Braille Monitor                                                   February 2010

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The Internet Archive: An Untapped Resource for the Blind

by Daniel B. Frye

Dan FryeToday blind people can and do access record amounts of written information through the emergence of scanning and digitization and assistive technology. We read newspaper articles, books, and other written materials using NFB NEWSLINE for the Blind®, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Bookshare, and Audible.com among other resources. Even when something is not available in an accessible format, current technology allows relatively easy access to printed texts. Because of the rapid evolution of access to information, some may even feel overwhelmed by the array of accessible reading options now available.

The Braille Monitor has recently learned of another Internet-based resource that makes more than 1.8 million digital books and other material freely available to everyone with access to the Internet. Founded by Brewster Kahle in 1996, the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library based in San Francisco, California, promotes universal access to knowledge. Although the Internet Archive management team did not have the needs of blind people in mind originally, they have been receptive to suggestions for making their vast content accessible to blind computer users. Toward this end the Internet Archive is exploring a partnership with the National Federation of the Blind to digitize and preserve our audio and video files through a grant application to the Institute for Museum and Library Services, a federal agency. The Archive is also negotiating with the NLS to use its disability-verification system so they can provide accessible formats of copyrighted materials to eligible blind and print-disabled people in the United States. Moreover the Internet Archive has already been producing its downloadable collection of books (most older and in the public domain) in the internationally recognized DAISY format.

According to Linda Frueh, the Internet Archive's regional director for Washington, D.C., Kahle and his wife established a foundation and launched the Internet Archive with the goal of recording the entire Internet. Frueh said that Kahle reasoned, "Here's an enormous, new technology changing from day to day, and nobody's recording it." Using Web-harvesting technology, a specially designed computer program that copies and saves Web pages, the organization has been preserving the evolving Internet. Kahle began by conducting a bimonthly Internet crawl. "We have one hundred and fifty billion Web pages archived since 1996," Frueh said. She explained further, "The way people access old Web pages is through the Wayback Machine, a search engine for all of the old Web pages archived at <www.archive.org>. On the results page you'll get a timeline of the various versions of the Web pages for which you are looking." Historians interested in the NFB, for instance, could use the Wayback Machine to review the evolution of our Internet site for the last fourteen years.

Having launched the Internet archiving project, the organization expanded its goals to digitize other media. Its online library now posts digital books, music, audio recordings, films, software collections, and more from its Website. Everything is made available free of charge. "We never have charged and never will charge for any of our content. Our goal is to make as much information as possible available to everyone who wants it; we're not invested in whether we provide information under our own name or as the behind-the-scenes resource for other Internet services," Frueh said.

Though much of this additional content may be of interest to blind people, the greatest benefit to the blind will be the large digital book collection it has already assembled. The most effective way to access these digital books from the Internet Archive is to visit its dedicated digital book Website <www.openlibrary.org>. Though visitors can reach the collection through the main Internet Archive Website, Frueh advises that both blind and sighted users who are interested only in downloading books will find it easier to go directly to the dedicated digital Website. The NFB is working with the Internet Archive to help evaluate and maximize the accessibility of its several Websites. These are clearly growing in popularity with a reported three million people a day visiting <www.archive.org> and two hundred and fifty thousand visiting <www.openlibrary.org>.

The Internet Archive's book collection reflects its history of working with academic institutions, libraries, and government agencies. It has 3,324 books in its children's collection at <http://www.archive.org/detail/iacl>. For examples of scientific literature scanned by the Archive from the Biodiversity Heritage Library, visit <http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org>. The Archive has scanned over thirty-three thousand items in this collection. Frueh says that the Internet Archive also has the largest Arabic collection outside of the Middle East and the Library of Congress. The Internet Archive digital library dwarfs the NLS digital collection, but Frueh reports that her organization would be delighted to explore expanding its partnership with NLS, allowing the national library to make all of these titles available through its frontline resources.

Readers should know that the Internet Archive, a member of the Open Book Alliance, opposes the currently proposed Google Books settlement. The Internet Archive and its supporters believe that the settlement as currently drafted creates an uneven playing field in out-of-print book publishing, an obscure area of debate among legal and academic scholars about one aspect of copyright law. Its objections, however, have nothing to do with the accessibility provisions and promise of rapid access to many digital books that the Google Book agreement would generate.

Blind readers now have another significant resource at our disposal that will enrich our lives. We can visit the Internet Archive and its related Websites for study, work, and recreation. The NFB looks forward to an ongoing and fruitful partnership with the Internet Archive.

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