The Internet Archive (archive.org), a San Francisco-based virtual lending library, is one of the quiet wonders of the modern world. A digital collection of seven million books and nearly 15 million audio-recordings, it was ambitiously intended by its founder Brewster Kahle – a member of the internet 'Hall of Fame' – to be a kind of online 'Library of Alexandria'. The IA loans out its titles free of charge, the main beneficiaries being those who can't get to a real 'brick and mortar' library – the housebound, those living far from cities, or people in need of rare books their own local library doesn't stock and can't get hold of quickly enough. It also has a 'Way Back' function that allows you to search for downloads, month by month, of defunct or disappeared websites (with a staggering 735 billion web-pages in its database).
Over its 26-year history it has partnered with multiple institutions and inherited the stock of numerous closing or downsizing libraries, scanning each inherited book page by laborious page, then uploading it to its database. The IA's ethos is simple: having legally acquired the license for a hard-copy book, it then lends out its scanned copy to only one reader at a time, just like a normal high street library. These rules were relaxed only during the Covid lockdown, when at the outset over 100 closed libraries signed support for a temporary 'National Emergency Library'. This allowed the IA to lend out extra copies. making it a lifeline for legions of readers with time on their hands and no bookstores or libraries to spend it in.]
From The Spectator
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