Publishers hate it, but I bless its holy name. The Internet Archive is a major boon for “independent scholars.” If you’re not familiar with it, the Archive is a repository of scanned books. It doesn’t contain everything, of course, and some publishers have tried to sue, but it operates like a library. You set up a free account, and if you just want to look up a reference in a book they have, you can “borrow” it for a while, check your reference, and then return it. All without leaving your home. Internet Archive really took off during the pandemic. You couldn’t get to the library and some of us research as long as we breathe, so here was a solution without breaking the bank. The bank, ah, there’s the rub.
The reason publishers hate Internet Archive is that it makes content available for free. Working in publishing, I understand the concern. Publishers have to make money off their books—they are businesses, after all. And if somebody scans it and makes it free online, your sales are undermined. But are they? Now, I can only speak for people like myself, but if a book is directly relevant to my research I will buy it. Reading online is a last resort. My library is full of books bought for that reason. Once in a while, though, my research leads into areas I don’t intend to come back to. Or I remember reading something in a book long ago, back when I had library access with interlibrary loan, and I can’t afford to buy the book just to look up that reference. Well, Internet Archive to the rescue. Publishers don’t often turn their mind to independent scholars since we’re not prestige authors. Waifs of the academic world.
That’s one reasons I don’t feel bad blogging about Internet Archive. Most traditional academics pay no attention to my blog. If I were hired by Harvard that would change overnight. Those of us who skulk in the shadows of the ivory tower don’t mind getting by with freebies like Internet Archive. And some part of us, even if we work in publishing, applauds such ventures as SciHub. I do not suggest visiting SciHub, however, and I’ve never done so myself. Its software automatically scans your hard drive for content that it can add to its huge repository. It’s not safe. The idea stands behind Open Access as well. Knowledge should be free. But even publishers have to eat. And those in ivory towers have everything to gain by keeping their edifices pristine.