Organizations, activists, and laypeople are trying to put the sum of all printed knowledge on the internet. They’re facing copyright issues, ethical and moral debates, but it’s marching on nonetheless. Why should we have to travel to archival repositories, especially if they’re in an already convenient form like microfilm? Shouldn’t everybody have access to information, not just the select few who happen to have institutional affiliations? When it comes to access to information, we should be on an even playing field. Lay people interested in history, undergraduates, cash-strapped professional researchers, and all can benefit from several internet resources that put an incredible amount of information at your finger tips.
In this post, I’ll introduce people to the Internet Archive, the Haithi Trust, and Google Books. I hope to show you that there are incredible numbers of primary sources, digitized books, internet snapshots, among other things, out there. From an 1888 report on the Knights of Labor by a Canadian Legislative Committee, to the music video for the “first rap single ever released in Canada,” to American prohibition speeches, they’re all out there – free, accessible, and often downloadable.
What’s the Internet Archive? In a word, it’s incredible. It has collections of videos (530k+), live music (over 94k concerts), audio (over 914k recordings), and texts (2.8m+). It also has 150 BILLION old internet pages. For Canadians, it has a large collection of digitized microfilms from Library and Archives Canada (the above Knights of Labor report, for example), as well as radio clips, community videos, concerts, and others. An activist project, everything on the Internet Archive is free of charge. It continues to grow. If you use firefox, you can also put an Internet Archive extension into your browser.
The WayBackMachine – part of the Internet Archive – is an invaluable resource as well, both for researching and nostalgia. What did cbc.ca look like in the past? You can go all the way back to 1996 on a variety of dates to see what news issues appeared on the front page, how the layout of the page has changed, and maybe even do a systematic study of how it appeared. It’s the newspaper archive of the internet. It’s also nostalgic… look at this York University webpage from 1997!
Google Books, which is increasingly popping up in all of our web searches, has over fifteen million books scanned – and has the jaw-dropping goal of digitizing every single unique book existing in the world by 2020. They’ve run up against publishers and institutions. For copyright reasons, many books can only provide snippets – a percentage to give you a sense of the book, maybe a quotation or two, but you still have to buy access to it. Books in the public domain (approx. 2 million) are fully accessible and you can even download it as a very high quality PDF! Outside of the United States – like in Canada – many books have murky copyright status to Google so we need to go to the Internet Archive where public domain works are. There have been concerns raised, however.
To do a full text search of Google Books, make sure you select the ‘Full View’ tab on the left column of your search. For example, ‘Canada History’ will bring up 464,000 full text works! You can download these, and read it on your computer or even your e-reader! For example, say you want to read François-Xavier Garneau’s History of Canada (1866). Click here (PDF link), download it, and you’re good to go. And that’s just one small snippet.
Finally, Haithi Trust is a partnership of several major university libraries to digitize material (some by themselves, others from Google Books who copied their books – they demanded them back, apparently). They have almost nine million digitized volumes, of which 2.4 million are in the public domain. For Canadians, they have a decent collection. Search using the ‘only full view’ option and you can see a vast array of primary and secondary sources.
I see these resources as goods, although we need to continue to consider the intellectual rights of creators (especially those who don’t have state support for universities) as well as the importance to understand that it’s not all on there… yet.