I’ve been wanting to take a trip to visit a Friday lunch at the Internet Archive for years since I heard about them. If you haven’t heard of or used it, it might be a shock to learn about its existence–since 1996, they’ve been “capturing” the Internet onto permanent, indexed, searchable hard drives on behalf of the public. The Wayback Machine is probably the most famous arm of this project, and one that I use to reference works I wrote way back when I was a music journalist for the online-only publication, Buzznet.
A year and a half ago, they moved from their old digs in the Presidio to their new digs in the former Christian Scientist building on Funston (at Clement) and done some renovating (along with their logo which now features the Roman columns on the building). It’s a beautiful space, and one that fits many “wings” of the organization that they’ve branched into collecting–sound, video, and, along with Google, a book digitization project which includes open access and a lending library, called Open Library. They are even suggesting the MegaReader app for iPhone/iPad users to access the collection.
As part of the lunch, each person had to describe why they were visiting or, if you work there, interesting progress or events from your project you are working on. I was visiting for several purposes with one being that my library receives unique items which are often Quaker-related and can be rare. I was particularly interested in seeing how their digitization works after realizing they have quite an amazing collection of Quaker documents already in their library for free viewing (482 as of this writing). One of the key findings, for me, is how this work is being done and shared as a research tool for Quakers, especially those not living near a library that would stock such items. Unfortunately, the cost is around $.10/page to have your document scanned, unless you donate the item to them, so this will most likely be cost-prohibitive at this point but it does bring hope that, should someone have a large bequest, they could probably pay for the scanning of many Quaker documents and have them housed, potentially, forever on open servers and open to the public. Better than a physical library in many ways!
I was particularly engaged by the Director of this project, Richard, who came from a commercial background and now works for this non-profit. He’s a great
person to head this project as he definitely had a feel for why and how the Open Library will deal with the Googlization of everything in a non-commercial way.
The Open Library project is working toward offering books in many formats compatible with many e-readers out there, and have built their own web-reader which makes it available in this future-compatible format. And, since this past holiday season, it’s getting easier and easier to have access to e-readers. I’ve been an ebook fan/reader since back in 2000 when I started library school using my HP Journada 540 with a black-and-white screen.
While I’m not sure the Internet Archive will truly ever compete with the commercial world, it will continue its efforts to bring free books to the public in many formats and continue the fight for bringing books to people free of charge, so hooray for that. I’m happy to see that this is another answer for libraries as opposed to complicated DRM files and outsourcing to paid-vendors like OverDrive.