, there is a history of copyright being used to exploit African Americans and other marginalized communities, as opposed to a tool of benefit and empowerment, said Lateef Mtima, professor of law at Howard University School of Law, and founder and director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice.
“For the intellectual property system to work properly, it has to adhere to social justice obligations, principles of equitable able access, inclusion and empowerment for everyone,” said Mtima. “The way we get to create new works is to make sure everyone has an opportunity to be exposed to as many works as possible in the first place, because then they become inspired to produce new work.”
The Public Domain Day celebration reflects a positive inflection point in the social justice trajectory of copyright. With digital technology, there is a way to make the rich harvest of public materials available to everyone. But in order to do this, Mtima emphasized the need for broad societal investment in conquering the digital divide.
Amplifying some of the inequities, Kevin Green, chair and professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, shared an “Ode to the Public Domain” that he wrote for the event.
As part of the celebration, Amir Saber Esfahani announced the winner of the Public Domain Day Short Film contest: Danse des Aliénés (Dance of the Insane), an entry that incorporated music and images into a video collage paying tribute to works of 1925.
Wrapping up the evening, Kyle K. Courtney, a copyright lawyer and librarian at Harvard, mixed a Gin Rickey, a cocktail mentioned in The Great Gatsby. Then, Martin Kalfatovic, associate director of digital programs at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, offered a toast:
“Here’s to the progress of science and the useful arts, the explosion of creativity remixed in multiple formats. And as the new year passes again and again, we replenish the cup of our public domain.”
Added Kahle: “Public Domain Day is a fabulous holiday that should be enshrined forever. Long live the public domain and the community that supports it.”
The third and final session of the 2020 Library Leaders Forum wrapped up Tuesday with a focus on the impact of Controlled Digital Lending on communities to provide broader access to knowledge. A full recording of the session is now available online.
Michelle Wu was honored with the Internet Archive Hero Award for her vision in developing the legal concept behind CDL. In her remarks, the attorney and law librarian shared her thoughts on the development and future of the lending practice. Wu does not see the theory that she designed 20 years ago as revolutionary, but rather a logical application of copyright law that allows libraries to fulfill their mission.
Despite current legal challenges, Wu predicts CDL can continue if libraries make themselves and their users heard.
“We must make sure that the public interests served are fully described, visible and clear to lawmakers and courts at the time they make their decisions,” Wu said. “If we do that, I believe the public interest will prevail and CDL will survive.”
The pandemic has underscored the need for digital access to materials and changed attitudes about CDL among libraries that had previously been risk averse to the practice, Wu said.
“The closing of our libraries due to COVID has changed that mindset permanently,” Wu said. “It showed how the desire to avoid risk resulted in the actual and widespread harm to populations, depriving them of content at a time when access was more important than ever.”
Because of the pandemic, libraries are now empowered to try innovative practices to serve their patrons.
“With this new heightened awareness, I think the future of access is brighter,” Wu said. “Not only do I think CDL will flourish, but there seems to be very real chance that libraries will more aggressively fight to regain some of the public interest benefits of copyright that they’ve lost over the years.”
In the future, Wu maintained that CDL can ensure a balance for full and equal access to knowledge for every person.
“Reliable access to information is the great equalizer,” Wu said. “Information shapes each of us, and lack of it is part of what increases our divide.”
(A complete profile of Wu’s work can be found here.)
The event also included the virtual ribbon cutting ceremony announcing the reopening of the Marygrove College Library. The Internet Archive now houses its 70,000-volume library online, and has preserved the physical copies, after the institution closed the campus in 2019 and donated its entire collection for digitization. The move preserves books that reflect the college’s rich history of social justice and education programs that largely served women, African Americans and low-income students in Detroit.
“The knowledge that [the books] would still be available and still be utilized just keeps us going as we wrap up the college,” said Marygrove President Elizabeth Burns at the Forum. “It’s a sad, sad time, but it is also a time where we know the impact of the college will continue…It’s a very tangible measure of Marygrove for the future.”
Chris Freeland, director of Open Libraries at the Internet Archive, moderated a panel with Marygrove librarian Mary Kickham-Samy, Mike Hawthorne, a librarian at nearby Wayne State University, and Brenda Bryant, dean and director of Marygrove’s social justice program, to talk about the transformation of the library into a digital format.
“It’s exciting! I’m thrilled that it won’t be in just one small corner,” said Bryant of the library’s move online and value to scholars. Bryant built the nation’s first Master of Arts program in social justice at Marygrove and considered the library one of the best kept secrets on campus. “Like my activist friend Elena Herrada [said], the collection was important because in Detroit, reading is an act of resistance.”
Michelle Wu is leading libraries to think and act in new ways to fulfill their missions.
For nearly two decades, she has advocated for preserving and expanding access to materials by responsibly digitizing collections. Using her expertise as an attorney, law librarian and professor, Wu crafted the legal theory behind Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) and has dedicated much of her career to showing libraries how to put the concept into practice.
To honor her innovative and tireless work, Wu has been named the recipient of the 2020 Internet Archive Hero Award. The annual award recognizes those who have exhibited leadership in making information available for digital learners all over the world. Past recipients have included Phillips Academy, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the Grateful Dead. Michelle received the award during the Library Leaders Forum final session on October 20.
“Michelle Wu was ahead of her time in understanding the transition to the digital era and brought library lending into our new landscape,” said Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive.
“Not only did Michelle see a problem coming, she did something about it,” Kahle says. “It’s a combination of being both a visionary on how the world could work and then making concrete steps to get us there.”
With library buildings closed now for safety, the demand for digital materials has grown. The pandemic magnifies the importance of using CDL as a strategy to expand services to the public, says Pamela Samuelson, a distinguished professor of law and information management at the University of California, Berkeley, who admires Wu’s insights as a scholar and librarian.
“She set the example and made people feel comfortable with a concept that was initially a little bit questionable,” says Samuelson. In her copyright classes, Samuelson now draws on Wu’s work to inform her students.
“Michelle’s articles explaining the concept have been very useful for students to have not just the reader’s perspective, or law student’s perspective, but how librarians are really taking the challenge of the digital age,” Samuelson says. “They are making good things happen to carry on the grand tradition of libraries to facilitate as much access as lawfully possible to the public they serve.”
Looking back on her career, Wu says she sort of fell into law. She abandoned plans for medical school after helping her roommate at the University of California San Diego study for the Law School Admission Test. Fascinated with the logic puzzles, she took the LSAT on a whim and did well enough to get a scholarship.
“I found I loved the theory of the law, looking at issues from all sorts of angles and finding a path through,” says Wu, who enrolled at the California Western School of Law and worked part-time at the San Diego County Law Library. She soon realized that the adversarial nature of the legal process didn’t suit how she viewed the law. Law librarianship was a better match, one grounded in collaboration and a commitment to using legal knowledge to educate and assist users in finding meaningful solutions to their legal problems . A year after earning her J.D., Wu got her master’s degree in librarianship with a certificate in law librarianship at the University of Washington.
She landed her first job at George Washington University Law School Library. In 2001, she was hired by the University of Houston School of Law. It was there, following the massive destruction of the school’s library due to Tropical Storm Allison, that Wu focused on the need to protect materials through digitization.
Wu says she began to wonder: “Is there a better way for libraries to prepare society for a world in which there are a growing number of natural disasters?” she recalls. “There are so many risks to our collections, and society depends on long-term access for this information,” Wu says.
Wu developed the theory for a digitization program designed with copyright in mind. What came to be known as CDL, she says, strikes a balance between the interest of the users and copyright owners. A library can lend out only the number of copies that it has legitimately acquired, though the copy can be any format. The flexibility in format facilitates more effective access for a wide variety of users, including those who live remotely or have trouble physically coming to a library building, while also ensuring the preservation of content in situations like natural disasters.
After Houston, Wu worked at the Hofstra School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center. As both a library director and law professor, Wu says she has been well-positioned to advocate for CDL and reason with the skeptics.
“I haven’t heard a lot of substantive objections. I have heard fear, which is common and understandable anytime you are changing the status quo, but it is something that must be overcome for advancement.” says Wu. “In talking with others about CDL, I focus on what CDL is and what it is intended to accomplish, which pushes people to engage deeply instead of rejecting the idea out of fear. From my perspective, CDL is the purest form of balance in copyright that you are going to find in a world of technology, and that balance is difficult to deny when you examine CDL in detail.”
Kyle K. Courtney, the copyright advisor and program manager at the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication, says from the first time he met Wu, he was inspired by her ideas and willingness to challenge norms. Her research was a major influence on Courtney’s work and career. Together, they co-authored a position statement on CDL.
“It is great to meet your heroes sometimes — and even better to be able to work with them side by side,” says Courtney. “She is not a theoretical scholar. This is what’s awesome: She puts the cutting-edge CDL copyright system to work. That’s why she’s a trailblazer in both words and action, putting libraries at the forefront in our field.”
Wu’s leadership has helped advance the collaborative work of libraries and enabled there to be more transparency in sharing information, says Courtney. He and Wu have presented on CDL at several conferences and discussed the concept with Congressional staff on Capitol Hill last year.
“She is one of the hardest working members of the library field I know,” Courtney says. “She’s oriented toward practical results and addresses 21st century challenges in multiple environments – public, private and academic. She is a person of remarkable integrity.”
Courtney says Wu’s recognition showcases what leaders in librarianship should aspire to: a successful record of progressive scholarship, influence on the next generation of librarians and a legacy of hard work that reflects an enthusiasm for libraries.
Sharing the story of CDL on Capitol Hill, Lila Bailey, policy counsel for the Internet Archive, says she was struck by Wu’s ability to connect with staffers. “Michelle explains things in such a clear, intuitive, practical way,” says Bailey, who also has collaborated with Wu on research. “She’s so competent and conscientious.”
Wu has been committed to spreading her knowledge of both academic and practical aspects of the CDL to librarians and policymakers across the country. “She is somebody who came up with a legal theory and spent her career creating a proof of concept for why this is important,” Bailey says. “The Internet Archive sets this very ambitious vision of universal access to all knowledge then it tries to live up to the vision. Michelle embodies this ethos of the Internet Archive to be the change you want to see in the world.”
In June, Wu retired from academia, but she continues to research and mentor emerging librarians. Too often, (outside of the sciences) academia gives more weight to the risk in innovation instead of imagining the opportunities that creative problem-solving can provide, but Wu says that attitude doesn’t serve the public in the best way.
“We can’t sit back and expect everyone automatically to understand the importance of libraries long term. We have to stand up for what we believe, advocate for it, and find solutions that better serve society in an ever-changing world.” Wu says.
When Marygrove College in Detroit decided to close its doors in 2019 due to financial pressures, the first question on the minds of many community members was: what about the library? Today, the entire Marygrove College community is celebrating the reopening of the Marygrove College Library in partnership with the Internet Archive.
Marygrove College’s roots go back to 1905 when it was started by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a progressive Catholic order known for its commitment to social justice. Founded as a women’s institution, it became co-ed and predominantly African American over time, changing with the demographics of its neighborhood in northwest Detroit.
The liberal arts college, which typically had an enrollment of less than 1,000, attracted students interested in teacher education and social work programs, as well as English, history, philosophy and religious studies. The college offered graduate programs and some alumni went on to become physicians, lawyers and scientists.
True to its mission, Marygrove often served students from marginalized communities with limited means. Changes in access to federal Pell grants hurt the institution’s finances, and enrollment dwindled in recent years.
“The college was deeply in debt. Like many small colleges, institutional scholarships don’t pay the bills. The school was borrowing to make payroll. It was not a good picture,” says Marygrove President Elizabeth Burns. “With great sorrow, the board voted in summer 2017 to close undergraduate programs.”
The institution tried to survive by offering only graduate programs – many online. But that model proved to be unsustainable. In December of 2019, Marygrove closed its doors for good.
“It was very difficult,” says Frank Rashid, who taught English at the college for 37 years and lives within a mile of the campus. “It was a great place to teach. Despite our size and obscurity, we had a strong faculty and great students.”
As the college emptied its buildings, the fate of Marygrove’s beloved library was up in the air. No other library was able to house the entire collection, which included more than 70,000 books and 3,000 journals, in addition to microfilm, maps, visual media, and more. The college explored selling the books, but buyers were only interested in portions of the collection. Even disposing of the library content would cost thousands of dollars that the college couldn’t afford.
Marygrove’s solution: Donate the entire library to the Internet Archive for digitization and preservation.
“We were able to preserve the entire collection that we had built over the decades and make it available to everyone,” Burns says.
“There was a sense that all was not lost,” Burns says. “The legacy of the collection will be available for ongoing education. That really helped ease the pain of the transition.”
The library had a rich collection of books in history (particularly primary sources on local Detroit studies and Michigan), English, philosophy, religious studies, social work, political science, economics, psychology, business and social justice.
“The library was the best kept secret at Marygrove,” says Brenda Bryant, who started the nation’s first master’s degree program in social justice at the college 20 years ago. While the closure of the building was heartbreaking, she says having the collection digitized provides access to its great array of nonfiction and fiction books (such as The God of Small Things by Arhundati Roy) , as well as films about social justice movements.
Byrant says the college was ahead of its time in recognizing the importance of studying these issues. With racial equity, immigration and other social justice issues so relevant today, she hopes people will take the opportunity to read about the history of prior movements.
The value of the collection extends well beyond the Marygrove community. Librarians from Wayne State University, also located in Detroit, share an admiration for Marygrove’s collection and decision to digitize.
“Marygrove has been fundamental for Detroit in educating first-generation, low-income college students and providing high quality education to the community,” says Alexandra Sarkcozy, a liaison librarian for history at Wayne State. “The librarians built a robust academic collection and took beautiful care of it. I think it’s wonderful that it was able to be preserved.”
And, as Wayne State thinks about how to lend out its own digital materials, it may consider Controlled Digital Lending as a model, adds Sarkcozy, which is how the Marygrove collections are being made available to users.
Using Controlled Digital Lending practices with the Marygrove collections—lending out a digital copy one at a time—felt like a responsible way to continue to provide access, says Burns. And rare materials that aren’t traditionally prioritized are not lost to history.
Rashid says he was initially reluctant to let go of the print materials, but realized that digital lending opened up the possibility of access around the globe. “We are trying to share resources with scholars and students elsewhere,” says Rashid, noting it also has the additional convenience of researchers being able to look up information from home.
The Archive hired local help to pack up the Marygrove books, load them onto trucks, and transport them to centers for storage and scanning. The empty library was repurposed as a lecture hall, sports facility and cafeteria for a new high school that now operates on the campus.
Mary Kickham-Samy served as the director of the library at Marygrove from 2017 until its closure in December 2019. She was glad to see the collection donated intact and thinks alumni, in particular, will enjoy browsing through the library. “It’s beautiful the way Internet Archive has captured the materials…It’s just a win-win situation,” said Kickham-Samy, who is grateful that community members and researchers everywhere will now have access to the collection.
“When I heard Marygrove was going to be closing, it broke my heart,” said Valerie Deering, a poet and 1972 graduate of Marygrove. Deering didn’t fully realize what it would mean to digitize the library until she started browsing the collection online. “Actually seeing it now—this was a stroke of genius. This Internet library stuff is a pretty good idea.”