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The following is a conversation between Internet Archive’s Founder and Digital Librarian, Brewster Kahle, Director of Partnerships Wendy Hanamura, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.
Denver: And tonight, it’s a great pleasure to have with us the Founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle, and Wendy Hanamura, who serves as the Director of Partnerships and the project lead in the 100&Change challenge of the MacArthur Foundation. Thank you so much for being here!
Brewster: Good to be here, Denver.
Wendy: Thank you, Denver.
Denver: Let me start with you, Brewster. Give us a little history about the Internet Archive and the mission of the organization.
Brewster: The idea of the Internet Archive is to try to build the internet into the Library of Alexandria for the digital age. Can we make it so that anybody anywhere can have access to all of the published works of humankind – all the books, music, video, web pages, software ever created? Can we make it so that if you’re curious, you can go and use your screen to find all the published works of humankind? That’s the general mission of the Archive where we’re making good progress.
Denver: And you have an incredible collection both in terms of software titles and audio recordings and television and e-books. Gives us an idea of what’s in the Internet Archive right now.
Brewster: It’s actually huge! We have 2.5 million books. We’ve got a couple of million audio recordings, lots and lots of concerts including everything the Grateful Dead has done – very popular. We’ve got lots of movies. We’re probably most famous for the web pages. We have like a billion web pages every week. So there’s about 285 billion old web pages that if you go to archive.org, you can see the web as it was. Also software, you can go and play all the Apple II software in your browser. We’re trying to keep it so that anything that’s been produced is available, either through somebody else’s website or if need be, on ours.
Wendy: Denver, we’re a digital library and I think you have to ask your listeners: What would libraries look like and feel like? How will you experience them in the future? And we believe this is what it will be like. You will be able to play video games of the past. You’ll be able to watch films. You’ll be able to listen to music. And of course, the books – the books are what drives us.
There are so many millions of life-changing books out there that aren’t in the reach of digital learners. We think that we can change that by digitizing and lending 4 million of the most important books to students, to teachers, to scholars, to the blind and dyslexic.
Denver: Well, you have said, Wendy that if a book isn’t digital, it’s as if it doesn’t exist, and your proposal to the 100&Change competition aims to address this. Tell us about your idea and plan.
Wendy: Let me start with just a little story. It’s about a book that means a whole lot to me. It’s called Executive Order 9066. It’s a beautiful book of photographs from the Japanese-American internment. It’s a book that I discovered when I was, I think in sixth grade in the Glenview Public Library in Oakland, California. This is a book that changed my life, Denver, because it was the first time I ever realized that my parents, my grandparents had spent years in a concentration camp during World War II. But this book is out of print. It’s very, very hard to find. It was published in 1972. And now I have a son, he’s a junior in college. He’s taking a class on race and ancestry, and this would be a great book for my son, Kenny. But, you know what? It’s not digital in many cases. And for him, if it’s not digital, he’s not going to be able to use it. It’s not going to be in the workflow of his student life.
So this is the problem that we’re trying to solve. There are so many millions of life-changing books out there that aren’t in the reach of digital learners. We think that we can change that by digitizing and lending 4 million of the most important books to students, to teachers, to scholars, to the blind and dyslexic. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Denver: How are you going to determine, Wendy, what 4 million books to digitize? That sounds like a good deal of curation and a lot of coordination.
Wendy: Well, that’s true and we’re not going to do it by ourselves. We’re going to be working with lots and lots of scholars and librarians and committees that are actually already doing this work. They’re doing what they call the “cultural assessment” to see what’s missing in our libraries. There’s a great group called the Open Syllabus Project led by Dan Cohen. He’s already pulled together all of the syllabi of the college classes so we can see what are the books that are most assigned in college classrooms. Then, we want lots of libraries to be able to lend these, Denver. So we’re looking at the books that are most widely held by libraries. There’s 1.2 million that had been determined to be held by many, many libraries. So it’s not really going to be one list, I think it will be curating many lists.
Denver: Brewster, let me ask you about the copyright issue. Now, anything before 1923 is considered to be public domain but it’s not so clear-cut after that. How do you plan on addressing that?