In response to the Covid-19 lockdown, Internet Archive has temporarily suspended all waiting lists for the 1.4 million digitised books currently in its lending library.
Internet Archive is the San Francisco-based not-for-profit digital library and operator of the Wayback Machine website archive. It provides free public access to digitised, books, software, video, audio files and other digital materials.
The organisation scans 1,000 print books per day using OCR software and makes them accessible on its site as PDF files and images. Books published prior to 1923 are available for download, and hundreds of thousands of modern books can be ‘borrowed' through the Open Library site. Some are compatible with e-reader software such as Adobe Digital Editions. Because of copyright restrictions some digitised books are print-disabled.
For the duration of the US national emergency, or 30th June, whichever is later, 1.4 million books will be made accessible to users without them having to join a waiting list, in what Internet Archive calls a National Emergency Library.
The number of digitised books that users can borrow at one time has also been doubled from five to ten. Books can be borrowed for 14 days.
"We quickly realized that our lending library wasn't going to scale to meet the needs of a global community of displaced learners. To make a real difference for the nation and the world, we would have to take a bigger step," writes Chris Freeland, director of Open Libraries at Internet Archive, in a blog post.
Internet Archive says it is doing this in response to the enquiries from teachers and lecturers educators concerned about the capacity of the library lending system given that libraries, schools and universities are closed and many students are unable to attend college. The organisation concedes that the 1.4 million books represent a fraction of those available in a large academic library but says that its digitisation efforts have been focused on those titles where an e-book is not available. The move is being supported by individuals, libraries and universities around the world.
In addition to the National Emergency Library, the Internet Archive offers free public access to 2.5 million downloadable public domain books. These are not subject to a waiting list.
"The library system, because of our national emergency, is coming to aid those that are forced to learn at home, " said Brewster Kahle, founder and digital librarian at the Internet Archive. "This was our dream for the original Internet coming to life: the Library at everyone's fingertips."
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