Internet Archive launches the National Emergency Library making 1.4 million ebooks available to the public to help universities and students who are studying remotely during coronavirus shutdown

  • The Internet Archive has launched a new public library with 1.4 million books
  • The National Emergency Library is meant to help universities and colleges
  • The books are made available through a new interpretation of ‘fair use’ 
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The Internet Archive has made access to more than 1.4 million ebooks free for people stuck indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The books will be available through a new portal called the National Emergency Library, something the Internet Archive organizers decided to create to help universities transition to remote instruction.

While many of the books are still under copyright, they’re being made available under a theory of fair use, which would allow educators access to protected material for educational purposes at a time when no other reasonable way of accessing the material exists.

More than 1.4 million books will be available to the public in digital format through the National Emergency Library, a new initiative from the Internet Archive to help people living in shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic

More than 1.4 million books will be available to the public in digital format through the National Emergency Library, a new initiative from the Internet Archive to help people living in shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic 

‘We believe this is an extraordinary moment in time that requires assistance at a scale that we are able to provide,’ the Internet Archive explains in an FAQ for the library, reported by Vice.

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The books in the new emergency collection originally come from another Internet Archive project, the Open Library, which operated as a digital equivalent of a real life library.

The Open Library had a wide range of titles, including text books, novels, non-fiction books, and more.  

Digital copies of books had to be checked out from the Open Library, and the number of times any individual book could be checked out was limited in the same way a normal library would have been limited based on the number of physical copies available. 

The National Emergency Library will do away with waiting lists and limitations on how many digital copies of each work is available, though it will still require users sign up for a membership account to check out books in its collection.

According to University of Washington librarian Theresa Murdock, the program has already been a major aid to professors.

‘Today, I was able to inform 10 instructors that the books they needed were now available, whereas yesterday they were not,’ Murdock said in a UW Libraries blog post.

The National Emergency Library will allow anyone with an Internet Archive account to 'check out' any of its books, with no limit on how many copies of a book can be checked out at any given time

The National Emergency Library will allow anyone with an Internet Archive account to ‘check out’ any of its books, with no limit on how many copies of a book can be checked out at any given time

Some authors whose work has been included in the library feel unsure about the expansive approach to sweeping aside copyright protections.

Kim Kavin, author of Tools for Native Americans: A Kid’s Guide to the History & Culture of the First Americans, said she would have granted permission to include her book in the library, but wished the Internet Archive would have asked first.

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‘Everyone in the world is going through a difficult time, and everybody wants to help each other out,’ she told Vice. ‘But it doesn’t mean you get to resort to theft.’

The Internet Archive’s Chris Freeland acknowledged that the library is trying out a new interpretation of fair use with the National Emergency Library and says they will comply with any author’s request to remove their work from the library.

The National Emergency will remain open to the public through June 30, or the end of the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, whichever date comes latest. 

 



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