Category Archives: Event

Book Talk: The Secret Life of Data

How data surveillance, digital forensics, and generative AI pose new long-term threats and opportunities—and how we can use them to make better decisions in the face of technological uncertainty.

Book Talk: The Secret Life of Data
April 18 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET ONLINE
Register now!

“I have been waiting a long time for a clearly written book that cuts through the hype and describes how data—big and small, old and new—actually operate in our lives. Neither utopian nor dystopian, The Secret Life of Data just tells it like it is.”   
—Siva Vaidhyanathan, Professor of Media Studies, The University of Virginia; author of Antisocial Media and The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry)

In The Secret Life of Data, Aram Sinnreich and Jesse Gilbert explore the many unpredictable, and often surprising, ways in which data surveillance, AI, and the constant presence of algorithms impact our culture and society in the age of global networks. The authors build on this basic premise: no matter what form data takes, and what purpose we think it’s being used for, data will always have a secret life. How this data will be used, by other people in other times and places, has profound implications for every aspect of our lives—from our intimate relationships to our professional lives to our political systems.

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ABOUT OUR SPEAKERS

ARAM SINNREICH is an author, professor, and musician. He is Chair of Communication Studies at American University. His books include Mashed Up, The Piracy CrusadeThe Essential Guide to Intellectual Property, and A Second Chance for Yesterday (published as R. A. Sinn).

JESSE GILBERT is an interdisciplinary artist exploring the intersection of visual art, sound, and software design at his firm Dark Matter Media. He was the founding Chair of the Media Technology department at Woodbury University, and he has taught interactive software design at both CalArts and UC San Diego.

DR. LAURA DENARDIS is Professor and Endowed Chair in Technology, Ethics, and Society and Director of the Center for Digital Ethics at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.  Her book The Internet in Everything: Freedom and Security in a World with No Off Switch (Yale University Press) was recognized as a Financial Times Top Technology Book of 2020. Among her seven books, The Global War for Internet Governance (Yale University Press) is considered a definitive source for understanding cyber governance debates and solutions. Professor DeNardis is an affiliated Fellow of the Yale Information Society Project, where she previously served as Executive Director, and is a life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She holds engineering degrees and a PhD in Science and Technology Studies, and was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship from Yale Law School.

Book Talk: The Secret Life of Data
April 18 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET ONLINE
Register now!

Book Talk: Wrong Way by Joanne McNeil

Join us for a VIRTUAL book talk with author Joanne McNeil about her latest book, WRONG WAY, which examines the treacherous gaps between the working and middle classes wrought by the age of AI. McNeil will be in conversation with author Sarah Jaffe.

This is the first Internet Archive / Authors Alliance book talk for a work of fiction! Come for a reading, stay for a thoughtful conversation between McNeil & Jaffe about the labor implications of artificial intelligence.

February 29 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET
VIRTUAL

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WRONG WAY was named one of the best books of 2023 by the New Yorker and Esquire. It was the Endless Bookshelf Book of the Year and named one of the best tech books by the LA Times.

“Wrong Way is a chilling portrait of economic precarity, and a disturbing reminder of how attempts to optimize life and work leave us all alienated.”
—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire

For years, Teresa has passed from one job to the next, settling into long stretches of time, struggling to build her career in any field or unstick herself from an endless cycle of labor. The dreaded move from one gig to another is starting to feel unbearable. When a recruiter connects her with a contract position at AllOver, it appears to check all her prerequisites for a “good” job. It’s a fintech corporation with progressive hiring policies and a social justice-minded mission statement. Their new service for premium members: a functional fleet of driverless cars. The future of transportation. As her new-hire orientation reveals, the distance between AllOver’s claims and its actions is wide, but the lure of financial stability and a flexible schedule is enough to keep Teresa driving forward.

Joanne McNeil, who often reports on how the human experience intersects with labor and technology brings blazing compassion and criticism to Wrong Way, examining the treacherous gaps between the working and middle classes wrought by the age of AI. Within these divides, McNeil turns the unsaid into the unignorable, and captures the existential perils imposed by a nonstop, full-service gig economy.

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About our speakers

JOANNE MCNEIL was the inaugural winner of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation’s Arts Writing Award for an emerging writer. She has been a resident at Eyebeam, a Logan Nonfiction Program fellow, and an instructor at the School for Poetic Computation.
Joanne is the author of Lurking: How a Person Became a User.

SARAH JAFFE is an author, independent journalist, and a co-host of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast.

Book Talk: Wrong Way by Joanne McNeil
February 29 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET
VIRTUAL
Register now!

Public Domain Day Celebrates Creative Works from 1928

Hundreds of people from all over the world gathered together on January 25 to honor the thousands of movies, plays, books, poems and songs that recently entered the U.S. public domain.

Steamboat Willie, Walt Disney’s 1928 animated film featuring Mickey Mouse, had top billing at the virtual event. Literature now free from restriction for reuse includes Orlando by Virginia Woolf and Tarzan Lord of the Jungle by Edgar R. Burroughs. Sound recordings from 1923 (released on a different schedule) joined the public domain such as ”Down Hearted Blues” by Bessie Smith and ”Who’s Sorry Now” by Isham Jones Orchestra.

WATCH RECORDING:

“There’s so much to rediscover and to celebrate,” said Jennifer Jenkins, director of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School. For example, the release of The Great Gatsby into the public domain in 2021 inspired a creative flurry — new versions of the novel from the perspective of different characters, a prequel telling the backstory of Nick Caraway, a young adult remix, and song. “From the serious to the creative, to the whimsical to the wacky, these are all the great things we can do…now that [these works] are in the public domain and free to copy, to share, to digitize and to build upon without permission or fee.”

For an overview of new works in the public domain, view the curated list from the Center for the Public Domain.

Remix Contest

The winning film from the Public Domain Day 2024 Remix Contest was shown as well: “Sick on New Year’s,” by Ty Cummings. Every year since 2021, this contest has invited artists to remix works from its collection to showcase new and creative uses of public domain materials. Fifty films were submitted to this year’s competition, according to Amir Esfahania, artist in residence at the Archive. Learn more about the finalists or watch all the submissions in our recent blog post.

Advocacy

“Celebrating the public domain is not just about vintage references and period-appropriate clothing. It’s about understanding history to inform the present day,” said Lila Bailey, Internet Archive senior policy counsel and co-host of the virtual festivities. “We think there should be time set aside every year to celebrate the immense riches that free and open culture provides to everyone.”

While federal holiday recognition (like MLK Day or Presidents’ Day) for the public domain is unlikely, there was a discussion of an advocacy campaign for establishment of a commemorative Public Domain Day (more along the lines of National Data Privacy  Day or National Whistleblowers Day).

“It only requires a simple resolution in the Senate with high chances of recognition,” said Amanda Levendowski, director of Georgetown Law School’s Intellectual Property and Information Policy Clinic. “Prospects for passage are way better than possible. About 80 percent of proposals are passed — and maybe next year, Public Domain Day will be among them.”

Experts said a successful drive for the designation will require a collaborative effort. A kickoff event will be held February 29 in New York City, hosted by Library Futures, executive director Jennie-Rose Halperin announced.

AI and the Public Domain

The online program also featured a panel discussion on generative artificial intelligence, copyright and artist expression. Experts weighed in on just what should be the copyright status of the outputs of generative AI.

Panelists (clockwise from top left): Lila Bailey (Internet Archive), Heather Timm (artist), Maxximillian (artist), Matthew Sag (Emory Law), and Juliana Castro Varón (Cita Press).

Now, AI tools can turn text or simple descriptions into images that are  genuinely new and often look like exactly the kind of things that people get copyrighted if a human made them, explained Matthew Sag, professor of law, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science at Emory University.

“The copyright office is quite clear that to get copyright, you have to have human authorship. So something created entirely by an unsupervised machine is not eligible for copyright,” Sag said, noting that the courts have recently agreed. “The interesting question is what about when humans are using AI as a tool and directing the output. This is where the controversy really is.”

On the panel, two artists, Heather Timm and Maxximillian, shared how they both leverage AI in the creative process.

Timm said she started using generative AI in 2021 and thinks the copyright office should cover works that have results from it. She has trained AI models on her own physical work and then created something new collaborating with the machine, as well as conceptualized how to blend different pieces of work in a collage or sculpture.  

“I use it almost as a notebook,” Timm said. “If I have a concept or an idea about something on the go, I can immediately prompt that and have it as a placeholder to explore it later.”

As a filmmaker and musician, Maxximillian said she feels passionate about AI and it has saved her time creating animated characters and helping refine her text. “As a professional artist, I rely on copyright to keep viable the works that I produce for clients legally,” said Maxximillian. “It’s important to understand that copyright protection enables the creator to be a steward of that work. The question to consider: Who benefits by denying copyright on AI? I think nobody benefits.”

An open access publisher, Juliana Castro Varón, design director and founder of Cita Press, also addressed the issue. “I believe that AI may pose economic, power, and labor challenges, but I feel very confident that creativity will survive technology,” she said. All books Cita produces are in the public domain for everyone to download. “We are not at all against people using AI for their work, but we continue to hire humans…elevating the work of people is core to our mission.”

***

The event was co-hosted by Internet Archive and Library Futures with support from Creative Commons, Authors Alliance, Public Knowledge, SPARC and Duke Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

NEXT WEEK: Celebrate the Public Domain In-Person & Online!

We’ve heard you loud and clear since January 1—you love the public domain! We do, too, so let’s celebrate together…

Next week we have two events to help welcome the new works of art that entered the public domain (in the US) on January 1. We hope you can join us in-person or online:

Wednesday, January 24

Public Domain Day Party in San Francisco! Celebrate 1928
In-Person at the Internet Archive
6pm – 8pm PT
$15 registration – Register now!

Step into a time capsule of creativity as we celebrate the release of new cultural treasures into the public domain. Join us for an unforgettable evening filled with period tunes, classic cocktails, and a cinematic journey into the past. These works, once bound by copyright restrictions, will be released into the wild, opening up new opportunities for artistic expression, adaptation, and innovation.

Thursday, January 25

Weird Tales from the Public Domain: Freeing Culture from Corporate Captivity
Online
10am PT – 11:30am PT
Free – Register now!

The mouse that became Mickey is finally free of his corporate captivity as the copyright term of the 1928 animated Disney film, Steamboat Willie, expired along with that of thousands of other cultural works on the first day of 2024.

Join us for a virtual celebration with an amazing lineup of academics, librarians, musicians, artists and advocates coming together to help illuminate the significance of this new class of works entering the public domain!

Remix Contest – Deadline for submission is January 19

There’s still time to register for our Public Domain Day Remix Contest. We are looking for filmmakers and artists of all levels to create and upload short films of 2–3 minutes to the Internet Archive to help us celebrate Public Domain Day! Read the contest guidelines.

Book Talks Draw More Than 2,000 Attendees in 2023

Internet Archive drew more than 2,000 attendees to its popular book talk series in 2023, held in collaboration with Authors Alliance. The books and authors represented in this year’s series covered topics as varied as digital copyright, the persistence of history and culture through preservation, early personal computing history, and the harms of political control and corporate surveillance. Browse the full collection.

WATCH NOW:

January 12, 2023 – Ben Tarnoff, “Internet for the People

March 9, 2023 – Jason Steinhauer, “History, Disrupted

March 28, 2023 – Peter Baldwin, “Athena Unbound

April 20, 2023 – Jessica Litman, “Digital Copyright

May 9, 2023 – Jessica Silbey, “Against Progress

July 13, 2023 – Laine Nooney, “The Apple II Age

August 24, 2023 – Oya Y. Rieger, “Moving Theory Into Practice

September 20, 2023 – Abby Smith Rumsey, “Memory, Edited

October 19, 2023 – Ian Johnson, “Sparks

October 31, 2023 – Cory Doctorow, “The Internet Con

November 16, 2023 – Howie Singer & Bill Rosenblatt, “Key Changes

December 6, 2023 – David G. Stork, “Pixels & Paintings

Weird Tales from the Public Domain: Freeing Culture from Corporate Captivity

Register Now!

The mouse that became Mickey will finally be free of his corporate captivity as the copyright term of the 1928 animated Disney film, Steamboat Willie, expires along with that of thousands of other cultural works on the first day of 2024.

The year 1928 brought us a host of still relevant, oft-revived and remixed culture, from H.P. Lovecraft’s classic horror story, “Call of Cthulhu” (originally published in Weird Tales; now currently a popular video game), to the Threepenny Opera, a critique of income inequality and the excesses of capitalism that is surprisingly on point for our current era.

And further, classic works of literature such as Orlando by Virginia Woolfe, Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, and Black Magic by Paul Mourad; children’s literature like House on Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne, which introduced the character Tigger, and Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág; movies like Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus, and Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman; and music like Dorothy Field’s “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” and Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” will grow the rich set of materials that are freely available to all of us as part of the public domain.  

Join us for a virtual celebration at 10am PT / 1pm ET on January 25, 2024, with an amazing lineup of academics, librarians, musicians, artists and advocates coming together to help illuminate the significance of this new class of works entering the public domain!

Of course our program wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of Generative AI, which to some has become a new kind of Eldritch God unleashed upon humanity—a Chtulhu of sorts—out to alter or control human reality. New AI technologies have raised all kinds of questions about human creativity, and the various monsters we must vanquish in order to preserve it. We’ll get into all that and more in our panel discussion of AI, Creativity and the Public Domain.

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This event is co-hosted by Internet Archive, Creative Commons, Authors Alliance, Public Knowledge, Library Futures, SPARC and the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

More ways to celebrate the public domain!

In addition to our virtual event on January 25th, we are also hosting an in-person party & film screening at the Internet Archive on January 24th for our Public Domain Remix Contest.

Public Domain Day Party in San Francisco! Celebrate 1928

Step into a time capsule of creativity on January 24, 2024, at the Internet Archive, as we celebrate the release of new cultural treasures into the public domain. Join us for an unforgettable evening filled with period tunes, classic cocktails, and a cinematic journey into the past. These works, once bound by copyright restrictions, will be released into the wild, opening up new opportunities for artistic expression, adaptation, and innovation.

REGISTER NOW

Discover the enchantment of animation with a special screening of Steamboat Willie on the large screen. Come together to witness the beloved icon, Mickey Mouse, as he enters the public domain. Let’s rejoice in this moment that commemorates the lasting legacy of a cultural gem that has captivated hearts across generations. Film Historian Eric Smoodin will delve into the history of Steamboat Willie and how a mouse changed the entertainment world.

Be captivated by the cinematic brilliance of our annual short film contest winners. These films, inspired by the vast public domain materials on the Internet Archive, showcase the boundless possibilities of reimagining classic works.

Embrace the spirit of 1928 by dressing in your finest flapper dresses, dapper suits, and don’t forget the feathered headbands. You’re not just attending an event; you’re stepping into a world where every outfit tells a story. Be the “Bee’s Knees” and the “Cat’s Pajamas” as you immerse yourself in the glamour of a bygone era.

No celebration from the Jazz Age is complete without a classic cocktail. Let the clink of glasses echo the liberation of creative works now set free in the public domain.

Come share an evening of revelry, inspiration, and artistic freedom with us. Be part of a celebration where the past becomes the canvas for the future. Let the reimagining begin, and together, let’s toast to a world of boundless creativity in the public domain. See you there in your finest attire!

Where: Internet Archive – 300 Funston
When: 6pm to 8 pm
Cost: $15
Register now!

More ways to celebrate the public domain

In addition to our in-person event on January 24th & our film remix contest, we are also hosting a virtual celebration on January 25th, “Weird Tales from the Public Domain: Freeing Culture from Corporate Captivity”—register now!

Public Domain Day 2024 Remix Contest: The Internet Archive is Looking For Creative Short Films Made By You!

The Cameraman – 1928 – Buster Keaton

We are looking for filmmakers and artists of all levels to create and upload short films of 2–3 minutes to the Internet Archive to help us celebrate Public Domain Day at our celebrations on January 24 (in-person screening & party) & January 25 (virtual celebration), 2024!

Our short film contest serves as a platform for filmmakers to explore, remix, and breathe new life into the timeless gems that have entered the public domain. From classic literature and silent films to musical compositions and visual art, the contest winners draw inspiration from the vast archive of cultural heritage from 1928. We want artists to use this newly available content to create short films using resources from the Internet Archive’s collections from 1928. The uploaded videos will be judged and prizes of up to $1500 awarded!! (see details below)

Winners will be announced and shown at the in-person Public Domain Day Celebration at the Internet Archive headquarters in San Francisco on January 24, 2024, as well as our virtual celebration on January 25. All other participating videos will be added to a Public Domain Day Collection on archive.org and featured in a blog entry in January of 2024.

Here are a few examples of some of the materials that will become public domain on January 1, 2024:

Possible themes include, but are not limited to:  

  • Weird Tales of 1928
  • Sleuthing the Public Domain
  • What can 1928 teach us about 2024?
  • Steamboat Willie re-imagined

Guidelines

  • Make a 2–3 minute movie using at least one work published in 1928 that will become Public Domain on January 1, 2024. This could be a poem, book, film, musical composition, painting, photograph or any other work that will become Public Domain next year. The more different PD materials you use, the better!
    • Note: If you have a resource from 1928 that is not available on archive.org, you may upload it and then use it in your submission. (Here is how to do that). 
  • Your submission must have a soundtrack. It can be your own voiceover or performance of a public domain musical composition, or you may use public domain or CC0 sound recordings from sources like Openverse and the Free Music Archive.
    • Note: Music copyright is TRICKY! Currently sound recordings published up to December 31, 1922 are public domain; on the upcoming January 1 that will change to sound recordings published up to December 31, 1923.  Sound recordings published later than that are NOT public domain, even if the underlying musical composition is, so watch out for this!
  • Mix and Mash content however you like, but note that ALL of your sources must be from the public domain. They do not all have to be from 1928. Remember, U.S. government works are public domain no matter when they are published. So feel free to use those NASA images! You may include your own original work if you put a CC0 license on it.
  • Add a personal touch, make it yours!
  • Keep the videos light hearted and fun! (It is a celebration after all!)

Submission Deadline

All submissions must be in by Midnight, January 19, 2024 (PST) by loading it into this collection on the Internet Archive.

How to Submit

Prizes

  • 1st prize: $1500
  • 2nd prize: $1000
  • 3rd prize: $500

*All prizes sponsored by the Kahle/Austin Foundation

Judges:

Judges will be looking for videos that are fun, interesting and use public domain materials, especially those from 1928. They will be shown at the in-person Public Domain Day party in San Francisco and should highlight the value of having cultural materials that can be reused, remixed, and re-contextualized for a new day. Winners’ pieces will be purchased with the prize money, and viewable  on the Internet Archive under a Creative Commons license.

  • Amir Saber Esfahani (Director of Special Arts Projects, Internet Archive)
  • Rick Prelinger (Board Member, Internet Archive, Founder, Prelinger Archives)
  • BZ Petroff (Director of Admin & HR, Internet Archive)
  • Special guest judges

For reference, check out the 2023 Entrants

Internet Archive Celebrates Research and Research Libraries at Annual Gathering

At this year’s annual celebration in San Francisco, the Internet Archive team showcased its innovative projects and rallied supporters around its mission of “Universal Access to All Knowledge.”

Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive’s founder and digital librarian, welcomes hundreds of guests to the annual celebration on October 12, 2023.

“People need libraries more than ever,” said Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, at the October 12 event. “We have a set of forces that are making libraries harder and harder to happen—so we have to do something more about it.”

Efforts to ban books and defund libraries are worrisome trends, Kahle said, but there are hopeful signs and emerging champions.

Watch the full live stream of the celebration

Among the headliners of the program was Connie Chan, Supervisor of San Francisco’s District 1, who was honored with the 2023 Internet Archive Hero Award. In April, she authored and unanimously passed a resolution at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, backing the Internet Archive and the digital rights of all libraries.

Chan spoke at the event about her experience as a first-generation, low-income immigrant who relied on books in Chinese and English at the public library in Chinatown.  

Watch Supervisor Chan’s acceptance speech

“Having free access to information was a critical part of my education—and I know I was not alone,” said Chan, who is a supporter of the Internet Archive’s role as a digital, online library. “The Internet Archive is a hidden gem…It is very critical to humanity, to freedom of information, diversity of information and access to truth…We aren’t just fighting for libraries, we are fighting for our humanity.”

Several users shared testimonials about how resources from the Internet Archive have enabled them to advance their research, fact-check politicians’ claims, and inspire their creative works. Content in the collection is helping improve machine translation of languages. It is preserving international television news coverage and Ukrainian memes on social media during the war with Russia.  

Quinn Dombrowski, of the Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online project, shows off Ukrainian memes preserved by the project.

Technology is changing things—some for the worse, but a lot for the better, said David McRaney, speaking via video to the audience in the auditorium at 300 Funston Ave. “And when [technology] changes things for the better, it’s going to expand the limited capabilities of human beings. It’s going to extend the reach of those capabilities, both in speed and scope,” he said. “It’s about a newfound freedom of mind, and time, and democratizing that freedom so everyone has access to it.”

Open Library developer Drini Cami explained how the Internet Archive is using artificial intelligence to improve access to its collections.

When a book is digitized, it used to be that photographs of pages had to be manually cropped by scanning operators. The Internet Archive recently trained a custom machine learning model to automatically suggest page boundaries—allowing staff to double the rate of process. Also, an open-source machine learning tool converts images into text, making it possible for books to be searchable, and for the collection to be available for bulk research, cross-referencing, text analysis, as well as read aloud to people with print disabilities.

Open Library developer Drini Cami.

“Since 2021, we’ve made 14 million books, documents, microfiche, records—you name it—discoverable and accessible in over 100 languages,” Cami said.

As AI technology advanced this year, Internet Archive  engineers piloted a metadata extractor, a tool that automatically pulls key data elements from digitized books. This extra information helps librarians match the digitized book to other cataloged records, beginning to resolve the backlog of books with limited metadata in the Archive’s collection. AI is also being leveraged to assist in writing descriptions of magazines and newspapers—reducing the time from 40 to 10 minutes per item.

“Because of AI, we’ve been able to create new tools to streamline the workflows of our librarians and the data staff, and make our materials easier to discover, and work with patrons and researchers, Cami said. “With new AI capabilities being announced and made available at a breakneck rate, new ideas of projects are constantly being added.”

Jamie Joyce & AI hackathon participants.

A recent Internet Archive hackathon explored the risks and opportunities of AI by using the technology itself to generate content, said Jamie Joyce, project lead with the organization’s Democracy’s Library project. One of the hackathon volunteers created an autonomous research agent to crawl the web and identify claims related to AI. With a prompt-based model, the machine was able to generate nearly 23,000 claims from 500 references. The information could be the basis for creating economic, environmental and other arguments about the use of AI technology. Joyce invited others to get involved in future hackathons as the Internet Archive continues to expand its AI potential.

Peter Wang, CEO and co-founder at Anaconda, said interesting kinds of people and communities have emerged around cultures of sharing. For example, those who participate in the DWeb community are often both humanists and technologists, he said, with an understanding about the importance of reducing barriers to information for the future of humanity. Wang said rather than a scarcity mindset, he embraces an abundant approach to knowledge sharing and applying community values to technology solutions.

Peter Wang, CEO and co-founder at Anaconda.

“With information, knowledge and open-source software, if I make a project, I share it with someone else, they’re more likely to find a bug,” he said. “They might improve the documentation a little bit. They might adapt it for a novel use case that I can then benefit from. Sharing increases value.”

The Internet Archive’s Joy Chesbrough, director of philanthropy, closed the program by expressing appreciation for those who have supported the digital library, especially in these precarious times.

“We are one community tied together by the internet, this connected web of knowledge sharing. We have a commitment to an inclusive and open internet, where there are many winners, and where ethical approaches to genuine AI research are supported,” she said. “The real solution lies in our deep human connection. It inspires the most amazing acts of generosity and humanity.”

***

If you value the Internet Archive and our mission to provide “Universal Access to All Knowledge,” please consider making a donation today.

Doors Open to Richmond Facility for Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Donation, Digitization and Preservation Process

The Physical Archive in Richmond, California, was buzzing with activity the evening of October 11 as people gathered for a peek at how donations of books, film, and media of all kinds are preserved.

Some guests were long-time fans and others had recently donated or were considering giving their treasured items. Many shared a curiosity about how the Internet Archive operates the digital side of the research library.

“I’m a big believer in libraries—and this is one of the weirdest, coolest libraries,” said Jeremy Guillory of Oakland, California, as he toured the buildings and listened to stories behind the many donations on display.

Brewster Kahle, founder and digital librarian of the Internet Archive, gives a tour of the Physical Archive.

Curated collections from individuals included books from Stevanne “Dr. Toy” Auerbach, a pioneering mass media toy reviewer and early childhood studies author. There was also a set of rare dinosaur books and years of the Laugh Makers, a journal about magic and clowning.

Some large institutions, such as the Claremont School of Theology, donated papyrus fragments from ancient Egypt. Among the eight shipping containers of items from the Graduate Theological Union was a children’s hymnal written in Chinese from 1950.

“We get to explore and make available things that may not be able to be seen otherwise,” said Caslon Kahle, a donation coordinator, speaking to visitors at the event. “It’s important to have this historical record preserved for the public.”

Caslon Kahle gives a tour of the Physical Archive.

As they toured the facility, guests learned about the meticulous steps taken to sort materials (avoiding duplication), scan books (by people, turning one page at a time) and preserve fragile film (in a high-tech lab). Many expressed an appreciation for the vast and eclectic collections.

“I think it’s super awesome—all the knowledge in one place,” said Rachel Katz of Berkeley, California, who uses the Wayback Machine in their work at a nonprofit organization, researching the historic record of health equity, racial justice and environmental issues. “I don’t think I had thought about the political aspect—that when people want power they destroy knowledge, and library preservation is a hedge against that.”

Daniel Toman came to the event after he’d contributed items when his grandfather, a big amateur radio enthusiast, passed away a few years ago. “He had a bunch of equipment, catalogs and books around the house that nobody knew what to do with,” said Toman, who lives in San Francisco. “I told my family about [the Internet Archive] and they were all interested in donating some of his materials.”

Digitization manager Elizabeth MacLeod shows off an image captured from the Internet Archive’s Scribe digitization equipment.

Larry and Ann Byler drove from Sunnyvale, California, to get a first-hand look at the physical archive as they decide what to do with their books, records (78s, LPs, 45s), cassette tapes and home movies that they’ve accumulated over the years.

Ann, 81, said some of their film collection includes black-and-white images of trains that go back to the 1940s. She likes the idea that the Internet Archive could digitize the films at a high resolution.

“I want to get them out of the house—somewhere besides the trash bin,” said Larry, a retired computer programmer, of his wall of media items. “I have this ingrained abhorrence for throwing stuff away.”

At the event, noted film archivist Rick Prelinger provided guests with an inside look at preserving vintage film. “The process is not simple, but it’s achievable when you have resources, and we’re fortunate with the generosity of the Internet Archive that we have resources,” he said.

Kate Dollenmayer demos film digitization and preservation.

Linda Brettlen, an architect from Los Angeles, said she became familiar with the Archive through her daughter, who uses the collection when looking for primary sources in her documentary filmmaking. Brettlen has become a fan herself, particularly, the collection of old postcards of L.A. buildings that no longer exist.

“I love that it’s the best use of the Internet,” she said of the Internet Archive at the event. “This is a positive beacon.”