By Judith Kahn
Have you ever wanted to read a past article that appeared in the “New Yorker,”
see a classic silent film, hear an old concert or particular verses from a song
played at a Grateful Dead concert, or possibly read an old series of a particular
comic strip that is out of publication?
Well, all of this information and more is now accessible to the public through the
work of the Internet Archive, located in a former Christian Science Church located
at 300 Funston Ave., in the Inner Richmond.
Universal access to all knowledge is the stated mission of San Francisco’s
Internet Archive, a 501-C non-profit organization founded to build an Internet library
that provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including
websites, software applications, games, music, movies and nearly three
million public-domain books. It gets much of its funding from foundations,
government grants and donations from individuals.
The archive is committed to preserving and making America’s cultural
heritage accessible. Because of the archive’s work and its commitment, the
past is never dead.
In addition to its archiving function, the archive is an activist organization, advocating
for a free and open Internet. The Internet Archive was founded by
Brewster Kahle in May of 1996. The archive’s content was not available
to the public until 2001, when the archive developed the
The Great Room, located on the second floor of the building,
is where all of the digitalized material is stored. In the past, the room was the
sanctuary of the Christian Science Church. Standing in front are three-foottall
ceramic statues of past and present staff, looking toward the stage.
It is recognized by many educators and the public that libraries exist to preserve
a society’s cultural artifacts and to provide access to them. If libraries are to
continue to foster education and scholarship in this era of digital technology, it is
essential for them to expand, says founder Brewster Kahle. Without cultural
artifacts, civilization has no memory and no mechanism to learn from its successes
With the rapid growth of the Internet, the function of the Internet library is essential
to education and the maintenance of an open society. By collaborating with
institutions, including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, the
archive is working to preserve records for generations to come.
Stewart Brand, president of the The Long Now Foundation, said “digitized information,
especially on the Internet, has
such rapid turnover these days that total
loss is the norm. Civilization is developing
severe amnesia as a result. The Internet is the beginning of a cure. It is
the beginning of complete, detailed, accessible, and searchable memory for society.”
Protecting stored resources from damage or destruction is an ongoing task,
which is why the archive tries to maintain copies of its collections at multiple sites.
Part of its collection is already handled this way and they are proceeding as
quickly as possible to do the same with the rest. The main issues for the archive
is guarding against the consequences of accidents and data destruction and maintaining
the accessibility of data as formats become obsolete. Realizing the importance
that Internet libraries serve, there is now an effort to promote the formation
of Internet libraries in the United States.
The Internet Archive has data centers in San Francisco, Redwood City and
Richmond. In November of last year, Kahle announced the Internet Archive was building
an Internet Archive in Canada. He feels there is an urgent need to build a
copy of the archive in foreign countries. “On Nov. 9 in America, we woke up to
a new administration promising radical change. It was a firm reminder that institutions
like ours, built for a long time, need to design for change. For us, it
means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It
means preparing for a web that may face greater restrictions in a world in which
government surveillance is not going away. At the Internet Archive, we are
fighting to protect our readers’ privacy in the digital world,” Kahle said.
The archive collects the bulk of its data automatically from its web crawlers,
which work to preserve as much of the public web as possible. A web crawler is
software that looks at and captures web pages, and the WayBackMachine allows
the archives of the World Wide Web to be searched and accessed. This service is important
since it allows one to see what previous versions of websites looked like
and grabs original source code from websites that may no longer be directly available.
The Internet Archive has capitalized on the popular WayBack Machine, whose
name was derived from an old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon.
The value and immensity of the archive’s collection is overwhelming.
The archive’s collection includes digitized
books and special collections from various libraries and cultural heritage institutions
from around the world.
The Internet Archive collection operates 33 scanning centers in five countries,
digitizing about 1,000 books a day for a total of more than 2 million books. The
audio archive includes music, audio books, news broadcasts, old-time radio
shows and a wide variety of other audio files. There are more than 200,000 free
digital recordings in the collection and the sub-collections include audio books and
poetry, podcasts and non-English audios. The live music archive includes more than
100,000 concert recordings from established and independent artists. The images
images archive contains more than 880,000 items. The archive has also uploaded
court opinions, legal briefs and exhibits from United States’ federal courts.
The archive has received two new additions to its archive, the Trump
Archives, which includes 700 televised speeches, interviews, debates and other
news broadcasts. It was launched on Jan. 5. Also launched was a private collection
of videotaped television news that spans 35 years on Marion Stoke, a librarian, social
justice advocate and television interview program host who believed it was
vital to preserve television news. Stokes started recording news at home in 1977
and never stopped. It was before her death in December, 2012, that she had
140,000 video cassettes. The digitization of such a huge collection will take a number
of years and require additional funding. On Nov. 6, 2013, a fire at the Internet
Archive’s scanning center, destroyed 1,300 square feet of space that held scanning
equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some physical materials
were in the scanning center because they were being digitized, but most were in a
separate locked room in the archive. The fire proved to be a reminder that digitizing
and making copies are good strategies for both access and preservation. Since
the fire, the archive has made and continues to make copies of the data at the
Internet Archive’s multiple locations. Kahle’s enthusiasm to preserve the
Internet Archive, along with his committed staff, will continue so older generations
can revisit the past and future generations can learn about the past they did
Free tours of the Internet Archive are given every Friday, at 1 p.m., with an informative
guide. To arrange a tour, call (415) 561-6767. For more information,
go to the website at http://www.blog.archive.org.
Categories: Richmond Review