The third in a series of Business of Giving interviews with the eight semifinalists in the MacArthur Foundation 100&Change competition.
One of the eight semifinalists in the 100&Change MacArthur Foundation competition is the Internet Archive. To win the $100 million prize, the organization proposes expediting and expanding work already well underway: digitizing 4 million of the world’s most important books for libraries to lend to the public.
In this edition of the Business of Giving, Brewster Kahle, founder and digital librarian of the Internet Archive, and Wendy Hanamura, director of partnerships, share information about their progress.
The group has already collected 2.5 million books. Besides making digital copies more accessible to the public, the nonprofit is preserving titles that are rare or going out of print and helping the bottom lines of libraries, which spend $300 million a year on interlibrary loans.
Listen to the full interview on the player below and/or scroll down to read a transcript provided by the Business of Giving.
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.
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?
Brewster: Libraries are full of copyrighted materials. If you go into a library, pretty much everything is in copyright. The idea of libraries is that they buy books and other things, so they buy books, put them on the shelves, and lend them out. We’re proposing to do basically exactly that same thing – buy e-books and lend them out, but if they’re not available in e-books, then we digitize them. So we buy what we can and then we scan what we have to.
But the key thing is to have a complete library. Wendy is right – a lot of the great materials are not online and so that is a [crime]. We’re denying the next generation frankly what it is I had to grow up with by having all of these in the library, but their digital libraries don’t have these books yet. We and this project can change that in one big push.
Denver: Brewster, let me ask you this. Without getting too deep into the woods here, how do you scan a book, then bring it online in a readable format and do all of that in a cost efficient way?
Brewster: Denver, we’ve been working on this for 15 years and actually getting very, very good at it. So we built our own scanners that are driven with cameras to take pictures of every page, and a person actually turns the pages. A person can digitize between two and three books every hour if they kind of stay at it and do it. Then with those photographs, we can then read the words on the page and actually have it so you can search inside of it. And also really exciting you can make this available to the blind and dyslexic if you can read them aloud to them.
So not only is this like the old book and beautiful, but it can be used in new and different ways. And then we lend it one reader at a time. So there’s only one reader that can have that copy that corresponds to the physical copy, if it’s in copyright. If it’s not in copyright, then everybody can have access to Old Huck Finn or Alice in Wonderland, wonderful public domain books. But for the modern books, then we lend them one reader at a time and it’s going great.
Denver: Let me ask you a little bit more about that, Wendy, in terms of circulation of a book. Now once you digitized it, is every library going to get a copy of that book or only the ones with physical copies of it and why can you only do lending one e-book at a time?
Wendy: That’s a great question, Denver. I think what we really are trying to do here is not create one great digital library in this country, but make it so that all of our libraries are more digital. We want to see thousands upon thousands of libraries who are stewards of their own digital materials in the 21st century. As Andrew Carnegie built physical brick-and-mortar libraries last century, we think that the MacArthur Foundation can build a series of digital libraries across this country.
How this works is if you have the physical book and we digitize it into an e-book form, we will give you that digital file and you can lend it as you will. However, there are lots and lots of libraries that aren’t going to have the technology to do that digital circulation themselves, so we’re also building a centralized circulation system that will help them. If you’re a patron of the Dayton Public Library and you authenticate with your library card, you would be able to see thousands and thousands of e-books in your own portal.
And why is it, you said, why one-to-one? Well, it’s because we believe in the rights of authors and publishers to earn a living. We want them to earn a living. We need them to be vibrant in the society. But when a library buys the book, they have given their resources to the publishers. And we believe that as long as they keep the physical book on the shelf while they’re lending the e-book or vice versa, before and after, there is one copy in circulation.
We did this time and time again. In 1909 when there were piano rolls, there was attention around that, and then when we hit the VHS era and the copying machine era. I think there’s always moments of attention when you’d have these digital format shifts. This will be no different. But there’s a way and we always find a way to make the rights of the reader and the rights of the creators equally important.
Denver: Very good point. You’re not embarking upon this venture from a standing start by any means, Brewster, and for the last six years or so, you had a pilot of sorts called the Open Library. Tell us about that and what insights and learnings that you’ve come away with that will help you inform this much larger project.
Brewster: I hope your listeners try this out, Denver. Just go to openlibrary.org. It’s terrific. You can actually browse old books and download those, but you can also browse recent books and you can try out how this is going. We’ve been doing this now for six years with books from the Boston Public Library and about a hundred other libraries that have contributed their books to be scanned and lent on this one-to-one model. But what this project is doing is going beyond that one-to-one model an open library and empowering all libraries to become digital libraries.
We don’t want just one library as Wendy said. We want all libraries to be digital so that all the curation, all of the investment, all of the librarianship that has gone into building these beautiful collections, let’s wave a wand and say, “Now they’re digital.” So if you want them physically, go for it. I have to say I still mostly read physical books, but there are lots of people that read digital books. Let’s make it so that these great works to anybody that wants to have access to them.
Denver: Picking up on that concept of libraries, Brewster, what’s the role of the library community in this effort and what would their responsibilities be?
Brewster: The libraries are really jumping up into this project because they see this as a possibility with just one major grant to go and have their libraries become digital libraries. They’re participating by helping curating, and they’re also helping by going and doing the dissemination and helping people with these materials. We’re already getting people sending books into the Internet Archive because they say “these are the key books to be in the library of the future.” So there are people participating in the selection process, in the dissemination and infrastructure part of this project. This is a good day for libraries when libraries get to all go digital.
Wendy: Denver, I think there are lots of dollars-and-cents reasons why libraries are wanting to do this as well. A 2012 survey showed that libraries spend about $300 million a year just on interlibrary loans – putting books and envelopes and shipping it to other libraries. By spending $100 million for digitization, the MacArthur Foundation can catalyze and release $3 billion for libraries over a decade. That’s money they can use to buy other books, to have services, to do classes, to have makerspaces in their libraries. Think of what you could do with $3 billion [in] libraries over the next decade.
Denver: So you look at this $100 million award as really being a multiplier for libraries across our country.
Brewster: Not just in terms of money but also in terms of books. With these 4 million books that would be available to the blind and the dyslexic or those that want large print edition. And also we’re starting to use these technologies to do automatic translation. So we may digitize 4 million books that are in one language but then multiply it by 10 different languages so that these books now are 40 million books. That just brings and makes a much more inclusive library system than the library systems we’ve ever had in the physical era.
Wendy: I think that’s a great point. When you take a physical book and make it into an e-book, there are all sorts of benefits for people that happens in that technology shift. As Brewster said, new Americans are among the biggest users of libraries today. A little translation as they study for their citizenship classes would be really welcome. There’s estimate that in this country, one in every five people is either dyslexic or has some kind of visual impairment. Imagine how many more books could be read, how much their lives could be enhanced with the new tools that you have to read books that highlight the word as you go along. I think we can really unleash the value of these books by bringing them into the digital realm.
Denver: Wendy, when you put an ambitious bold plan like this together, there’s always certain aspects that you’re a little bit more concerned about others. So, aside from the financial resources, of course, what do you see as your biggest challenge with this project?
Wendy: I think that it hasn’t been clear what libraries can at least with the copyright, and because it’s not clear, libraries had been very averse to taking any kind of risk in the space. But we’re working with dozens and dozens of the top various copyright experts and that we’re convening a group of 15 of them under the aegis of Pam Samuelson, who’s just a terrific leader in the space, to try and hammer out what is our common understanding around copyright, how can libraries move forward, how can we avoid and leap over this barrier once in for all. That is the biggest challenge.
Denver: Let me close with this, to the both of you. Let me start with you, Wendy. What will this mean to the 320 million Americans in this country and for people around the world and their children if this project is successfully completed?
Wendy: Denver, we get letters from our patients every single day and often times they say, “I can’t afford to buy books on Amazon and I’m too far from my local library to get there easily. So for me, the books that I can check out in Open Library, that is my library.” Or we get letters from scholars saying, “Wow! This is so great because I was going to have to get on a plane and go to Oxford to see this book, but I found it in your digital library. That’s amazing!”
And it’s not just Americans, I want to say that copyright is not an issue in providing materials for the blind and the visually impaired. So we know that we can get those to the one in five Americans, but there are also 25 countries that have signed something called Marrakesh Treaty so that we can share these materials with those 25 countries as well. So the blind and the visually impaired in Australia, in Japan, in Korea, in India, all over this world will have access to these same books.
Denver: Brewster, what would your take be on this?
Brewster: This will really deepen what it is you can find online. Over the last 15 years, people have turned to their screen to answer questions. They are searching for information and they’re often not finding it. You find something on the web or you find a Wikipedia page or some recent news post or something, but if you want to know the debate, if you want to know the depth, often that’s in books. But there’s a missing century of books that are just not available to the digital generation.
This opportunity makes it so that anybody that has a smartphone or a tablet or a computer or access to a computer in their public libraries, that these people can have access to a much broader range of materials than they ever had before to deepen the conversations. Let’s fight the idea that facts are a passé, that truth isn’t in our future. Let’s make it so that the best we have to offer is within reach of our children. [If we don’t do that, well, what the generation we deserve?] This is our role in life. It’s to go and make the wonder of the collective works of humankind available to all. It’s our digital opportunity and we can live up to it.
Denver: Well said. Well, Brewster Kahle, Founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive, and Wendy Hanamura, who serves as the Director of Partnerships, I want to thank you both for being here this evening. Wendy, if people want to learn more about the Internet Archive or this specific project, where can they go to get that information?
Wendy: I think the best place to go is archive.org, but we have a site for this at library2020.lab.archive.org.
Denver: Best wishes to the both of you and your colleagues and the 100&Change competition and thanks for sharing this extraordinary project with us tonight.
Wendy: Thank you! It’s our pleasure!
Brewster: Thank you, Denver!