Category Archives: Books Archive

Meet Eliza Zhang, Book Scanner and Viral Video Star

The glass rises and falls. Quickly and efficiently, a woman turns the pages to the rhythmic beep of the cameras. She never misses a beat.

In its first 48 hours, this tweet about book scanning at the Internet Archive went viral, reaching 7.7 million people. More than 1.5 million people viewed the video, liking it 70,000 times and retweeting it 24,000 more. At the center of it all sits Eliza Zhang, a book scanner at the Internet Archive’s headquarters in San Francisco since 2010. When I asked Eliza what she likes about her job, she replied, “Everything! I find everything interesting. I don’t feel it is boring. Every collection is important to me.”

Eliza, a college graduate from southern China, immigrated to the United States in 2009, seeking a new life and new opportunities. She landed in San Francisco during the midst of an economy-crushing recession. But through a city program called JobsNOW, the Internet Archive hired Eliza and scores of other job seekers, training them to digitize, quality control, and upload metadata for books, newspapers, periodicals and manuals. Often our digitizing staff are making these analog texts available online for the first time.

Eliza Zhang in front of the Scribe (featured in the viral video) that she has operated for more than a decade.

Raising the glass with a foot pedal, adjusting the two cameras, and shooting the page images are just the beginning of Eliza’s work. Some books, like the Bureau of Land Management publication featured in the video, have myriad fold-outs. Eliza must insert a slip of paper to remind her to go back and shoot each fold-out page, while at the same time inputting the page numbers into the item record. The job requires keen concentration.

If this experienced digitizer accidentally skips a page, or if an image is blurry, the publishing software created by our engineers will send her a message to return to the Scribe and scan it again.

Brittle, delicate fold-outs, like this page from “Early London theatres” (1894), make digitization a time-intensive task best handled by a human operator.

Listening to 70s and 80s R & B while she works, Eliza spends a little time each day reading the dozens of books she handles. The most challenging part of her job? “Working with very old, fragile books. The paper is very thin. I always wear rubber fingertips and sometimes gloves when I scan newspapers, because of the ink,” she explained.

Tweets Spark a New Interest in Digitization

Eliza is one of about 70 Scribe operators at the Internet Archive, working in digitization centers embedded in libraries across the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. The operations are led by Elizabeth MacLeod, who manages our remote operations, and Andrea Mills, who is stationed at the University of Toronto, with support from managers and operators in each center.

“We try to meet libraries where they are,” said MacLeod, who manages remote operations from her home office in North Carolina. “From digitizing a few shipments a year at one of our regional centers to setting up and staffing full-service digitization within the library itself, we have a flexible approach to our library partnerships.”

Across Twitter, another common question arose: “Why hasn’t this job been automated?” To many, the repetitive act of turning the pages in a book and photographing them seems like the natural task for a robot. In fact, some 20 years ago, we tested commercial book scanners that feature a vacuum-powered page-turning arm. It turns out those automated scanners didn’t really work well for brittle books, rare volumes, and other special collections—the kinds of material our library partners ask us to digitize.

Scribe operators and staff at Internet Archive’s former digitization center in San Francisco, ca. 2011.

“Clean, dry human hands are the best way to turn pages,” said Mills, from her socially-distanced office at the University of Toronto. In her 15 years on the job, she has worked with hundreds of librarians to hone our digitization operations, balancing our need to preserve the original pages with minimal impact during the imaging process. “Our goal is to handle the book once and to care for the original as we work with it,” Mills explained.

So what does it take to be a Scribe operator? “It takes a level of zen,” wrote Brewster Kahle, founder and digital librarian of the Internet Archive, responding to one of the many threads about the video that popped up on Reddit. “It takes concentration and a love of books. For those who love working with books and libraries, it fits well.”

As for the hardware used for digitization, like much at the Internet Archive, the equipment is engineered and purpose-built for the job. In the viral video, Eliza is operating the original Scribe machine, designed more than 15 years ago, and Scribe software that was developed in-house and refined continuously over years of operation. “The variation in books makes [automation] difficult to do quickly and without damage,” Kahle elaborates. “We do not disbind the books, which also makes automation more difficult.”

18,000 Books and Climbing

In the decade Eliza has been working with the Internet Archive, she has scanned more than 3 million pages, 14,000 foldouts, and 18,000 items (mostly books).

And what about all the sudden social media attention? Eliza shrugs. She’s never been on Twitter before. “My goal is to guarantee zero errors,” she said. “I want to give our readers a satisfying experience.”


Digitize With Us

The Covid-19 pandemic has both created higher demand for digital content as well as shuttered some of our scanning centers for health and safety. We have reopened following local and national health guidelines and continue to engage with new libraries on their digitization projects. 

If your library is interested in learning more about the Internet Archive’s digitization services, visit https://archive.org/scanning, and contact us at digitallibraries@archive.org

Internet Archive’s Modern Book Collection Now Tops 2 Million Volumes

The Internet Archive has reached a new milestone: 2 million. That’s how many modern books are now in its lending collection—available free to the public to borrow at any time, even from home.

“We are going strong,” said Chris Freeland, a librarian at the Internet Archive and director of the Open Libraries program. “We are making books available that people need access to online, and our patrons are really invested. We are doing a library’s work in the digital era.”

The lending collection is an encyclopedic mix of purchased books, ebooks, and donations from individuals, organizations, and institutions. It has been curated by Freeland and other librarians at the Internet Archive according to a prioritized wish list that has guided collection development. The collection has been purpose-built to reach a wide base of both public and academic library patrons, and to contain books that people want to read and access online—titles that are widely held by libraries, cited in Wikipedia and frequently assigned on syllabi and course reading lists.

“The Internet Archive is trying to achieve a collection reflective of great research and public libraries like the Boston Public Library,” said Brewster Kahle, digital librarian and founder of the Internet Archive, who began building the diverse library more than 20 years ago.

“Libraries from around the world have been contributing books so that we can make sure the digital generation has access to the best knowledge ever written,” Kahle said. “These wide ranging collections include books curated by educators, librarians and individuals, that they see are critical to educating an informed populace at a time of massive disinformation and misinformation.”

The 2 million modern books are part of the Archive’s larger collection of 28 million texts that include older books in the public domain, magazines, and documents. Beyond texts, millions of movies, television news programs, images, live music concerts, and other sound recordings are also available, as well as more than 500 billion web pages that have been archived by the Wayback Machine. Nearly 1.5 million unique patrons use the Internet Archive each day, and about 17,000 items are uploaded daily.

Presenting the (representative) 2 millionth book

Every day about 3,500 books are digitized in one of 18 digitization centers operated by the Archive worldwide. While there’s no exact way of identifying a singular 2 millionth book, the Internet Archive has chosen a representative title that helped push past the benchmark to highlight why its collection is so useful to readers and researchers online.

On December 31, The dictionary of costume by R. Turner Wilcox was scanned and added to the Archive, putting the collection over the 2 million mark. The book was first published in 1969 and reprinted throughout the 1990s, but is now no longer in print or widely held by libraries. This particular book was donated to Better World Books via a book bank just outside of London in August 2020, then made its way to the Internet Archive for preservation and digitization. 

“The dictionary of costume” by R. Turner Wilcox, now available for borrowing at archive.org.

As expected from the title, the book is a dictionary of terms associated with costumes, textiles and fashion, and was compiled by an expert, Wilcox, the fashion editor of Women’s Wear Daily from 1910 to 1915. Given its authoritative content, the book made it onto the Archive’s wish list because it is frequently cited in Wikipedia, including on pages like Petticoat and Gown

Now that the book has been digitized, Wikipedia editors can update citations to the book and include a direct link to the cited page. For example, users reading the Petticoat page can see that page 267 of the book has been used to substantiate the claim that both men & women wore a longer underskirt called a “petticote” in the fourteenth century. Clicking on that reference will take users directly to page 267 in The dictionary of costume where they can read the dictionary entry for petticoat and verify that information for themselves. 

Screenshots showing how Wikipedia users can verify references that cite “The dictionary of costume” with a single click.

An additional reason why this work is important is that there is no commercial ebook available for The dictionary of costume. This book is one of the millions of titles that reached the end of its publishing lifecycle in the 20th century, so there is no electronic version available for purchase. That means that the only way of accessing this book online and verifying these citations in Wikipedia—doing the kind of research that students of all ages perform in our connected world—is through a scanned copy, such as the one now available at the Internet Archive. 

Donations play an important role

Increasingly, the Archive is preserving many books that would otherwise be lost to history or the trash bin.

In recent years, the Internet Archive has received donations of entire library collections. Marygrove College gave more than 70,000 books and nearly 3,000 journal volumes for digitization and preservation in 2019 after the small liberal arts college in Detroit closed. The well-curated collection, known for its social justice, education and humanities holdings, is now available online at https://archive.org/details/marygrovecollege.

Several seminaries have donated substantial or complete collections to the Archive to preserve items or to give them a new life as their libraries were being moved or downsized. Digital access is now available for items from the Claremont School of Theology, Hope International University, Evangelical Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

Just like The dictionary of costume, many of the books supplied for digitization come to the Archive from Better World Books. In its partnership over the past 10 years, the online book seller has donated millions of books to be digitized and preserved by the Archive. Better World Books acquires books from thousands of libraries, book suppliers, and through a network of book donation drop boxes (known as “book banks” in the UK), and if a title is not suitable for resale and it’s on the Archive’s wish list, the book is set aside for donation.  

“We view our role as helping maximize the life cycle and value of each and every single book that a library client, book supplier or donor entrusts to us,” said Dustin Holland, president and chief executive officer of Better World Books. “We make every effort to make books available to readers and keep books in the reading cycle and out of the recycle stream. Our partnership with the Internet Archive makes all this possible.”

The Archive provides another channel for customers to find materials, Holland added.

“We view archive.org as a way of discovering and accessing books,” said Holland. “Once a book is discoverable, the more interest you are going to create in that book and the greater the chance it will end up in a reader’s hands as a new or gently used book.”

Impact

Having books freely available for borrowing online serves people with a variety of needs including those with limited access to libraries because of disabilities, transportation issues, people in rural areas, and those who live in under-resourced parts of the world.

Sean, an author in Oregon said he goes through older magazines for design ideas, especially from cultures that he wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise: “It gives me a wider understanding of my small place in the global historical context.” One parent from San Francisco said she uses the lending library to learn skills like hand drawing to draw characters and landscapes to interact deeper with her child.

The need for information is more urgent than ever.

“We are all homeschoolers now. This pandemic has driven home how important it is to have online access to quality information,” Kahle said. “It’s gratifying to hear from teachers and parents that are now given the tools to work with their children during this difficult time.”

Kahle’s vision is to have every reference in Wikipedia be linked to a book and for every student writing a high school report to have access to the best published research on their subject. He wants the next generation to become authors of the books that should be in the library and the most informed electorate possible.

Adds Kahle: “Thank you to all who have made this possible – all the funders, all the donors, the thousands who have sent books to be digitized. If we all work together, we can do another million this year.”

Take action

If you’re interested in making a physical donation to the Internet Archive, there are instructions and an online form that start the process in the Internet Archive’s Help Center: How do I make a physical donation to the Internet Archive?

Suggested Reading List for At Home Learners

Many students do not have direct or unrestricted access to their local libraries during our current health crisis. One of our goals as librarians and stewards is to bring books to these learners of all ages as they continue their educations at home.

As a step toward this, we have created a collection of California State Suggested Reading
that is based on resources from the California Department of Education. This is intended to help students, teachers and their families find books for further learning. (As with any collection, we recommend that adults review items for age-appropriateness before passing them on to children.)

You can find another trove of books curated for students in the Univeral School Library.

And we’ve also created some resource lists for different areas of interests in the Kid Friendly section of our help center. These are fun to explore by yourself, in company or over the internet with friends, and cover topics like :

We hope this is a helpful springboard for your journey into any topic.

Stay safe and healthy, and thanks for using the archive!

Heartbeat of Marygrove College Continues with Online Library Collection

Students in the Reading Room at Marygrove College Library, c. 1982. IHM Archives, Monroe, MI.

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.

Jennifer Meacham, former Marygrove College librarian.

“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, former Marygrove College librarian.

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.

Laura Manley, former Marygrove College librarian.

“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.

If you’d like to learn more about the Marygrove College Library, you can watch a video about the collection and read more about the donation in our previous blog posts.

Library Futures: New Nonprofit Launches to Support a Technology-Positive Future for Libraries

Learn more about Library Futures, a new nonprofit helping libraries meet the digital needs of their patrons, at libraryfutures.net.

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 public is invited to sign up for the mailing list, follow the organization on Twitter and Instagram, and become a coalition partner.

Share this message with your followers at https://www.libraryfutures.net/take-action

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.

Share this message with your followers at https://www.libraryfutures.net/take-action

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.

Share this message with your followers at https://www.libraryfutures.net/take-action

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.

Pastor: “Profound Gift” to Discover Books Through Internet Archive’s Program for Users with Print Disabilities

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.

Pastor Doug Wilson is an avid reader who benefits from Internet Archive’s program for people with print disabilities.

“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.”  

Jessamyn West of the Vermont Mutual Aid Society, who helps qualified users with print disabilities gain access to Internet Archive’s lending library.

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.”

Doug Wilson reading to one of his youngest parishioners, his grandson Luca.

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.

No Book/Music/Movie (All Media) Donation Too Big or Small: Please Donate

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.”

Liz Rosenberg, donation manager at Internet Archive, helping digitize a donation of 78 rpm records.

“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.

Some recent institutional donations include 80,000 books from the Evangelical Seminary, 191 boxes of journals and periodicals from Hope International University, and 70,000 books, journals and microfilm from Marygrove College. These larger gifts are made into special collections to help Internet Archive users find the materials and celebrate the donor.

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.”

For more information about contributing, please visit the Internet Archive help center.

Computerworld Archives: Back From Vintage Microfilm

Years ago, the Internet Archive was honored to work with the Patrick J McGovern Foundation to bring some of the important publications of International Data Corporation onto the Internet for free public access. Today we are excited to bring a better looking version of the ComputerWorld archives to the Internet based on newly digitized microfilm.

The McGovern Foundation had many issues on paper, which were digitized and made searchable, but getting further back required finding microfilm. Some microfilm was found at the time and was digitized, but frankly it did not look very good.   

Microfilm, now out-of-print and obsolete, was an important format for providing access — a microfilm pioneer, Robert C Binkley saw it as a democratizing force to educate everyone, not just those near libraries in large cities and top universities.

Fortunately, old microfilm collections have been acquired and also have been donated so that they can be preserved as film and preserved through digitization by the Internet Archive. Which brings us Computerworld.

This collection of Computerworld microfilm represents nearly half a century of reporting on major technology trends, from mainframes and minicomputers to iPhones, tablets and Artificial Intelligence. Now, this higher quality version of Computerworld 1967-2014 is available, searchable, and downloadable for research purposes.

This comes as the Internet Archive has been working with open source communities and with NextScan to make these and other works look as good as we can. While microfilm was almost all just grayscale, the photography, film quality, and preservation of some collections have been exceptional. By adjusting for faded film, straightening the pages, performing optical character recognition, keying dates, and detecting page numbers, the Internet Archive hopes to make our history easily accessible to everyone and for free. These works are also available to be read aloud for the print disabled.

(Full text search is available, but is in the process of being integrated.)

January 1st brings public domain riches from 1925

On January 1st, 2021, many books, movies and other media from 1925 will enter the public domain in the United States. Some of them are quite famous — jump ahead to see lists of those well known books and movies that you can enjoy on the Internet Archive — or take the scenic route with me.

Book cover: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

What does this all mean? Essentially, many items created in 1925 in the US that are still under copyright will become free and open for people to use in any way they see fit in the new year. But check out Duke Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain article for a more in-depth explanation.

We have a party every year to celebrate the new works entering the public domain, and this year is no exception. Join us on Thursday, Dec. 17th to toast these newly available additions.

Traveling from Home

As part of this yearly ritual, I explore our collections to unearth these newly freed items, and I invariably run across a few things that hit a nerve. This year, it started with this intertitle in “Isn’t Life Terrible?” Less than 20 seconds into this 1925 film, and suddenly I’m dumped back into 2020.

Silent film intertitle that reads, "Charley Chase as The poor young man with only two places to go -- Front yard and back yard"

Rude, right? I don’t even have a front yard to enjoy during shelter in place.

But the magic of media is that it can transport us to different places and times. Photo books like Picturesque Italy, Picturesque Mexico, and Picturesque Palestine, Arabia and Syria show us both how much and how little has changed in the past 95 years.

Screen shot thumbnail images from the book Picturesque Italy. The 12+ photos feature tourist sites in Venice, Italy like the Doges Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, and Piazza San Marco.

Gondolas still glide under the Bridge of Sighs, and the Tower of Pisa is still leaning, but the 1925 version of the Colosseum certainly lacks today’s fake gladiator photo ops.

Looking at the past with the eyes of today

Every toe dipped into the past has the potential to surprise or shock. The story of a pantry shelf, an outline history of grocery specialties is only mildly interesting on the surface. Essentially, it’s a sales pitch to food manufacturers encouraging them to advertise in a set of women’s magazines. The book contains short case histories of successful food brands like Maxwell House Coffee, Campbell Soup, Coca Cola, etc. (all of whom advertise with them, naturally).

The book gives you a glimpse of why people were so enthusiastic about mass produced, packaged foods. Unsanitary conditions, bugs in your sugar, milk going bad over night; things modern shoppers never think about.

It puts this glowing praise of Kraft Cheese into perspective: “…a pasteurized product, blended to obtain a uniformity of quality and flavor, a thing greatly lacking in ordinary types of cheese.” (page 149)

That’s pretty entertaining if you’re a cheese lover. I think most people would agree that Kraft cheese is no longer on the cutting edge.

But keep poking around and you find a much deeper cultural divergence. While The story of a pantry shelf is extolling the virtues of the home economics training available at Cornell, you stumble across this horrifying sentence (page 12).

Passage from "The Story of a Pantry Shelf" which reads, "Indeed, the Practice House, where students learn housekeeping in its every phase, even includes the complete care of a baby, adopted each year by Cornell for the benefit of these 'mothers' who, under the direction of trained Home Economics women, feed, bathe, dress and tend an infant from the tender age of two weeks throughout the session."

I was not expecting to read about orphaned babies being used as “learning aids” while flipping through stories about Jell-O. Intellectually, I know that attitudes towards children have changed over the years — the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set federal standards for child labor, wasn’t even passed until 1938. But this casual aside tossed in amongst the marketing hype still packs an emotional punch. It’s important to remember how far we have come.

Even writing that was forward-thinking for the time, like the booklet Homo-sexual life, is terribly backward according to today’s standards. It’s from the Little Blue Book series — we have many that were published in 1925, and the publisher was quite prolific for many years. The series provided working class people with inexpensive access to all kinds of topics including philosophy, sexuality, science, religion, law, and government. Post WWII, they published criticism of J. Edgar Hoover and the founder was subsequently targeted by the FBI for tax evasion. But in 1925, they were going strong and one of their prolific writers was Clarence Darrow.

Controversies of the Age

Darrow was writing about prohibition for the Little Blue Book series in 1925, but that is also the year he defended John T. Scopes for teaching evolution in his Tennessee classroom. The Scopes Trial generated a huge amount of publicity, pitting religion against science, and even giving rise to popular songs like these two 78rpm recordings from 1925.

The John T. Scopes Trial (The Old Religion’s Better After All) by Vernon Dalhart and Company

Monkey Biz-ness (Down in Tennessee) by International Novelty Orchestra with Billy Murray


Like the Scopes trial, prohibition had its passionate adherents and detractors. This was the “Roaring 20s” — the year The Great Gatsby was published — with speakeasies and flappers and iconic cocktails. And yet the pro-prohibition silent film Episodes in the Life of a Gin Bottle follows a bottle around as it lures people into a state of dissolution.

We even see an entire book about throwing parties that includes no alcoholic beverages at all.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

But as much as some things have changed, other aspects of our lives remain unchanged. People still want to tell you about their pets, rely on self help books, read stories to their kids, follow celebrities, tell each other jokes, and make silly videos.

And the most unchanging part of this particular season, of course — children still anticipate the arrival of Santa Claus with questions, wishes and schemes.

The silent film Santa Claus features two children who want to know where Saint Nick lives and how he spends his time. We follow him to the North Pole (Alaska in disguise) to see Santa’s workshop, snow castle, reindeer, and friends and neighbors. Jack Frost, introduced around 14:20, appears to be wearing the prototype for Ralphie’s bunny suit in “A Christmas Story” (but with a magic wand). Stick around for the sleigh crash at 20:45, and right around 22:20 Santa wipes out on the ice.

And just in case you’re still doing your holiday shopping, I feel like I should pass on a recommendation from this ad in a 1925 The Billboard magazine: Armadillo Baskets make beautiful Christmas gifts. And you can still buy vintage versions online – trust me, I looked. You’re welcome.

Advertisement with a picture of an armadillo and a basket made from an armadillo. Text reads, "Armadillo Baskets Make Beautiful Christmas Gifts. From these nine-banded horn-shelled little animals we make beautiful baskets. We are the original dealers in Armadillo Baskets. We take their shells, polish them, and then line with silk. They make ideal work baskets, etc. Let us tell you about these unique baskets. Write for Free Booklet. Apelt Armadillo Co., Comfort, Texas."

The Famous Stuff

And now on to the blockbusters of 1925…

Books First Published in 1925

Movies Released in 1925

Library Digital Lending Empowers People Worldwide During COVID-19 Pandemic

As part of our #EmpoweringLibraries campaign, we’re asking our community what digital lending means to them. We’ve been flooded with stories of how free access to online books is empowering people and improving lives. Here are some highlights so far. 

Many of you wrote to tell us about how borrowing books through our Archive has been a lifeline during COVID-19. Tudor, a reader from Romania, said, “it’s been immensely helpful during the pandemic. My local library has been closed and I’ve been able to proceed with a translation project because I was able to find the books I needed on Internet Archive.” 

Alejandra, an educator from New Mexico, highlighted the importance of digital lending for the libraries community during the pandemic: “I usually train librarians and during the lockdown, this activity has increased. As we are unable to visit the libraries, I promote the use of the Internet Archive lending library to meet the information needs.” 

For people with disabilities or long-term health conditions, it can be difficult to access a local library even outside of a pandemic. Shari, a reader in Indiana, shared how controlled digital lending empowered her in difficult circumstances.

“When my physical disabilities became overwhelming… I finally had to stop working, and became primarily home bound. I could not travel far, or often, and the limited resources available didn’t make it worth my trouble. But, getting on the Internet at home, and traveling there to any destination I wished through the Internet Archive has provided me with information and images, including photographs, drawings, descriptions, floor plans, and historical information made my days just fly by. It has literally saved my sanity, as I went through a significant period of depression for at least a year.”

Many of you also shared how the Archive helps you gain a global perspective and access texts from diverse cultures. Sean, an author from Oregon, uses the Archive to find design ideas in old magazines, particularly from cultures he believes he wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to. The Archive has given him “a wider understanding of graphic history, and my small place in the global historical context.” Several users also report using the Archive to learn more about their own cultural heritage. Teresa, a reader in Philadelphia, reported that the Archive “has been great helping me to trace and understand my African American ancestry.” 

Your stories show the power of controlled digital lending to unite global communities and connect us to our cultural heritage. They also highlight its necessity for people who struggle to access physical books, as well as those affected by emergency. 

However, a current lawsuit threatens the future of this empowering practice. The impact on the lives of people who rely on digital borrowing would be severe. Our #EmpoweringLibraries campaign aims to defend controlled digital lending and the people who need it most. 

You can support the campaign by sharing your story with us. How does being able to borrow digital books improve your everyday life? Let us know via this Google Form, or on Twitter using this template: As a [your role, eg. student, parent], I use @internetarchive to [eg. research papers/homeschool my kids]. Protect free access to digital books by joining the #EmpoweringLibraries campaign http://blog.archive.org/empoweringlibraries/