This Library Wants Every Book—Including Indies: The Internet Archive’s Open Library Project

What kind of a library would have a totally open collection development policy? If it’s a book, they want it. If it’s a political ad on TV, they want it. If it’s a sound recording—you guessed it—they want it. It’s the Internet Archive. It wants to preserve digital copies of everything and then share them with the world through its Open Library project.

Mirela Roncevic, Director of No Shelf Required, and I have begun work on a book about cutting edge ebook projects and trends. ALA Editions will publish it in the fall of 2018. As part of my research, I am learning about the Internet Archive and their Open Library Project. The forthcoming book will contain a detailed description of the project, including an analysis of the legal issues surrounding scanning and lending copies of books. Mary Minow, the leading authority on library law, will author the chapter. Today’s article will focus on how indie authors can benefit from the Internet Archive and Open Library.

Before diving into the Internet Archive and the Open Library Project, let’s ask ourselves some questions about the value of books and other cultural expressions. If you are an indie author, you may have already asked yourself these questions.

If someone writes a memoir of very limited interest, is the book worth preserving in case a future researcher needs it, or just in case a descendent of the author wants to read it? What happens if the author’s local library won’t take a copy and the author’s supply is destroyed in a house fire? If the book is digital, what happens if the online stores that carry it go out of business?

If a book was published in print before the era of ebooks, is it worthwhile to scan it so that it can be preserved in digital form even if all the printed copies are destroyed or lost? This is a very real issue for books published between 1923 and the 1990s, many of which were printed on wood pulp paper that has yellowed and become brittle with age.

Thinking about this, it’s clear that every book deserves to be preserved forever. If someone took the time and made the effort to write a book, then it has value. Whether the book is a Big Five title that was published before the digital era and survives only in fragile paperback form, or whether the book was a memoir by an ordinary person who wanted to share his or her life story, the book deserves to be digitized and preserved.

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This is where the Internet Archive comes in. It preserves books, sound recordings, software and web pages for the enjoyment and research purposes of everyone in the world. It takes works that might otherwise be ephemeral and makes them as permanent as technology will allow.

The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library whose mission is “to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge.” It is supported by personal donations and grants from the IMLS, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and many private foundations.

It was founded by Brewster Kahle in 1996, and began archiving the internet with its famous Wayback Machine project. Over twenty years later, the Wayback Machine is still saving web pages, and it now works with over 450 libraries and other partners to identify important ones that should be saved. Given the way federal scientific reports about global warming began disappearing from the EPA website soon after Donald J. Trump took office, this is vitally important. The issue is not simply that websites come and go, but that important information may be deliberately suppressed.

Prior to founding the Internet Archive, Kahle invented the Internet’s first publishing system (later sold to AOL) and the Alexa Internet, which still catalogs websites and ranks them by popularity. Amazon now owns it.

Besides the Open Library, the Internet Archive operates several other projects including an archive of TV political ads (including fact checking), a software archive, an archive of free educational lectures and courses, and a physical bookmobile that has brought its digital library to locations in the US, in Egypt, and in Uganda. You can read about them, here.

Through its projects the Internet Archive has compiled a staggeringly impressive amount of information, including

Now, let’s look at the Open Library (OpenLibrary.org) and what it can do for indie authors. It has two parts.

One is the free, digital lending library. It contains over two million ebooks that can be read in a browser or downloaded. Some of them are PDF scans, and others are ePubs. There is also a large collection of DAISY books for people with reading disabilities.

The other part is a project to build one web page for every book that has ever been published. This part of the project has created pages for over 20 million books.

For indie authors, the free digital library will be the most interesting. Here you can preserve your book forever while making it available for reading all around the world. And, of course, you can read for free.

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How would an indie author do this? If your book is in a digital format, then it’s a simple three-step process. You begin by creating accounts for yourself on the Open Library and Internet Archive sites. Then, you can upload your book to the Internet Archive, and then add it to the Open Library. Here is a link to detailed, step-by-step instructions. All this is free to you.

If your book is not digital, then you will need to donate it to the Internet Archive Book Drive so they can scan it for you. As with donating an ebook, there is no cost to you, the author. The Internet Archive operates several scanning centers and scans over 1,000 books per day. Since No Shelf Required is about ebooks, I will leave it to you to contact them and find out the details.

To repeat, the benefits to indie authors are large. Permanent storage of your works in a non-commercial archive comes first, followed by worldwide accessibility and discoverability. With your book in the Internet Archive and the Open Library, you can rest assured that at least one copy will survive forever (or at least as long as our civilization lasts).

In conclusion, if you are a librarian, you now know about a valuable free resource for yourself and your patrons. If you’re an indie author, you now know of a worldwide library that wants your book and will let people all around the globe read it. Your next step is obviously to upload that book!

Have you tried the Open Library or other Internet Archive projects? Let me know in the comments section. I’d love to hear about your experiences.

2 thoughts on “This Library Wants Every Book—Including Indies: The Internet Archive’s Open Library Project”

  1. Please do use OpenLibrary.org– try borrowing a book. And, yes, please upload to archive.org. If you have any issues, please write to info@archive.org .

    Key is to have great information on the net for digital learners, and more and more of us are digital learners.

    I look forward to Mary Minow’s chapter– she is a great advocate of openness.

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