It has long been a habit of mine to read a book before falling asleep. I usually stay up way too late absorbed in a book. I recently finished Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World and after enjoying it I immediately grabbed my phone to look for other books he had written. I remembered seeing people on Twitter recommending his 1995 book The Unconsoled and was interested in reading it. I searched the Lancaster Library System and saw that it was available in the Ephrata branch; However, it was after midnight and I still felt awake and in the mood to read on. So I went to one of my favorite resources: the Internet Archive. I searched for The Unconsoled and found it to be one of the 38 million books and texts available on the platform. Even better, it was immediately available for me to check out.
The Internet Archive operates on a controlled digital lending method, which means that when the archive has a copy of a previously purchased and scanned book, such as The Unconsoled, it can be loaned out to one person at a time, just like a brick-and -Mortar Library would borrow physical books. (The Lancaster library system pays to use a few different platforms like Libby to have access to e-books for a limited time.)
I chose the option to try it for an hour and within seconds I was reading. (Users can borrow books longer or just renew every hour.)
I have read dozens of books on the Internet Archives. I’ve also used the Internet Archive to stream dozens of Grateful Dead concerts. According to archive.org, the site offers 14 million audio recordings and 240,000 live concerts. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has 725 billion webpages and freezes webpages at a given point in time, even when an administrator makes updates and changes.
The site features millions of videos as well as 2 million television news broadcasts – an effort that began with archiving the events surrounding 9/11 that were documented on television news. I remembered finding this particular section of the archive extremely helpful when writing a message about the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that began archiving ephemeral content published on the Internet in 1996. The project soon transitioned to books. According to its website, Archive works with more than 900 libraries and other organizations and scans 4,000 books a day in 18 locations around the world.
Users can create a free account and start reading books for research or just for pleasure. According to archive.org, the site has a special role in providing access to books, since not everyone has access to general or academic libraries with good collections.
The Internet Archive has been described as “a library of Alexandria for the 21st century that, thanks to digital technologies and the Internet, excels in a way that the Library of Alexandria never could. Through the Internet Archive, people who do not live in world capitals can access the same cultural and informational resources as those who do.”
It’s a great resource. Almost too good to be true. Unfortunately, the above quote is from a statement in a document filed with the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many physical libraries and bookstores closed and schools went online, the archive relaxed its controlled digital lending and created the National Emergency Library to give more people access to books.
Benjamin Saracco, a research and digital services librarian at an academic medical and hospital library in New Jersey, wrote an insightful blog post on archive.org about his experience directing frontline healthcare workers to the Internet Archive for handbooks on life to find. Backup techniques when physical libraries were closed.
Two months after the founding of the National Emergency Library, a group of four major publishers, including HarperCollins Publishers and Penguin Random House, sued the Internet Archive for copyright infringement. Now the litigation continues, although the Internet Archive resorts to the method of controlled digital lending.
“We need libraries that are independent and strong, now more than ever, at a time of misinformation and challenges to democracy,” Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle said during a press conference published on the archive’s blog last month became. “So we’re defending the right of libraries to serve our customers where they are, online.”
The lawsuit has fueled a debate about ownership of digital media. Everyone from copyright scholars to Max Collins – lead singer of Eve 6 of Heart in A Blender fame – has recently spoken out on popula.com. Collins compared the situation with the music streaming service Spotify and warned that the big publishers and tech platforms are not concerned with paying artists fairly. “The consequences for the public are Orwellian,” he said.
I enjoyed and continue to enjoy the Internet Archive (I’m still working my way through The Unconsoled, each for an hour’s rental). And I appreciate their mission to be a digital library of Alexandria. I just hope they don’t suffer the same fate.
Mike Andrelczyk is a senior editor at LNP | Lancaster Online. Unscripted is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating writing team.