January 27, 2022

Brewster’s Trillions: The Internet Archive Profiled by The Guardian

From The Guardian:

Our mission is universal access to all information all of the time,” said Rick Prelinger, president of the board. “We are part of the infrastructure of the web. We are the web’s memory.”

The Internet Archive, a non-profit, is the digital equivalent of the ancient library of Alexandria, a burgeoning hoard of websites, video, film and music which could otherwise be lost. It currently holds 281bn webpages, or URLs, and each month adds billions more. It also captures and stores books, journals, YouTube clips and cable news. Long revered by scholars, techies and librarians, the Archive’s fame is now spreading among ordinary people, drawing more than a thousand hits per second to its website. Many, however, remain unaware of its existence, and as he gave a tour to the Guardian, Prelinger said:

I’m tremendously surprised that there are not more internet archives. It’s the medium of our time but there is an ethos of ahistoricity. We’re trying to negate that.


Kahle, a computer scientist who made a fortune in the 1990s with tech ventures, including Alexa Internet, dreamed of a Great Library of Alexandria 2.0 since he studied at MIT. The archive’s first headquarters was in the nearby Presidio district. In 2009 it moved into a former Christian Science church on Funston Avenue; its pillars and facade evoke antiquity.

About 50 staff work here and another 100 work elsewhere in the bay area and in 32 scanning centres, usually in libraries, around the world. The centres digitise books, microfilm and regular film. Automation proved imprecise so it is done manually, each worker processing 800 to 1000 pages per hour. This labour means material such as Boston’s John Adams Library, the Hoover archive and the 1930 US census are now online and free. Institutions such as government agencies, libraries and universities, many outside the US, pay modest fees for special requests.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.