RootsTech 2018 Access and Preservation Day: The Future of Digital Libraries


Wendy Hanamura, Director of Partnerships at the Internet Archive, spoke at the Access and Preservation Day at RootsTech 2018. Her presentation title was “The Once and Future Library.” Wendy invited us to “take a tour of the library of the future.” She asked, how can all libraries work together to provide expanded access and more secure preservation? She invited us to dream with the Internet Archive about the future of digital libraries.

Long before she worked for the Internet Archive she was a storyteller. She said, “There is no story more important to me than my family history.” She suggested we close our eyes and imagine, many decades from now, our children and grandchildren. “What will they know about you?” she asked. They won’t want to go to libraries and look through microfilm. What if we could transform all libraries to 100% digital? Why would that be important?

Wendy illustrated the point from her own family. A book, Executive Order 9066: the Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans, changed her life. She first found it in grade school. It was the first time in her life that she realized her parents and grandparents had spent years in a concentration camp during World War II. The book was published in 1972, and now it is out of print and very hard to find. Her son Kenny was taking a class in school and could benefit from it. But for him, if a book is not digital, it is just as if it doesn’t exist. It turned out that the only place he could find it online was Open Library, an Internet Archive site.

Wendy told us that Internet Archive’s founder, Brewster Kahle, has given her a challenge: provide free, digital access to 4 million life-changing books. She said that physical distance is a real barrier to access. If you have digital books, it is a game changer, particularly for the vision impaired. Access technology for the vision impaired can only work if the book is digital. Just as Andrew Carnegie created a network of brick-and-mortar libraries across this land, we have the ability to create a network of digital libraries.

Copyright has always been a balancing act between an author’s rights and the public interest. Fair use recognizes that under certain circumstances, access is permissible because it is in the public interest. A digital library must focus on temporary digital access and circulation control. She said the system would put the book out there digitally, but only one person at a time could see it. Working with a team of legal scholars, they have determined this is fair use. They are working with publishers that agree. MIT Press, Boston Public Library, and Houghton-Mifflin are working with them. Most university presses are interested in making their scholarly works of the last century available. Wikipedia articles cite 2.1 million books. The Internet Archive wants to digitize those books first so that when there’s a citation, you can click the link and go right into the book.

If you were going to leave a treasure trove for your descendants, what would you want your legacy to be? Wendy said if you go to the Internet Archive and put in her name, you find many things. (Among other things, you will find a recording of this presentation!) It brings up websites she’s worked on. What about television? (See While we aren’t all mentioned on television news like Mitt Romney, Wendy has saved snippets of news stories about the place she works. What about music? With “The Great 78 Project” you can find your family’s favorite music. This is Brewster Kahle’s favorite project: digitizing all 78 rpm records. There are only about 2 million sides, and they have digitized about 50,000.

“And what about that book that means so much to me?” Wendy asked, displaying the cover of Executive Order 9066. “I can star it, which means it’s one of my favorites. And I can create a collection right there in Internet Archive of my favorites so that someday my children and my children’s children will know these are the films that I loved, the books that I read, the music that I listened to, and the websites that I participated in.”

What records will your grandchildren find about you? At the Internet Archive, they are making tools to help us access them, store them, and keep them forever.

Learn More

April 10, 2018
by Robert Raymond Brewster Kahle, Founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive, presented the opening keynote of the Access and Pre…


About the Author