Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Coolest Library

There’s a new reason to get broadband or DSL or wireless. It’s called, and if you aren’t familiar, it’s time to get familiar. is, in a nutshell, the result of one man’s dream to collect and digitally archive everything under the sun. It has since turned into an enormous project involving the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, and National Public Radio.

The site is now home to almost 20,000 movies, more than 26,000 live concerts, 34,000 additional audio recordings, and nearly 24,000 text documents. And all of them are free for you to download and enjoy at your leisure.

The project stemmed from the efforts of Brewster Kahle, who founded the site in 1996. For a few years it kind of floundered, but the collection efforts began coming to fruition in 1999 as “data donations” started rolling in. The premise for the archive revolves around the feeling, held by many experts in the field, that if information is not converted to a digital format in the next 40 to 50 years, it will be in jeopardy of being lost forever.

Throughout the site are references to the Library of Alexandria, the ancient Egyptian library that once housed a copy of every book in the world. This site, Kahle feels, has the potential to reach a similar magnitude.

As it stands, however, the site remains a splotchy amalgam of media. You can download the original “Night of the Living Dead” in the motion picture section. You can find hours of lectures on Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. Hundreds of Grateful Dead concerts are available for download.

You may have to sift through a few stones to find the gems, but the gems are there for the gathering. And internet users are starting to sit up and take notice. In July, August and September of this year, the Internet Archive at logged more than 10,000 new users each month. And each month, nearly a thousand new live audio shows are added to the archive.

The text section of the site features the full text of the “9/11 Commission Report,” Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto,” Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” and thousands of other public domain texts. It has also reproduced, with the permission of the publishers, many titles that are not yet in public domain.

Another concern that the Internet Archive has addressed is the fleeting nature of information in this so-called “information age.” Information is posted online, viewed by thousands, and then removed days or weeks later with no record of it ever having existed.’s founders and staff believe that this unintentionally infringes upon our “right to remember.” According to the site, “without paper libraries, it would be hard to exercise our ‘right to remember’ or political history or hold government accountable.” Now the shift from paper to digital media is requiring us to reinvent the “library.”

Do me a favor. Think about that problem for a day or two. Then, this weekend, sit down at your computer and log on to and type the address of your favorite website in “The Wayback Machine.” You’ll see what I mean when you get there.

-From Pulse
October 13, 2005