Internet Archive's 'national emergency library' has over a million books to read right now

The Internet Archive is suspending its waiting lists for books, but critics worry the move could hurt struggling authors.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
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Erin Carson
2 min read

The Internet Archive has a lot of these. But digital. 

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The Internet Archive will suspend its waiting lists for digital copies of books, as part of its National Emergency Library. "Users will be able to borrow books from the National Emergency Library without joining a waitlist, ensuring that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials that the Internet Archive has digitized," the organization said in a blog post last week. 

The decision comes as schools around the country are shut down in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and as it's become more difficult to get goods of all kinds. The post noted that many people can't physically go to their local libraries these days.

Opening up the archive isn't being viewed positively by all, however. In a statement Friday, The Authors Guild said the Internet Archive is "push[ing] copyright law further out to the edges," by making in-copyright books available for free, without having the rights to those books. The Authors Guild statement also said this could hurt writers at a time when they're already dealing with losses from canceled book tours and speaking engagements, from income-supplementing jobs and the like. 

"During this pandemic that has severely disrupted authors' lives and choked the publishing industry, IA once again is undermining authors' ability to make a living and decide who gets access to their copywritten material," the statement said.

The Internet Archive didn't immediately respond to a request for comment but published a response Monday saying that the practice is built on fair use

"Libraries buy books or get them from donations and lend them out. This has been true and legal for centuries. The idea that this is stealing fundamentally misunderstands the role of libraries in the information ecosystem," the statement said. 

The waiting lists apply to more than 1.4 million books. The Internet Archive said it would keep the waiting list suspended until June 30, 2020, or "the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later."

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