Mar 26, 2019
Alexis Rossi presents information about the internet archive to community members in the North Wing of the Henry Madden Library on Friday night. (Aly Honore/The Collegian)

A digital future is certain. For printed work, it’s necessary, says speaker

Although the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library, holds 30 million digital media items, it came to the Henry Madden Library recently to ask for more.

Alexis Rossi, director of media and access for the organization, said the library is in need of more digital versions of books, audio, films and more.

She said there are also gaps in their library database that she seeks to fill. Last Friday, she spoke about “Defeating the Digital Information Gap” during an event at the Henry Madden Library.

The Internet Archive gives free access “to researchers, historians, scholars, the print disabled and the general public,” according to its website. It provides books, television shows, music and access to other websites.

The gap that Rossi spoke about relates to the number of books that are available in print compared with those available in digital form. Rossi reported that the Internet Archive has only digitized 11 percent of books available in the Smithsonian Library.

In its current search to close that “digital information gap,” Rossi said the Internet Archive is seeking digital material that was published between 1923 and 2000.

However, any work published during or after 1923 is at risk of still being under a copyright policy, she said, which makes it harder to scan and upload it to the website.

“This black hole is sucking in all of these published works from the 20th century,” Rossi said. “They are not accessible to people today, unless you make them accessible.”

Rossi began her presentation by stating that the Internet Archive’s motto is “universal access to all knowledge.” Copyright laws are currently making that motto extremely difficult to achieve, she said.

Although print versions of literature are available, Rossi said they’re not enough and wishes more items can be digitized. She said it’s difficult for some people to access a physical library.

“If you go to rural areas, a lot of times these places only have a very tiny library, or it’s an hour away to get to the tiny library that is only open two afternoons a week,” Rossi said. “This information that is accessible to you and me in this building is not accessible to every person in the United States.”

Rossi added that the information is more urgent in less-developed countries. Her work to bring more work to the digital space makes sense, she said, because society is growing more and more dependent on the internet for information.

“Someone who is far younger than I am has been trained to look to the internet first for information,” she said. “If it’s not online it doesn’t exist for a lot of people.”

Glenda Harada, director of administrative operations of the Henry Madden Library, agreed with Rossi’s justification for preserving the printed works.

“Just in one person’s lifetime, when you look at the acceleration and the rate of change [in technology], if we can’t preserve it in some manner like this, it’s all going to be gone,” Harada said.

Rossi hopes the Internet Archive’s next allies are the other libraries. She hopes libraries are able to work together to find out which books need to be digitized and then get them digitized.

“We can make millions of books accessible to every single person in the United States who has an internet connection or a phone book,” Rossi said.

Fresno State alumna and retired teacher Linda Minier described Rossi’s presentation and goal to help printed work live longer online was “just amazing.”

“From a historical standpoint, this is our heritage, to a certain extent,” Minier said. “To be able to store it in such a fashion that it can be accessed over time, just having it available, that’s a wealth of information.”

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