The Internet Archive in San Francisco has suspended waitlists for the 1.4 million (and growing) books in its lending library by creating a National Emergency Library.
Users all over the world have equal access to the books now available, regardless of their location, it said.
This suspension will run through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later.
During the waitlist suspension, users will be able to borrow books from the National Emergency Library without joining a waitlist.
This library brings together all the books from Phillips Academy Andover and Marygrove College, and much of Trent University’s collections, along with over a million other books donated from other libraries to readers worldwide that are locked out of their libraries.
“The library system, because of our national emergency, is coming to aid those that are forced to learn at home, ” said Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. “This was our dream for the original Internet coming to life: the Library at everyone’s fingertips.”
Public support for this emergency measure has come from over 100 individuals, libraries and universities across the world, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“Ubiquitous access to open digital content has long been an important goal for MIT and MIT Libraries. Learning and research depend on it,” said Chris Bourg, Director of MIT Libraries. “In a global pandemic, robust digital lending options are key to a library’s ability to care for staff and the community, by allowing all of us to work remotely and maintain the recommended social distancing.”
In a statement, the Internet Archive said: “We understand that we’re not going to be able to meet everyone’s needs; our collection, at 1.4 million modern books, is a fraction of the size of a large metropolitan library system or a great academic library.
“The books that we’ve digitized have been acquired with a focus on materials published during the 20th century, the vast majority of which do not have a commercially available ebook.
“This means that while readers and students are able to access latest best sellers and popular titles through services like OverDrive and Hoopla, they don’t have access to the books that only exist in paper, sitting inaccessible on their library shelves. That’s where our collection fits in—we offer digital access to books, many of which are otherwise unavailable to the public while our schools and libraries are closed. In addition to the National Emergency Library, the Internet Archive also offers free public access to 2.5 million fully downloadable public domain books, which do not require waitlists to view.”
It said it recognized that authors and publishers are going to be impacted by this global pandemic as well.
“We encourage all readers who are in a position to buy books to do so, ideally while also supporting your local bookstore. If they don’t have the book you need, then Amazon or Better World Books may have copies in print or digital formats. We hope that authors will support our effort to ensure temporary access to their work in this time of crisis. We are empowering authors to explicitly opt in and donate books to the National Emergency Library if we don’t have a copy. We are also making it easy for authors to contact us to take a book out of the library,” it said.