Non-profit organisation the Internet Archive has this week announced the launch of the ‘National Emergency Library’, an initiative which will allow the general public to have access to a wide range of literary sources after millions of educational institutions were forced to close due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This move gives students and passionate readers alike free access to 1.4 million books, the archive will remain open and accessible for free until June 30th or at the end of the United States national emergency, whichever date falls later. Most importantly, users won’t have to wait and can gain immediate access to the books they wish to borrow.
In a blog post on the Internet Archive revealing the project, the organisation said: “This is a response to the scores of inquiries from educators about the capacity of our lending system and the scale needed to meet classroom demands because of the closures. Working with librarians in Boston area, led by Tom Blake of Boston Public Library, who gathered course reserves and reading lists from college and school libraries, we determined which of those books the Internet Archive had already digitised. Through that work we quickly realized that our lending library wasn’t going to scale to meet the needs of a global community of displaced learners. To make a real difference for the nation and the world, we would have to take a bigger step.”
The statement later added: “We understand that we’re not going to be able to meet everyone’s needs; our collection, at 1.4 million modern books, is a fraction of the size of a large metropolitan library system or a great academic library. The books that we’ve digitized have been acquired with a focus on materials published during the 20th century, the vast majority of which do not have a commercially available ebook. This means that while readers and students are able to access latest best sellers and popular titles through services like OverDrive and Hoopla, they don’t have access to the books that only exist in paper, sitting inaccessible on their library shelves. That’s where our collection fits in—we offer digital access to books, many of which are otherwise unavailable to the public while our schools and libraries are closed. In addition to the National Emergency Library, the Internet Archive also offers free public access to 2.5 million fully downloadable public domain books, which do not require waitlists to view.”
The ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease was first officially identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei in China. As of March 27th, more than 540,847 cases of COVID-19 have been officially confirmed but the actual number is thought to be much higher due to substantial under-reporting of cases.
With more than 24,294 people having died from the virus, COVID-19 has now spread into more than 180 other countries—including mainland Europe, South America and North America. Given the exponential growth in cases in countries like Italy, Spain and the UK, the WHO have now stated that Europe was the current centre of the pandemic.