An Evening at the Archive

Libraries tend to have an image problem. They are dominated by books which move too slow in the Hi Def Digital Age. The information superhighway of the internet only has a few pull out rest stops at libraries on the way to serious destinations.

One library is different. The Internet Archive at Funston and Clement in SF is attempting to store the worlds media in digital form. They want to be thought of as the Alexandrian Library 2.0… Alexandrian Library – The Sequel… The Revenge of the Alexandrian Library.

 The “Evening at the Archive” reception, tour, and lecture on May 31, 2013 was a bibliophile’s banquet. But I also felt like a digital media pilgrim to a high tech media Mecca. In a merging of the traditional with cutting edge, all the machines and racks of blinking lights are housed in the pew studded Christ Scientist Church building bought 3 years ago.

 This is not some obscure geek project. There are 40 employees at the Funston headquarters and 100 people worldwide, downloading, scanning, and converting their little hearts out.

 The Archive has a room in the Library of Congress and a presence in 30 other libraries. There is a back up digital library on the East Coast in case California falls into the ocean and partial back ups in Holland and Alexandria – site of the original repository of world knowledge.

 After hard copy is digitized it gets put to sleep in rows of climate controlled cargo containers in Richmond, CA. I can relate since my library is in a cargo container. I should point out that hard copy includes old movies and 78 rpm records. This part of the Archive operation suggests more of the railroad car community of Fahrenheit 451 than the ancient Library of Alexandria.

 So, is anyone using this public data dump now? Yup, three million users per day, and for good reason. They may have started with books but they expanded 5 years age to dozens of worldwide TV channels, public access video, plus whatever digital movies or old VHS tapes people want to send them. Four PEG channels automatically upload all their video content to Archive.Org, including the public access powerhouse – Humboldt Access, right in our backyard. John Hauser is the developer for the Humboldt Access link of the project.

 The word “archive” may suggest dust and cobwebs blanketing seldom retrieved copies of the Harvard Classics and the Best of the Beverly Hillbillies, but remember, they are a legally recognized library which means they can copy new stuff and “lend out” (download) one user at a time for each copy that they buy.

 For the most part, new videos are uploaded by producers using the “creative commons” form of ownership – 10 million videos from You Tube alone. Copyright experts on staff troll for public domain content and identify it as such. People can directly upload their videos to Archive.Org. This is a great option for localities whose public access channels have vaporized their internet upload capability for political reasons.

 Those of us who are not techies got a little dazed by some of the specialized jargon. Words like “petalbytes”, “metadata”, “H264 format”, and “Frictionless downloads using torrents” (Wha…Who) rolled off tongues as easily as “Have a nice day.”

 For those who can handle the gritty details one of the Power Point lectures is on “http://goo.gl/PNGmQ”. Another location for the full strength version of the day can be found on the Community Media Archive wiki at “http://goo.gl/Wx5m8”. Knock yourself out.

 Even though a lot was over my head in the lectures my attention was riveted by a display at the reception. There, behind the cheese cubes and strawberries, was a huge banner made up of hundreds of video thumbnails. The clips were extracted from a high drama project released on October 11, 2001. This was the 911 project. The Archive realized the importance of 911 as a historical event immediately and began sampling everything on TV, including foreign channels, every 10 minutes for the first 24 hours on September 11, 2001. Downloading international news continued at the Archive for the next 7 days. Check out this accomplishment at “www.archive.org/details/911”.

 The First Amendment Foundation was critically involved in this release somehow even though they expected swift and severe retaliation. They survived and the Archive established themselves as the library on steroids. After the Patriot Act, librarians across the Country stood up against a government who demanded all records of who checked out what books. Less inspiring were cowardly local officials, such as in Lake County, who crippled public assess stations for showing too many 911 videos on no more authority than secret e-mails.

 The 911 project was instrumental in revealing how media opportunists used video from a 1990’s Palestinian celebration to show Palestinians dancing in the street after 911 to drum up hatred. This is why we need video feeds into a library and not just books. That is also why only principled people should be managing public access stations.

 Information is a weapon in the battle for truth and justice. A few whistle blowers like Ellsberg and Snowden have direct access to information. The rest of us need the arsenal of Archive.Org. Cruise their site or give them a call at 415-561-6767.

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