At the end of the movie “Titanic,” from her makeshift raft Rose Calvert promises Jack Dawson, “I will never let go,” but then, well, a floating board is only so big…
On June 1, we will gently release Internet Explorer, version 11, from the list of browsers supported on our website Archive.org into the oceanic depths of the obsolete. To give you an idea of what this means to us, a member of the UX team composed this little remembrance:
We hate you. Good-bye.
Why the ichor? Why the bile? No doubt one too many sleepless nights struggling to make our website layout work with this venerable browser, released in 2013, which lacks support for so many features that are now standard in today’s browsers: module imports, web components, CSS Grid, ES6, the list goes on. Like its ancestor IE6, version 11 has clung to life far longer than it should have.
Though Microsoft support for it will not officially end until 2025, Microsoft’s Chief of Security, Chris Jackson, recently recommended in a blog post that people stop using IE11 as their default browser. It is considered a “compatibility solution,” something you should only use for services that require it. Our analytics indicate that a mere 0.8% of our users use IE11 to browse the site. (Even worldwide usage is at 1-3%, the bulk of it from a country in which we are blocked.)
Plus, maintaining compatibility with IE11 — with its need for polyfills, transpilation, and other workarounds — gets expensive, especially for a small team such as ours. Generously supported by donations from people like you, we are committed to doing the greatest good with the resources we have, making the world’s knowledge available to as many people as possible. IE11 is a distraction, with a diminished and ever diminishing return on our efforts.
So farewell, IE11. We will sleep better and rise with a little more spring in our step, knowing that your phrase with us has reached its conclusion.
Our staff has been working from home for weeks now, keeping the Internet Archive up and running from a variety of remote locations. In the midst of all our video calls, email chains, and team chats, one theme keeps reoccurring: gratitude. We’re grateful for all of the donors who give so generously to us time and time again; we’re grateful for all of the teachers who write us with their suggestions and kind words of encouragement; we’re grateful for all of the Dead Heads who upload live shows and keep us staff entertained; we’re grateful for our partners and colleagues.
Most importantly, we are grateful that our community supports us and helps us grow. We are grateful for you.
In the past few months we’ve received countless messages from our community asking “How can I help?”. People everywhere are wondering how, during these turbulent times, they can make a positive impact on the world without leaving their homes. Some folks have offered to make a donation in support of what we do, and we’re always grateful for the help! But for those who might not be able to donate right now, or who already have and wish they could do more, there are a few different ways you can lend a hand. Here are some easy ways to help the Internet Archive if you have limited time, money, mobility, or energy:
Matching Gifts Have you donated to the Internet Archive recently? Help your gift go even further! Many companies offer matching gift programs as part of their benefits packages to employees. These organizations may be willing to double or even triple the value of your charitable gifts. Have you made a donation this year that might qualify? Curious to see if your company provides this benefit? To find out, visit our Matching Gifts page and enter your company’s name in the search box.
Better World Books Roundup Program There’s nothing like a good book to whisk you off and help wile away the hours while stuck inside. When you buy a book from Better World Books, you have the option of rounding up your purchase to support the Internet Archive. Since we launched this partnership back in December 2019, these roundups have resulted in $11,000 for the Internet Archive! A little bit certainly goes a long way. To our friends at Better World Books and to all who have ‘rounded up’ 10 cents here and 45 cents there, thank you. To wander their digital bookshelves for your next book purchase, visit the Better World Books website.
Amazon Smile Fresh veggies, canned goods, dish soap, the elusive toilet paper…many people are doing most of their shopping these days using delivery apps like Amazon. Did you know that Amazon Smile gives back .5% of every purchase you make to the participating non-profit of your choice? If you find yourself hitting their “virtual checkout” button more often, make sure you do so with Amazon Smile! And if you decide to make the Internet Archive the beneficiary, we’d be ever so grateful. To sign up and support us, visit: https://smile.amazon.com/ch/94-3242767
Donate Books Looking for a forever home for all those books that no longer spark joy? Look no further than Better World Books. Every book they receive will be resold, donated, recycled… or digitized and added to the Internet Archive, so that readers everywhere can enjoy it. All books (in good condition) are welcome! Visit https://www.betterworldbooks.com/go/donate to find a dropbox location near you.
Host a Facebook Fundraiser Is your birthday coming up? Or looking for a good way to spread the word about the Internet Archive to friends and family? Why not try out hosting a fundraiser on Facebook! To learn more, visit https://www.facebook.com/fund/internetnetarchive/
Spread the Word! One simple way to support us is by using the Archive and spreading the word to your friends and family. We don’t have an advertising or marketing team, so we definitely appreciate all the help we can get with promotion. If the Wayback Machine saved your website or you found a cool collection that made your day, tell a friend! You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We’ve got a once a month newsletter you can join, and make sure to bookmark our blog!
Thanks for helping us out! Your support helps journalists, teachers, researchers, high school students, kindergarteners, PhD candidates, genealogists, old time radio enthusiasts, Dead Heads, podcasters, developers, and readers of all ages get the information they want, the information they need, and the information they love. We thank you for all your contributions, big and small. Every little bit (and byte) counts.
One of the few people working in our headquarters building, Roxana Alfaro Rodriguez has been busy sewing cloth masks to give away. We now have a dozen ready and they are available for free in a box in front of the Internet Archive.
If you would like one, please come by 300 Funston Avenue. Please only take one or maybe two. They take about 30 minutes apiece to make. Thank you, Roxana, for your amazing sewing skills!
Our friends at Better World Books, the wonderful online bookstore (which is shipping during the current crisis) added a “round up your bill” feature so that purchasers could add up to 99 cents to their order as a donation to the Internet Archive.
Thanks to the generosity of their customers, Better World Books sent us a check for $11,000 in donations! The average donation was 45 cents. Thank you to 24,444 customers of Better World Books for supporting our nonprofit library!
Better World Books, is a B-corp, a social benefit corporation, dedicated to social good projects including supporting literacy programs, the Internet Archive, and Books for Africa. And they are now owned by a non-profit charity, Better World Libraries, making it now completely mission aligned with the non-profit Internet Archive.
A big Internet Archive thank you to Better World Books customers! A great way for our community to support them in these times would be to buy a book from Better World Books. And remember, please round up if you are able!
Greetings to everyone getting by at home, especially those looking to teach remotely, entertain your family, or find connections to your own past that used to live in programs from the 1980s and 1990s.
Perhaps, locked at home with your computer, you’ve finally got enough time to try out our collections of games for classic Sega and Atari consoles for the very first time. Or you find yourself longing for a simpler time in your history, when Prince of Persia, Pac Man and SimCity could make your troubles disappear, if only for a few hours. Or more likely, your kids have been assigned to set off on the Oregon Trail, but you can’t figure out how to begin that “long, difficult journey…that often resulted in failure and death.”
For all of you video game first time explorers, here’s a little boot camp for booting up Oregon Trail, and much, much more!
I’m Jason Scott, software curator at the Internet Archive, and I want to help introduce (or re-introduce) you to one of our more unique features—the ability to boot computers in your browser!
What Is Emulation in The Browser?
For more than five years, the ability to boot software, including video game consoles, computers and even handheld plastic games has brought millions through the Internet Archive’s doors. It’s been so extensive and even routine that it hardly gets mentioned now – it’s just something that happens. But for many who suddenly find themselves online a lot more than they used to be, this feature may not be something you’re aware of.
In the same way that music can be listened to inside your web browser and movies can be watched or books read, it is possible at the Internet Archive to “start” up a computer inside your browser that is running software, and that computer can be something completely different than what you’re running.
Imagine an Apple II (1980s) or a Windows 3.1 (1990s) or any of a number of long-gone systems, and the software they used to run that can’t be found or easily used anymore, coming back very quickly and easily, simply by clicking on a screenshot of the program and then playing it. That’s what people do by the thousands every day at the Archive.
Bringing back hundreds of thousands of old software packages brings multiple advantages—the games are generally simpler and extremely clear in goals and play, and have very little connection to later phenomenons like free-to-play, advertising or social media; they’re self-contained worlds, which is ideal for setting up games for children and education.
How to Use Emulation at the Archive
Any software item that can be activated will have a “Play” icon over the screenshot at the top. It looks kind of like a big power button – it’s green and transparent. This means that emulation is available for that program, and you just have to click in the general area of the button for the system to start “booting up” in the browser.
Try it out now! Visit this URL: https://archive.org/details/a2_Childrens_Carrousel_1982_Dynacomp_PD using a desktop or laptop computer (mobile devices will work, but there’s no keyboard to do anything). Click on the icon as it appears above, and watch as the system starts up an Apple II computer running a simple educational program called Children’s Carrousel from 1982.
There are a number of messages being shown while the system is booting, meant to indicate if something has gone wrong or how long it will take for data to be loaded to your browser. If you see red error messages, or the loading seems to stop, don’t worry—move onto other titles or contact me for tech support.
Where to Start Finding Software?
The hardest part of bringing materials to your students or family is finding appropriate or useful software packages out of a field of potential titles that can range from outdated or broken to simply difficult to use.
There are over 150,000 software at the Archive that can theoretically run in the browser, and naturally the collection runs from timeless classics to best-forgotten past experiments.
To help, I’ve assembled a collection called the Software Kids Zone: https://archive.org/details/softwarelibrary_kids – which has a bunch of chosen software packages that I have found are generally easy to use, self-explanatory, fun to play and in some way educational.
Things to Keep in Mind
Here are some tips and advice to bringing your classes or family into programs at the Archive:
Always test the software yourself, clicking on items or using keyboard commands, to make sure everything works like you expect it to. There’s always a chance a program has issues past “it runs”, and taking a quick tour beforehand helps remove a lot of chance and issues later.
Try to find several versions of software you want to share, or have a list that can be switched to, in case the first doesn’t work. Being able to go from one geography game to another quickly is much better than having to start another search from scratch.
The best games and programs feel contemporary, even when 20 years old – it means they weren’t chasing graphics or trends and were trying to build something from the ground up. If you find a program hard to use or not intuitive, skip it, and move on.
If you are working with a collection of kids or families, have videos they can watch or music they can listen to instead of using these programs, in case they run into technical issues.
And speaking of technical issues:
Some Common Problems with Emuation in the Browser and Potential Solutions
The most common issues related to emulation in the browser is that it requires a more recent desktop or laptop – the older the machine, the more likely to run into slowdowns, crackling in audio, and other issues.
Another issue is that some software is just not intuitive or needs a lengthy introduction to get working, which is not what kids or really anyone is looking for. The simpler the program, the better it generally is, so don’t hesitate to switch to other titles if playing a game or package is not enjoyable or easy. There’s many, many to choose from!
As above, if you need support or information or even want to ask some general questions, I’m available via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some Suggested Titles
Finally, here are some programs at the Archive that are really fun and easy, and which can tell you if this great feature is right for your purposes.
Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess is an educational chess program that can not just play the game of chess, but teach all the rules about it and give historical information. It’s perfect for a family to learn the game utterly from a true master. It’s located here.
MathOSaurus is a dinosaur-themed mathematics educational game that quizzes you on a range of math concepts with a colorful and fun cartoon dinosaur theme. Originally for the Apple II and with great thematic elements and easy. It’s located here.
The Oregon Trail is still our most popular emulated title on the Archive, and with good reason—it’s well designed, a challenging and interesting experience, and kids love it. I suggest The Oregon Trail Deluxe, which has a more engaging graphical style while maintaining all the fun of the original works, which date back to the 1970s. You can find it here.
The Supreme Court held today that copyright protection does not extend to the law – in this case, to the annotations in Georgia State’s annotated code. Justice Roberts explained that the animating principle behind this rule is that no one can own the law. “Every citizen is presumed to know the law,” and “it needs no argument to show . . . that all should have free access to its contents.”
This is a victory for our friends at Public.Resource.Org, the public domain, and the public at large. Free access to the law is core to the ability of our citizenry to fully participate in our democratic society. The Internet Archive has worked with Public Resource for 6 years to make the law fully searchable and downloadable to the public for free. We applaud this outcome and hope that more legal works will come to be available to the public in the coming days and weeks. We are glad this fight is over.
A call for help was sounded when it became clear that libraries were going to close indefinitely worldwide. The International Coalition of Library Consortia warned that the current system most libraries operate under was grossly insufficient to meet the crisis. We were in a unique position to respond and offer emergency relief to teachers and students around the world, so that’s what we did. We opened the National Emergency Library (NEL) on March 24, at a time UNESCO was reporting over 390 million students were being impacted. Today UNESCO reports that over 90% of the world’s student population is affected by school closures.
We were operating on pandemic time, but knew it wasn’t going to be the end of the conversation. Three days after we opened NEL, the Association of Research Libraries again urged publishers to maximize digital access. At this time we were busy providing this access to the best of our ability while beginning to respond to legitimate concerns from non-library stakeholders. We had designed an opt-out system for authors from the beginning, and our next big hurdle turned out to be working with university presses — many of whom we partner with — to address their concerns.
University presses react to NEL
In the hectic times of universities closing, we emailed our university press partners of the upcoming launch of NEL. The weekend after launching the NEL, we got a message from colleagues within the university press community saying some were not pleased with the NEL and the use of their published works within it. Responding quickly, we held an open community call the following Tuesday to hear from directors and other members of the university press community.
There’s no way around it – it was a tough call. While challenging, it also provided an opportunity for the Internet Archive to clarify why we had released the NEL—namely, to support students and educators with temporary access to a digital library while their schools and libraries are closed and their print collections are unavailable. We believed that NEL was necessary to provide educational access to teachers and students who were not in a position to double buy the books their communities had invested in but could not safely distribute. We have since had numerous teachers reach out to us and confirm that this is the case.
However, that doesn’t mean that other stakeholders do not matter to us. We listened to the concerns, and frankly displeasure, of important members of the university press community. John Sherer, Director of UNC Press, was one of these critics and was unhappy with what he and many within the university press community saw as a unilateral move by the Internet Archive.
But something changed during the community call. In hearing our openness to listen to the community and their concerns, Sherer saw a common path forward. “The goals you had articulated aligned so closely with many of our goals and the sense of mission that drives us at UNC Press. Namely, making high quality scholarship as widely available as possible.” Never one to rest idly, Sherer seized the moment, calculating that “if you all would consider a methodology I believe to be more equitable…I would pitch you on it and see if we could get to the common goal.”
And pitch he did. Along with Dean Smith, Director of Duke University Press, John drafted a Statement of Cooperation to help put structure around a publisher’s participation in the National Emergency Library. Both presses released blog posts (UNC Press here, Duke University Press here) to help contextualize why they disagreed with the process that the Internet Archive took in launching the NEL, and to describe why they ultimately decided to create the Statement of Cooperation so that they could support the National Emergency Library in a way they felt comfortable.
We appreciate the hard work of these university presses to find solutions to work together to provide students and researchers the resources they need during this difficult time. The statement they drafted is intended to be flexible and reusable. We hope that other publishers and presses will follow suit and sign on.
Why are university press books so important?
We consider our partnerships with university presses as a major milestone in making the NEL work for everyone to meet the immediate educational needs of those suffering from the pandemic. The Internet Archive has a long history of collaboration with the university press community, working with MIT Press, Cornell University Press, and others to digitize titles from their backlists.
We believe that university press books are a cornerstone of the NEL. University press books are evergreen, well-cited in Wikipedia, and are the foundations of much scholarship.The materials published by university presses represent the preeminent scholarly output of America’s research universities. They present peer-reviewed research and analysis of use to policymakers and scholars, and provide materials that help shape and inform a literate and informed culture. In short, university press books are exactly the kind of content that people need access to right now.
The road ahead
It is our wish that the NEL only last as long as it is needed, and that’s why we gave ourselves an end date. We will continue to work with stakeholders during this time to find solutions to make the NEL work the best it can under these emergency conditions. We are proud of our work on the NEL, but not so proud as to not accept thoughtful criticism. We encourage university presses, as well as other stakeholders, to work with us to continue to improve the NEL.
We also know that there are many difficulties facing all stakeholders due to the pandemic. Financial hardships are already being reported across the nation’s universities. University presses face challenges ahead in fulfilling their mission, but do so with an eye towards change. In considering the future, Sherer reflects, “UNC Press has survived world wars, depressions, recessions…and our building even burned to the ground once. We will endure. What we’re working on now is trying to understand what that new landscape might look like and to see if we can help define a values-driven publishing model that can thrive in that new reality.”
As Sherer later told us, “while we’re pleased that the NEL is making our books available at no cost to readers, I hope that the readers can remember that it wasn’t cost-less to produce those books.” We understand this concern. The Internet Archive uses a system called Controlled Digital Lending which leverages the number of loaned copies to the number of committed uncirculating physical copies and protects against redistribution by using the same digital rights management tools that publishers use; the temporary National Emergency Library, while using the same protections was built to address the suddenly and temporarily uncirculating books locked up in closed libraries. The original purchase of these books is the traditional way libraries support publishers and authors while also retaining the freedom to decide how to best serve our patrons. The NEL is a short term measure to meet the emergency needs of those impacted by school and library closures. We also welcome a continued dialog with publishers and authors on this issue.
The NEL will soon close and the world will continue to evolve. We need to look forward to how we can help meet the informational and educational needs of this changing world. The Internet Archive will continue to work with university presses and other stakeholders as we all adjust to a dominantly digital world. The Internet Archive is committed to working with presses and publishers to help describe and implement new values-driven publishing models that will be needed in this new world. The world’s digital learners need us all to succeed so they get to read the best humanity has created.
If you are an academic press or commercial publisher and would like to make your collections available through the National Emergency Library or work together to define a values-driven publishing model, please consider the Statement of Cooperation and reach out with additional questions.
Earlier this year, I received a letter from Dee Cody of Columbus, Ohio. She wrote to the Internet Archive, asking for our help in keeping alive the story of a Civil War-era tragedy. 155 years ago today, on April 27, 1865, the steamship Sultana exploded on the Mississippi, killing more than 1100 passengers—most of them Union soldiers returning home from Confederate prison camps at the end of America’s most bitter war. Dee writes:
The story of the Sultana is personal to my family, for my paternal great-great-great grandfather survived the disaster. His name was Daniel Garber, a private in the 102nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He enlisted in 1862, was captured in 1864, and then sent to the Cahaba prison camp in Alabama. His first-person account of enduring the tragedy can be found in a book called Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors which was compiled by fellow survivor Chester D. Berry and first published in 1892.
The scene following the explosion was terrible and heart-rending in the extreme. Hundreds of people were blown into the air and descending into the water, some dead, some with broken limbs, some scalded, were borne under by the resistless current of the great river, never to rise again. The survivors represent the screams as agonizing beyond precedent. Some clung to frail pieces of the wreck, as drowning men cling to straws and sustained themselves for a few moments, but finally became exhausted and sunk.
Daniel Garber was one of those survivors, who in Chester Berry’s 1892 Loss of the Sultana recalled:
By this time, all was confusion and men were jumping off into the river to get away from the flames. I looked around for a clear place to jump, for I knew if I jumped in where men were struggling, they would seize my board and I would be lost, because I could swim, but very little.
That night, the Sultana was carrying 2100 passengers, even though the ship’s official capacity was 376. Dee explains that avarice was the blame. “The Captain would have lost out on the money,” she told me. “He was paid $5 for every enlisted man transported and $10 for officers.” Although the death counts vary, anywhere between 1100-1700 people died due to the sinking of the Sultana, making it the worst maritime disaster in US history—more deadly than the Titanic or the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.
And yet, who today remembers the Sultana? Why isn’t this story in textbooks, or captured by Hollywood on the screen? One reason may be timing. The Sultana exploded just hours after John Wilkes Booth had been captured and killed, while Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train was still winding its way cross country to Springfield, Illinois. In April 1865, after 620,000 soldiers had lost their lives during the Civil War, perhaps the Sultana was just one more tragedy.
But not to Daniel Garber’s great-great-great granddaughter. By her own account:
In 2016 I came up with the idea of sending letters to museums, newspapers, civil war roundtables, and any other group that might be interested, to tell the story of the Sultana and help raise awareness about the annual meetings of what is now called The Sultana Association. While I’ve stopped keeping track of the exact number of letters I’ve sent, I estimate there have been over 500 altogether.
Including the letter Dee Cody sent to the Internet Archive. From Dee I learned that after Daniel Garber jumped from the burning deck of the Sultana, he went on to work as a shoemaker and a farmer in Ohio, fathering eight children, 29 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren by the time he died in 1906. A century and a half later, his story lives on thanks to Dee, who shared this simple wish: “My hope is that anyone who hears the story will always remember the Sultana.”
Fifty years ago, the Apollo spacecrafts brought back the first images of the “Whole Earth,” sparking a new consciousness about humankind’s relationship to our planet. Today, on Earth Day 2020, we stand at a pivotal moment. COVID-19 has led to cleaner air, clearer waters, and huge reductions in our use of fossil fuels. But what comes next?
On that very first Earth Day in 1970, this is how television anchor Walter Cronkite framed it:
A day set aside for a nationwide outpouring of mankind seeking its own survival: Earth Day….the message is clear: Act or die.
— Walter Cronkite on the CBS News
Whether you are a gamer, teacher, environmentalist or just an avid learner, here are a few of our favorite Earth Day resources from the Internet Archive to use and share.
From NASA: Our Planet & Beyond in Image and Sound
Back in the 1960 and 70s, when the Apollo Missions were in full throttle, these images from NASA of Earth and the polar ice caps were jaw dropping. The Internet Archive is proud to partner with NASA to preserve their rich archives—more than 100 collections of audio, video, and images of space exploration.
Games to Defend the Earth
From our Software Curator, Jason Scott, here are some vintage software packages you can play to either learn about, save, or fight for the Earth. Jason suggests starting with the classic from 1990, SimEarth by Maxis, a simulator where you try to keep the entire Earth (Gaia) happy.
Finally, why not end with a nice Earth Defense arcade game?U.N. Defense Force: Earth Joker (Japan), is a 1993 SHMUP (Shoot ’em Up) where you use one of four pilots to defend the Earth.
Gifs to Enjoy the Earth
Back in the day, Citizens of GeoCities loved to create GIFS, and we’ve pulled them all together in a nifty search engine that we call GIFCities. If you want to use and see an archive of Earth Gifs, here they are for you to enjoy:
This useful guide was written back in 2000 for a new generation of Earth Day activists by Denis Hayes, the national coordinator of the very first Earth Day. Chock full of quizzes, interesting analogies and painless steps to reduce our own energy use, The Official Earth Day Guide to Planet Repair has as much to offer on the 50th Earth Day anniversary as it did on the 30th.
When Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, “environment” was not even a concept, let alone a movement. As Al Gore writes in his introduction to this edition:
Silent Spring came as a cry in the wilderness, a deeply felt, thoroughly researched, and brilliantly written argument that changed the course of history. Without this book, the environmental movement might have been long delayed or never have developed at all.
Back in 1989, Bill McKibben was already trying to wake us up to the problems larger than any single environmental issue: ozone layers, air pollution, the diminishing rainforests. In The End of Nature, this deep thinker and tireless activist asked us to step back to understand humankind’s relationship to nature itself, to turn off the destructive path we were on. Twenty-one years later, it’s not too late to listen.
And while we are separated during this pandemic, Earth Day reminds us: our lives and fates are connected across one Earth. Today, tune in to virtual gatherings that are “flooding the world with hope, optimism and action” at https://www.earthday.org/.
Perhaps Steven Cooper’s pulse quickened when he found this ominous email heading in his inbox:
Subject: Re: your extensive downloading activity on archive.org
For weeks, Cooper, a software engineer in Melbourne, had been checking out ten books at a time from the National Emergency Library, returning them quickly, and checking out more. And more. And more.
The pace and regularity of this patron’s book borrowing seemed to us, well, suspicious. Was this just an automated bot, systematically and rapaciously tearing through our book collection? We assigned our head of security, Mark Seiden, to investigate. Cooper responded to Seiden’s inquiry with this reply:
Thanks for your note. I apologise if I’m causing a problem for you, but let me assure you that there’s no automated process whatever involved — every access to archive.org from my account has been done manually, by me.
Since mid-2017 I’ve been conducting a long-term research project into the works of Isaac Asimov, with the aim of producing the most complete bibliography possible of this incredibly prolific author. The initial version (http://stevenac.net/asimov/Bibliography.htm) was finished at the start of this year, and I used archive.org as one of the major sources of information. However, about a month ago I started a second pass through archive.org’s data, using text searching rather than metadata searching in order to carefully examine every single mention of Asimov to find items I’d missed.
—Sincerely, Steven Cooper
Since 2017, Cooper, a life-long Asimov fan, had been working toward a towering yet very personal goal: compiling the world’s most complete annotated bibliography of the works (in English) by Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) in time for the centennial of his birth, January 2, 2020. “I wanted a complete listing of his works,” Cooper told us. “His fiction, nonfiction. Particularly his nonfiction which is the hardest to assemble because he wrote so much and published it in so many places. This has never been done before, probably will never be done, because he wrote so much.”
“I write for the same reason I breathe – because if I didn’t, I would die.”
When Cooper began his task in 2017, he was able to do his research almost entirely online. By his reckoning, one can find almost all of Asimov’s books and anthologies in the Internet Archive. But the real challenge is finding the prolific author’s many other works: introductions, magazine articles, essays and reviews. When Cooper first searched the bibliographic data in archive.org he came up with 1755 results, including 1100 texts, television and radio interviews, translations in Tamil and Hindi. Then he decided to search inside the texts, to look up every time Isaac Asimov’s name appears. The result: 35,000 mentions.
Since then, Cooper has been going through them chronologically, one by one, “thanking my lucky stars that he has such a unique name.” That’s how he caught the attention of our security experts. “In the vast majority of cases I’m borrowing a book and returning it within a couple of minutes,” Cooper explained. “Just long enough for the text search to run and for me to look at the results and decide that there’s nothing that I’m interested in.” (It turns out that the majority of National Emergency Library patrons borrow the book for less than 30 minutes, suggesting they, like Cooper, are using them for research, or simply to browse.) Every so often, Cooper has a Eureka Moment—stumbling across a new piece of writing he has never seen before. So far he has checked the references up to 2004 and has about 15 more years of Asimov mentions to parse. “I’ve found about 300 new items to add to my archive,” Cooper told me. “That includes a dozen or so articles I was not aware of, so there will be new finds!”
“There is so much more of his work available through the Internet Archive than people generally realize,” Cooper went on to explain. “When I see Asimov forums, it’s really always about his fiction…But his nonfiction is still well worth reading. He’s such a good explainer. If you want to gain a basic understanding of mathematics, physics, chemistry, any kind of science, and history as well, he wrote a great deal of history that is still very readable. You can find it through the Internet Archive.”
And how does Cooper find researching online from his home office in Melbourne, during this time of proactively staying in one place? “It’s kind of perfect for this current period we’re living through,” he mused. “The Archive has a pretty complete collection of the old Sci Fi magazines that his stories were first published in from the 1940s and 50s. I was able to see them in the original situation and in some cases see the differences between how they were originally published and how they appeared in book form.”
And what do we think the Great Explainer, this clear-eyed observer of history and science would have to say about this time of the COVID pandemic? Perhaps this:
The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.
The fruits of Steven Cooper’s labor are now available for anyone to use. His list is 676 pages long, at the moment. Yet, this software engineer with an obsession for Asimov never expected his passion project would be seen by the public, let alone a constellation of science fiction devotees. He did it for himself, to explore the many dimensions of Asimov’s thinking, where the writer’s curiosity would lead him, the clarity with which he would explain the world. “He is known as possibly the most wide-ranging writer of the 20th Century,” Cooper ruminated. “I was just interested to see how wide ranging that was. I don’t think anyone has ever read everything he wrote.”