The non-profit Internet Archive suffered a major setback this morning when a fire broke out at its San Francisco office, causing an estimated $600,000 in damages. Fortunately there were no injuries and no data was lost, but the digital library, which seeks to give “universal access to all knowledge,” lost high-end scanners and digitization equipment. The Internet Archive is seeking donations to help rebuild its scanning capabilities for books, microfilm and movies, and allow employees continue digitization work at another location. You can donate here.
As fans of Internet Archive know, the site is not just a place where you can go to laugh (and cry) at your old Geocities pages via the Wayback Machine, the World Wide Web’s backup. The organization has archived over ten petabytes (or a whopping 10,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) of information so far, including everything every written in Balinese. Its latest initiatives include the TV News Search and Borrow project, which has over 495,000 archived broadcasts available for borrowing on DVD, so you can factcheck things like news reports or claims by politicians.
Other Internet Archive projects include Open Library, with more than 2 million e-books. There are a lot of public domain classics (as well as modern books for borrowing), but one of the best things about Open Library is being able to browse thousands of antiquarian and vintage curiosities such as this 1912 copy of “Ballads weird and wonderful” and a groovy manual of magic tricks from 1970.
Other cool things in that 10,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of data include: the librivox audio book collection; feature films (here’s the campy anti-drug classic Reefer Madness); radio shows, such as Isaac Asimov’s The Foundation Trilogy; and more than 2,200 digitized textbooks. The Library of Congress’s Prelinger Archives has 60,000 pieces of “ephemeral” footage, like Red-Headed Riot, a compilation of vintage burlesque and striptease clips, and American Look, for fans of mid-century industrial, interior and product design.
During last month’s government shutdown, the Wayback Machine also made it possible for people to view important government sites while they were offline, including the Library Of Congress, National Park Service and Federal Communication Commission.
As the Internet Archive noted in its blog post about the fire: “This episode has reminded us that digitizing and making copies are good strategies for both access and preservation. We have copies of the data in the Internet Archive in multiple locations, so even if our main building had been involved in the fire we still would not have lost the amazing content we have all worked so hard to collect.”