Internet Archive’s Library of 2020

Providing Libraries & Learners with Free Digital Access to 4 Million Books

We are proud to announce that the Internet Archive is one of eight groups named semi-finalists today in 100&Change, a global competition for a single $100 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The competition seeks bold solutions to critical problems of our time.

“Today’s learners are working and living their lives online.  That’s where they turn for information, so if a book isn’t digital, it’s as if it doesn’t exist,” said Wendy Hanamura, Director of Partnerships at the Internet Archive.  “We want to provide libraries everywhere with free access to four million digital books. We can unlock the riches in library collections for a new generation.”

Even in this digital age, millions of books, representing a century of knowledge, are still not accessible online to scholars, journalists, students, and the public. Stymied by costs, e-book restrictions, policy risks, and missing infrastructure, libraries have not always been able to meet the digital demand. Nor is access to libraries universal or equitable.

The Internet Archive’s project will enable free, long-term, public access to knowledge. Together with their partners, the Internet Archive will curate, digitize, and make available in digital form four million books, providing a digital copy to any library in the country that owns the physical book.  They will start with the books most widely held and used in libraries and classrooms. They estimate that the scale of the project will reduce digitization costs by 50 percent or more.  

The Internet Archive has prototyped this model for more than six years at their Open Library platform, digitizing 540,000 modern books originating from 100 partners and lending them to the public in a process that mirrors the way libraries have traditionally lent physical books. Their plan includes at-scale circulation of these e-books, enabling libraries owning the physical works to lend digital copies to their patrons.

The 100&Change competition is allowing  us to think bigger and more boldly. At the Internet Archive, we only lend one copy at a time, so in order to serve more learners, we need thousands of libraries to join us,” said Internet Archive Founder and Digital Librarian, Brewster Kahle. “That can happen if we build a collection of the four million most useful books and the technical infrastructure that allows libraries everywhere to leverage them.”

“The internet has proved to be remarkably efficient at distributing some news, innuendos, rumors and stories about cats. But so far it hasn’t reached its full potential in making available to us the knowledge in millions of books that sit on library shelves around the globe,” said MacArthur Managing Director, Cecilia Conrad. “The Internet Archive project proposes to democratize access to great literature, to textbooks, to manuals—making them available to anyone regardless of where they live.”

A summary of the Internet Archive’s solution, an overview video of its project and a MacArthur video describing our proposal is available here