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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Russell Taylor, a volunteer at Internet Archive, scans in the pages of a yearbook so it can be available online.

  • Sharpe

  • A bulletin board displays some of the ephemera found inside the books being scanned for inclusion in the Internet Archive.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Internet Archive, in the main branch of the Allen County Public Library.

Sunday, March 03, 2019 1:00 am

Center of all knowledge

Allen County Library essential cog in worldwide Internet Archive

For access

To see the Internet Archive's entire collection, go to Archive.org.

You can also browse solely among the archive's books at OpenLibrary.org.

Nestled in the basement of the Allen County Public Library is a busy part of an ambitious enterprise that has more than 6 million users; during the past year, it has been adding more than 100,000 users each month. This is a brief email interview with Jeff Sharpe, senior digitization manager, Mid-West Region, Internet Archive.

Q. What is the Internet Archive, and why is its Midwest hub at the ACPL?

A. The Internet Archive is a non-profit founded by Brewster Kahle, whose goal is to provide “Universal Access to All Knowledge” through its open access digital library at www.archive.org. Founded in 1996 archiving the internet through its Wayback Machine, it has grown to include 330 billion web pages, 20 million books and texts, 4.5 million audio recordings (including 180,000 live concerts), 4 million videos (including 1.6 million television news programs), 3 million images, and 200,000 software programs. The Mid-West Regional Digitization Center was originally a Microsoft project to digitize the entire ACPL Genealogy Center collection, starting in 2008. Shortly after, Microsoft decided to get out of digitizing books.

The library, through then-Director Jeff Krull, thought it was important enough to keep the digitization center here and provided funding to continue digitizing genealogy material on a smaller scale, which also gave us time to find outside partners. So as of this date we have digitized for over 400 partner libraries, mostly university libraries, but also many public libraries, state libraries and museums.

Q. Who is Brewster Kahle?

A. I can't do any better than quote our website: “Brewster Kahle, founder & digital librarian, Internet Archive. A passionate advocate for public internet access and a successful entrepreneur ... he is the founder and digital librarian of the Internet Archive, one of the largest libraries in the world. Soon after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he studied artificial intelligence, Kahle helped found the company Thinking Machines, a parallel supercomputer-maker. In 1989, Kahle created the Internet's first publishing system called Wide Area Information Server, later selling the company to AOL.

“In 1996, Kahle co-founded Alexa Internet, which helps catalog the web, selling it to Amazon.com in 1999. The Internet Archive, which he founded in 1996, now preserves 20 petabytes of data – the books, web pages, music, television, and software of our cultural heritage, working with more than 400 library and university partners to create a digital library, accessible to all.”

Q. Give us some numbers. How many books have you digitized here?

A. As of today we have digitized 215,212 items, mostly books but also pamphlets, newspapers and some microfilm items. That is 50,495,380 individual images or in terms of data we have uploaded over 101 terabytes of knowledge since we started in 2008.

Q. How many visitors does Internetarchive.org have?

A. It fluctuates, but the Internet Archive gets anywhere from 1 to 4 million hits per day. 

Q. Are there books or materials that are so outdated or of such narrow interest that there's no value in digitizing them?

A. The answer is no! I learned a long time ago not to make judgements on what I thought was important or relevant. Take for example this item, the No. 1-viewed book from the Illinois Institute of Technology; “The titration of iron by potassium permaganate (archive.org/details/titrationofironb00fink/page/n6), a student thesis written by Leo Finkelstein in 1914. It currently has 9,542 views!

If you had asked me this question when we digitized it in 2009, I might have shown you this book as an example of something I didn't think was too exciting, and I would've been wrong. According to most sources, worldwide there are over 4 billion people who are connected to the internet. When you have that many people, there is an audience for almost anything. One of the things I've found is that sometimes it is the more obscure things that are the most interesting.

Q. What book has drawn the most readers?

A. When I began looking for this information, I asked some colleagues to verify my findings.

One pointed out that the Cantorian Sheet Music Collection had 3.3 million views, (archive.org/details/Cantorion_sheet_music_collection) while a pamphlet titled Zakat and Fasting 2011 in Arabic (archive.org/details/zakat9iyam2011), had 2,393,259 views – which shows the global reach of the Internet Archive.

However, another colleague pointed out that neither of those were books in the strictest definition.

The book with the most views from the Americana collection is Goody Two Shoes,  circa 1888, (archive.org/details/goodytwoshoes00newyiala) with 2,082,279 views. And lastly, the book that currently holds the most for the Allen County Public Library is “Oklahoma, Indian territory, marriages,Choctaw Nation, 1900, second division,” with 73,885 views (archive.org/details/oklahomaindiante18901900unit/page/n8).