We hope you and your family had a relaxing Memorial Day Weekend, and we hope you spent your weekend reading from the National Emergency Library. If you are enjoying the NEL or simply want to talk about the books you have borrowed from our library, please let us know. And we will not share your response unless you give explicit permission.
Below are highlights from the library world. And as always, thank you for your generous support.
Sizzle Then Fizzle: Buzzy Titles and Borrowing Digitized Books.Have you ever wondered what happens to popular books after their day in the sun has passed? In this blog post we discuss two titles that have received a lot of interest, but as we uncovered, most individuals only wanted to check the book for a certain “newsy” passage.
By Retraining Staff, We Uncover Rare Gems. We have some good news for this extraordinary time: we are bringing back furloughed scanners and hiring experts to teach our staff how to do new and safe socially distanced scanning activities for the Library. Our scanners are uncovering rare gems and learning new skills, like how to digitize 78rpm records.
How to Binge Watch Some Great Classic Sci-Fi for Free. Love classic science fiction, but cannot find what you want to watch on television? We have you covered. ZDNet has a guide—including some browser extension tips and tricks—about how to watch science fiction classics from our collection.
ICYMI: Controlled Digital Lending: Getting Books to Students During the Pandemic & Beyond. Our friends at Public Knowledge hosted a webinar last Friday about controlled digital lending. Moderated by Public Knowledge, Counsel, Meredith Rose, the session included Cory Doctorow, author of Radicalized and Walkaway, special advisor to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and visiting professor of practice in library science at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Chris Freeland, Director of Open Libraries at the Internet Archive; Lisa Petrides, Founder and CEO of Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education; and Lisa Weaver, Director, Collections & Program Development at Hamilton Public Library. If you missed the event, the video can be found in the link above.
Upcoming Webinars and Events. If you’re interested in learning how libraries can use controlled digital lending in addition to the temporary National Emergency Library, please join Chris Freeland, Director of Open Libraries, who will be leading a series of webinars on this topic. Freeland will explain how the Internet Archive works: from scanning book centers to how books are made available online. Please check the link for webinar dates.
by Theron Cosgrave, an educational specialist in school redesign and teacher training
Almost three months of pandemic-inspired school closures have made one thing painfully clear for educators: distance learning is a completely different ballgame than in-person teaching. Worries about classroom management and test prep have taken a temporary backseat to challenges with student WiFi access and cyber hygiene concerns like “zoomboming,” the colloquial term for when an uninvited guest appears in a video call.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the need for high-quality learning resources to engage students. Despite all its challenges, this time has fostered a renaissance of online tool sharing. In my school consulting practice I’ve been connecting educators with a variety of links to help ease the transition online, and out of all the digital resources I’ve seen, the National Emergency Library recently rose to the top of my list of the best tools for remote learning.
Using any internet-connected device, teachers and students can borrow free online digital books from the National Emergency Library’s massive collection. Here are some specific ways that educators can benefit from this tool:
Teachers can use the Library to connect students with many of the books that are currently locked away in shuttered classrooms and school libraries, including hundreds of titles found on Common Core reading lists. Need a copy of The Paper Crane to read aloud to your first graders during a video call? Done. Want your fourth graders to read the Christopher Paul Curtis story Bud, Not Buddy?Send them the link. Looking for a copy of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for your high school history class? The Library has that too.
At the university level, the National Emergency Library enables college instructors to conduct and assign research despite limited access to their own university collections. And while you may not teach at MIT or University of Oklahoma, you can borrow titles that these institutions have in their collections.
LIBRARIANS & LIBRARY TECHNICIANS
School libraries—particularly at the K-12 level—have struggled to transition their services online in such a short timeframe. Fortunately, the National Emergency Library can fill the gap. Librarians at the K-12 and college level can link the Library to their school websites and notify their teachers and students that books are still available through digital lending.
District and school-level leaders currently developing plans for reopening schools in the fall with social distancing practices in place can lean on the services of the National Emergency Library’s parent organization, the Internet Archive, to ensure students have full digital access to core texts. Schools that join the Archive’s Open Libraries initiative can be assured they have reliable library access in case of any possible school closures in the future.
Educators have plenty to worry about during these unprecedented times. Fortunately, with the help of the National Emergency Library, accessing engaging books is no longer one of them.
While people all over the world have been at home due to COVID-19, recent reports about library usage indicate they have turned to books for comfort and enjoyment. Our own site has seen an increase in traffic and bandwidth consumption, and usage of our digital library has increased as well. Given our current situation with COVID-19, it may be no surprise that certain titles have captured the reading public’s attention, such as Sylvia Browne’s “End of Days,” in which the author predicts “around 2020 a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe…”
The book has been available through the Internet Archive’s controlled digital lending library since 2014, but had virtually no checkouts or usage until it became “buzzy”—it was featured in a popular social media post in early March and since then, the preview of the page has been included in a number of popular web sites and publications. Because of this interest, the book continues to be among the top viewed at the Internet Archive right now. But interestingly enough, people aren’t checking the book out. They preview the one page with the timely prediction, and then they browse away from the book. This isn’t an isolated event—other books in our library have also seen dramatic increases in interest simply due to popular news.
In the case of “Wasted,” the book originally had a limited print run, so there were very few copies in libraries. It was a “buzzy” title—everyone wanted a copy, including both political parties, the media, and Justice Kavanaugh’s supporters and detractors. Because of the limited supply and high demand, book sellers were offering used copies for thousands of dollars online. It was essentially impossible to locate a copy.
Among those few libraries with a copy was Boston Public Library, which had one copy housed in their non-circulating research collection. Using their existing on-site Internet Archive scanning center, they scanned the book, returned the physical copy to the closed stacks, and made the digital copy available through controlled digital lending to one user at a time.
Where controlled digital lending didn’t work was meeting the immediate demand of a crushing media news cycle that wanted to read the book. Because there was only one physical copy of the book, only one person could checkout the digital copy and read it at a time, and with our standard 14 day circulation period, the digital book would circulate an estimated 30 times per year. Those who wanted to queue up to read the book could join a waitlist, just like at your public library. And they did. Within 24 hours of making the book available at archive.org, its waitlist had jumped to more than 400 people. In the nearly 18 months since, the waitlist topped out at more than 800 people, meaning that someone joining the list at its peak would be waiting more than 20 years for their turn to read.
But all of that changed when we launched the National Emergency Library which gave us an unexpected opportunity for an experiment. By suspending waitlists for our books, all of the users on the waitlist could check out the book without delay. We notified users by email, as is our norm, that they could now check out the book.
It turned out most users did not want to check out the book when they were eventually offered the opportunity. Some did check out the book, but few. In the week after the launch of the NEL, 50 copies were on loan. Following our previously reported circulation patterns, 90% of those borrows go stagnant within the first hour (most much faster), meaning that users stop interacting with the book, so there were may be closer to five actual readers of the book. Today, the book is not checked out by any users. This blog post will again raise interest in the book, and so it will likely have more borrows over the next week (the number likely depends on the reach of this post) before it again returns to a lower, post-buzz circulation level.
“End of Days” and “Wasted” aren’t unique. Current events will often trigger a fleetingly higher interest in older books on various topics. And so what does this mean? Here are some preliminary thoughts, with more to come in a subsequent blog post:
“Buzzy” titles have a short shelf life. Once the news cycle moves on, so does public interest. Though it numbered in the 800s, the waitlist for “Wasted” showed pent up, and ultimately expired, demand for the title, especially since the news story is now nearly 18 months old. Once waitlists were relaxed and all of those users could finally read the book, the vast majority didn’t. We expect a similar pattern to emerge around “End of Days” once our waitlists are restored.
People rarely read the book even after checking it out. When it comes to these buzzy titles most users just want to flip through to see the interesting bits and then move on because they’re not really interested in the subject of the book, just the news story. It’s a similar pattern to the users who come to our books through a citation in Wikipedia—they’re brought into our books through a link to a page, they read the page or two they need for context or verification, and then they’re out of the book. The difference with Wikipedia links, however, is that those links help users identify books that they can check out and dive into deeper if they’re working on a research project or term paper, so the motivation to engage with the book is stronger than for the average social media post.
As previously highlighted, two weeks after the NEL launch we posted early usage and circulation trends that we had observed. We plan to release an update on those trends and to report any additional findings about how people are using the NEL. We highlight these data so that our community can have a better understanding of what’s being used in the NEL and how it’s being accessed, so that we can build these considerations into future digital library infrastructures.
What are you reading from the National Emergency Library? Please let us know. We will not share your response unless you give explicit permission. We are thrilled so many of you have reached out to let us know how you are using the Library for research, teaching, and even personal purposes.
Below are highlights from the library world. As always, thank you for your generous support.
When An Island Shuts Down: Aruba & the National Emergency Library. On March 15, the small island nation of Aruba had its businesses, schools, and libraries close to stop the spread of COVID-19. And like so many others, librarians began to wonder how they would find the appropriate books needed, especially for students. Our team spoke with Dr. Peter Scholing, who leads the digitization effort at the National Library of Aruba, about how the National Emergency Library has provided the “missing link” needed for students across the country.
The Copyright Office Weighs in on the National Emergency Library. The United States Copyright Office (USCO) penned a reply to Senator Udall [D-NM] asking about the legality of the National Emergency Library. The Office’s response primarily focuses on general guidance for libraries and educational institutions and avoids reaching a legal conclusion or providing any specific recommendations regarding the NEL. Internet Archive Founder and Digital Librarian, Brewster Kahle responded to the letter on Twitter, please see his reply here. If you would like to contact your Member of Congress to tell them how you are using and enjoying the NEL, a state and district list can be found here.
Controlled Digital Lending: Getting Books to Students During the Pandemic & Beyond. Our friends at Public Knowledge are hosting a webinar on May 22nd about controlled digital lending. The webinar will be moderated by Public Knowledge Counsel Meredith Rose, who will be joined by Cory Doctorow, author of Radicalized and Walkaway, special advisor to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and visiting professor of practice in library science at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill; Chris Freeland, Director of Open Libraries at the Internet Archive; Lisa Petrides, Founder and CEO of Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education; and Lisa Weaver, Director, Collections & Program Development at Hamilton Public Library.
Other Webinars and Events. If you’re interested in learning how libraries can use controlled digital lending in addition to the temporary National Emergency Library, please join Chris Freeland, Director of Open Libraries, who will be leading a series of webinars on this topic. Freeland will explain how the Internet Archive works: from scanning book centers to how books are made available online. Check here for webinar dates.
What YOU Are Saying About the National Emergency Library: Our team has been soliciting input on the National Emergency Library. Below are a handful of testimonials from across the education and library sectors. We only use testimonials for which we have explicit permission. If you would like to be featured in our next newsletter, please submit a testimonial.
Note: We have NOT substantially changed the testimonials, if you notice your testimonial looks a little different, it is just for readability purposes. Thank you for submitting.
Mike M., Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, Researcher: Mike is a researcher who has been using the National Emergency Library for personal research purposes in the fields of genealogy and art history. He called the NEL “awesome.”
Don’t forget to keep up with updates from the Internet Archive team by following us on Twitter and visiting our website.
On March 15, the small island nation of Aruba, part of the Dutch Caribbean, closed its borders to visitors. Cruise ships packed with tourists stopped coming. Casinos, libraries and schools shut their doors, as Aruba’s 110,000 residents locked down to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Librarians quickly gathered reading lists from students, parents and schools. With high school graduation exams just a month away, the required literature books would be crucial. Aruban students are tested on books in Dutch, English, Spanish and their native language of Papiamento. “Just before your literary final exams, you need to re-read the books,” explained Peter Scholing, who leads digitization efforts at the National Library of Aruba. “The libraries are closed. Your school libraries are closed. You can order from Amazon, but it takes weeks and weeks to arrive. If you are in an emergency, then you hope your books are online.”
Scholing was relieved to discover that most of the required literature in English and Spanish was available in the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library. As library staff moved to work from home, they grabbed the tools to digitize the books in Papiamento that were missing. Many local authors were easy to track down and most gladly gave permission for free downloads or loaning their works. Scholing reports, “Some of them choose digital lending. But a lot of them say, ‘Well it was a limited print run….I’ve sold all the copies of my books, now you can just make it available for download.’”
Preservation Pays Off
For many years, the library’s small Special Collections staff had been diligently digitizing key collections: photographs, historic texts, newspapers, and perhaps the world’s largest collection of texts in Papiamento. But with few technical resources, the National Library of Aruba had no way to provide access to those works. Scholing says the Internet Archive proved to be the “missing link.” In March 2019, the Library was able to unveil its new Digital Collection, 18,800 texts, videos and audio now accessible to the world on archive.org. Today, with libraries and schools closed, these materials are the keys to unlocking the doors to online learning.
“We didn’t imagine something like the Covid crisis could happen,” said Scholing. “But for our preservation efforts, this is the Big One. We are really lucky to be able to provide access to information that we couldn’t otherwise without the Internet Archive.”
When Waitlists Won’t Work
Although Scholing had permission from the authors to lend their recent books, several times we accidentally reinstituted the waiting list, since the National Emergency Library does not include books from the last five years. That meant students reading the work suddenly would have had to wait, sometimes for weeks, to move up the waiting list. Scholing wrote to us immediately: “There must be an alternative. I’m getting emails from students and teachers already.”
Eventually we worked out the kinks so Aruba’s books in the National Emergency Library wouldn’t get taken down. In addition, hundreds of texts in Papiamento from 1844-2020 are now available without waitlist. It’s part of a bigger vision on the island to teach students to read and write the language they speak at a higher level. “A lot of textbooks come straight from the Netherlands…you are reading about snow, trains and windmills,” Scholing explained. “It’s better to use something from a newspaper or magazine produced locally…It’s their own context. It speaks more to them.”
He even received this note from a local author, written in Papiamento:
Peter aprecia, (Dear Peter,)
Hopi admiracion pa e trabou cu bo ta desplegando pa Aruba y nos hendenan.
(A lot of admiration for the work that you are carrying out for Aruba and for our people.)
This week, schools in Aruba are scheduled to reopen. Since March, the library has tripled the number of items in its digital collection, and visitors have increased by 300%. Scholing sees this as evidence that the National Emergency Library will have lasting benefit. “All the thresholds and barriers to access this unique information have been lifted, once you put it online.”
What it Means to be a Library During COVID-19.Chris Freeland, our Director of Open Libraries, chatted with local librarians to find out what it means to be a library during the COVID-19 pandemic, how librarians are holding up during this time, and how the National Emergency Library has been used in their libraries. This post features commentary from Kelvin Watson, Director, Broward County Libraries; Michael Blackwell, Director, St. Mary’s County Library (MD); and Lisa Radha Weaver, Director of Collections and Program Development, Hamilton Public Library. We thank them for finding the time out of their very busy days.
What YOU Are Saying About the National Emergency Library: Our team has been soliciting input on the National Emergency Library. Below are a handful of testimonials from across the education and library sectors. We only use testimonials for which we have explicit permission. If you would like to be featured in our next newsletter, please submit a testimonial.
Note: We have NOT substantially changed the testimonials, if you notice your testimonial looks a little different, it is just for readability purposes. Thank you for submitting.
Jennifer J., Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA, Librarian: Jennifer is a librarian who is using the National Emergency Library in a classroom setting. “[The NEL] provides my students with 9th grade student novels. I discovered the NEL from a librarian for the Atlantic City Public Library.’
Augusto W., Lima, Peru, Researcher: Augusto uses the National Emergency Library for personal research purposes. He writes, ‘It is like being a millionaire, being able to flip through books I always wanted to take a look at or read, including many of which have been out of print for decades. This is the greatest gift of all for someone in need (or who dreamed) of a near-perfect library.’
Upcoming Webinars and Events. Times are tough, so many books are now inaccessible due to the closures for the COVID-19 crisis. If you’re interested in learning how libraries can use controlled digital lending in addition to the temporary National Emergency Library, please join Chris Freeland, Director of Open Libraries, who will be leading a series of webinars on this topic. Freeland will explain how the Internet Archive works: from scanning book centers to how books are made available online. Please check out our calendar of webinar dates.
Library directors and staff are facing incredible challenges in meeting their community’s needs during this unprecedented time of library closure. As a recent article by NISO Director of Content, Jill O’Neill, points out “[o]ne take-away from this global pandemic might be the humble recognition that there are existing needs in the marketplace that are not satisfactorily served by current access models.” In the meantime, with the majority of the nation’s libraries closed, librarians are turning to a variety of currently available digital content resources to meet patron needs while their physical collections are unavailable for use.
One of the librarians leading the charge is Michael Blackwell, Director of St. Mary’s County Library, in coastal Maryland. Michael is active in a variety of eBook working groups at the state and national level, and champions the role of digital content in meeting the needs of the residents of his rural Maryland county. Another voice in this conversation is Lisa Radha Weaver, Director of Collections and Program Development at Hamilton Public Library, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. With a circulation of more than 7 million items each year, Hamilton Public Library serves its community of more than 750,000 residents through a variety of programs that are all currently suspended due to COVID-19. Similarly, Kelvin Watson, Director of Broward County Libraries, in southern Florida, is leading his staff and community through this remarkable moment in library history. Serving a population of nearly 2 million people, the Broward County Library system circulates more than 10 million items each year through its 38 branches, all of which are currently closed.
All three librarians took time from their hectic schedules to talk with the Internet Archive about their operations during closure, the role of digital content in meeting the needs of their patrons, and the value of digital libraries in the COVID-19 era.
Chris Freeland, Internet Archive: As of this writing your libraries are currently closed because of COVID-19. How are you reaching patrons while your libraries are shuttered?
Kelvin Watson, Director, Broward County Libraries (FL): All of the 38 physical locations of Broward County Library (BCL) closed at the end of the day on March 19, 2020, but library staff remain working to keep up with the public’s demand for its free online resources and remote reference services. With its customers confined at home, BCL is experiencing a surge in usage and new users of its digital resources.
As the threat of COVID-19’s spread increased in mid-March, BCL marketing staff launched a public-awareness campaign via social media posts and targeted ads, a virtual newsletter and customer emails to inform the community about its extensive collection of free digital content that can be accessed with a BCL Instant eCard.
The marketing efforts paid off. There has been an increase in Overdrive eBooks and eAudiobooks checkouts of 22% from March 2019 to March 2020 and a 68% rise in check-outs of eBooks from Axis 360, which offers titles for children and teens, a clear indication of how many youth in our community are accessing BCL materials for homework and entertainment during local safer-at-home mandates.
In addition to providing digital content, another way that BCL is engaging customers while its buildings are closed is through virtual outreach that replaces popular in-person library programs. These include video story times, like this reading by librarian Autumn Dec of the book Dragons Love Tacos, which has garnered 1.1k views on social media as well as librarian-led “Book Bites” book reviews. BCL is even planning a virtual version of their popular “Summer at Your Library” program, which will offer prizes and incentives as well as an online game board and activities for readers and learners of all ages.
Just like the Internet Archive, during this crisis, BCL is also expanding its scope by reaching out to customers in unexpected ways. Staff at BCL’s Creation Station makerspaces are using the library’s public 3D printers, sewing machines and other gear, to produce protective face coverings and using BCL’s 3D printers to make S-hooks (which helps face coverings fit comfortably) to distribute locally to healthcare professionals and first responders.
Michael Blackwell, Director, St. Mary’s County Library (MD): The COVID-19 pandemic has foregrounded the need to provide all types of library content virtually. We are doing weekly digital storytimes so that children can and their parents can have fun while practicing literacy-building activities. We are grateful to publishers such as Penguin Random House that have lifted restrictions on storytime reading of content online. We are doing online trivia contests. We are subscribing to additional online services, such as CreativeBug, which has videos about crafting. We are doing a weekly “Quaranzine” with writing and art submissions by our patrons.
One of the most important ways we are responding, however, is by providing additional digital content. We have added to the number of Hoopla checkouts per month and added content to OverDrive, RBDigital, and the DPLA Exchange. We are a small three branch system serving a county of some 113,000, however, and we do not have the funds to keep up with an increased demand, with downloads exceeding 33% in March and April what they did in January and February.
Lisa Radha Weaver, Director of Collections and Program Development, Hamilton Public Library: During this unprecedented time, Hamilton Public Library (HPL) staff is available by phone, email and online chat. Our website (hpl.ca) also offers 24/7 access to online programs and resources. While our branches are closed, HPL continues to connect customers with our Digital Collections including the National Emergency Library (NEL). Staff is also calling all customers aged 75+, 3D printing masks and sewing protective face coverings, offering online programs and discussion forums for all ages, launching our Hamilton Reads and Summer Reading programs early and donating our book sale collections to clients at our partner food banks.
Chris Freeland: Are your staff or patrons using the National Emergency Library while your libraries are closed? If so, what response are you getting?
Michael Blackwell: The Internet Archive provides another arrow in our quiver. Without additional cost, we can provide another source of eBooks that helps us match the depth and breadth of print books sitting idle on our shelves. Patron response has been sparse, but at least one person has commented with joy upon finding books from his childhood that he had not seen in years, that are otherwise completely unavailable in digital form, and that could be read only by ordering tattered copies from online bookstores. We are not using it to supplant our licensed content but to add richness that we otherwise could not. In a time when we cannot circulate our physical collection, when many are staying in place for their own health, when many are now unemployed, and when an economic recession might restrict people’s buying power and create ever greater reliance upon libraries, a source of information and reading delight is welcome to us and our patrons.
Lisa Radha Weaver: At HPL, we share the National Emergency Library with customers via our website, catalogue and during reference inquiries. Our reference desk is open seven days a week and staff Book an Appointment for those customers needing additional assistance. Customers are directed to the NEL for content that we cannot physically share at this time.
Chris Freeland: The value and role of digital libraries have never been more apparent, and yet, in an attempt to discredit the work of the Internet Archive and the National Emergency Library, critics are using a line of attack that the Internet Archive is “not a library.” As a professional librarian, how is this criticism harmful?
Michael Blackwell: Criticism that the Internet Archive is not a library is so absurd a claim as to be almost unworthy of a response and yet it should be of concern to all librarians. Attacks on libraries are of course commonplace these days. An online search will quickly reveal organized groups that would, for instance, like local government to seize control of libraries to make all collections and programs suit the outlook of a particular religion. My library has been attacked by such groups.
This attempt to subvert a library by saying it isn’t actually a library is unprecedented, as far as I know, but equally worthy of rejection as narrow-minded censorship, however fallacious it is. First, members of a group unaffiliated with libraries have no more business defining what a library is than librarians have any business saying who is or who is not an author. Second, what exactly is a library? In defining the term, the American Library Association, which surely has more right to define what a library is than Internet Archive’s critics, says the following: “The word ‘library’ seems to be used in so many different aspects now, from the brick-and-mortar public library to the digital library (https://libguides.ala.org/library-definition).
The Internet Archive is not a public library, of course, but in an increasingly digital world, collections of eBooks and other resources online have every claim to be called a library. Project Gutenberg describes itself as “a library of over 60,000 free eBooks” (https://www.gutenberg.org/). The word library is in the very name of the Digital Public Library of America, another registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Do these critics maintain that DPLA too is not a library? What about the increasingly important collections of local content digitized by public libraries, including books of local interest—are only the physical books sitting on shelves the actual “library”? Nonsense! Libraries must be free to collect in ways that give access to knowledge, and we must defend our mandate and the people’s right to literacy against any agency that would restrict our legitimate efforts to provide and preserve books.
Lisa Radha Weaver: As a public library, our mandate is to provide equal access to information and encourage lifelong learning. HPL staff members appreciate the opportunity to expand our support to customers during this pandemic. Digital libraries ensure customers continue to enjoy access to content. The Internet Archive offers increased access to research and information, regardless of format or choice of genre. Hamilton Public Library supports Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) and while physical collections are temporarily closed, customers need access in new ways. The National Emergency Library ensures vital, equitable access for everyone — just as public libraries will again provide when physical distancing and stay-at-home orders are lifted.
Kelvin Watson: Libraries are more than physical spaces and buildings – like the Internet Archive, our resources and services are virtual as well, serving our customers 24/7, everywhere and anywhere. Our strong virtual presence has been just as important as our brick-and-mortar storefronts – even more so in times of crisis, when people cannot visit a library in person for whatever reason.
During the COVID-19 crisis, with social distancing and stay-at-home mandates, we are again seeing just how essential our virtual services are. Just because customers can’t walk into a library it doesn’t mean they’re not using library services. They are, more than ever according to our statistics. For many customers, accessing library materials virtually is easier, faster and more efficient. Online or in person, Broward County Library is still a library, providing educational, informational and recreational resources constantly and consistently, to everyone in our community, all the time, at any place.
She’s an author of crime fiction. A college librarian. A recently retired faculty member at a small liberal arts college in Minnesota. For more than 30 years, Barbara Fister has felt the opposing pull from her publishers and the call of open access; from the need for books to make money and the desire for her published work to live on into the next century. Plus, this author and librarian has authored five books now available in the National Emergency Library.
Because Fister resides at the nexus of authors and libraries, we wanted to understand why on April 15, 2020, she posted this to her Twitter account:
From her home in rural Minnesota, Fister (who is “not a fan of Zoom/Skype/etc”) and I corresponded by email. “Honestly, I was surprised,” Barbara wrote. “When I started poking around the National Emergency Library I did a vanity search and—hey, look at that! I had to tweet that my books were there, because it made me happy. Then I started looking for things I would check out of my academic library if it were open, and many of those books were there, too. It’s very gratifying to have that access.”
As Fister sees it, “Regardless of the legal issues, I think the Internet Archive has the moral high ground in launching the National Emergency Library. There’s no way people who already contributed to paying for access to books through taxes or tuition can individually purchase every book they might want to consult while the libraries they relied on (and helped to fund) are closed. We need to consider the public good in this crisis.”
One reason Fister is “tickled” is because her novels, published in 2008 and 2010, are hard to find, even in libraries. “They were published a while ago, so a lot of public libraries have no doubt weeded them to make room for more recent titles, which is totally understandable,” Fister explained. “I have worried a bit about the disappearance of non-academic books from the public cultural record. There was a time scholars could rediscover overlooked women writers long after their books went out of print, because they were on the shelves of academic libraries. In recent decades, however, academic book budgets have been strained and very few libraries purchase and retain popular literature.” She believes this “gradual forgetting of the popular” makes a shared digital collection like the Internet Archive’s even more valuable. “Even without a pandemic, it’s a need that I’m happy the Internet Archive is tackling.”
Fister has made many of her publications completely open access, and downloadable through the Internet Archive. It’s a value she embraced as an academic librarian. “As a library, we consciously promoted open access because equitable access to information is a core library value. For that reason, I have tried to make as much of my work open access as possible. This gets tricky with books, because both authors and publishers put a great deal of work into a book, and since I respect the value editors and publishers add, I sympathize with the need to have a business model that supports that critical hand-crafted work.”
But as both an author and a librarian, Fister doesn’t subscribe to the notion that libraries in general and the National Emergency Library in particular are cutting into author revenue.”It’s not a competition, it’s a symbiosis.” she wrote. ”I don’t think they understand how unlikely it is that allowing multiple users of these versions of their books will adversely affect their income, but it seems many authors view it as a moral argument. ‘You can’t scan my books, period. It’s my property, and you didn’t ask my permission.’ Admittedly, like most authors I don’t depend on my writing for a living; perhaps if I did I would feel differently. But as it is, I’m delighted if anyone discovers my books and enjoys them.”
There’s no way people who already contributed to paying for access to books through taxes or tuition can individually purchase every book they might want to consult while the libraries they relied on (and helped to fund) are closed. We need to consider the public good in this crisis.
As an academic, Fister has spoken and written extensively about information literacy, the “understanding of how information is produced and valued…ethically in communities of learning.” She points to Congress and the current copyright laws as the source of current tensions between open access advocates, libraries, authors and publishers, writing:
Launching the National Emergency Library has been risky for the Internet Archive, and I appreciate that act of risk-taking as a person who would like us to do a better job of balancing social and individual interests in the original Constitutional purpose of copyright – “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Congress has tilted much too far against society’s legitimate interest by making “limited time” for copyright owners nearly unlimited. This is actually bad for authors – and for all of us. Copyright isn’t working as it should, but people are too nervous to make full use of fair use because losing a lawsuit could be ruinous. The Authors Guild does not represent all authors. It certainly doesn’t represent my interests. I’m more aligned with the Authors Alliance.
Some day in the future, when COVID-19 is defeated and libraries are once again open, Fister believes that scholars of library history will examine this moment and “be pleased that their research is available to Americans who are learning and working from home during this historic pandemic.”
Barbara Fister is one of those working from home.
Earlier, Barbara returned a library book she needs for her research, Wayne Wiegand’sA Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of American Public Libraries, but now that her library is closed, she was delighted to find it in the National Emergency Library. “’I’m scrolling through on my laptop, typing out quotes I want to note down; no copying and pasting or downloading the file for keeps allowed, all limits which makes it not at all like piracy,” she wrote. “This effort to make so many books available for the duration, legally risky and technically challenging, is beyond what any single library could do. While the National Emergency Library isn’t the same as our local libraries, it’s a wonderful thing to have available in these challenging times.”
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.
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.”