Select Page

The National Emergency Library

A colleague asked the question on Facebook just yesterday: with all the libraries closing, how are we to find things to read?

And a big answer came at the same time — just yesterday — from Internet Archive, as it announced the launch of a service called the National Emergency Library: a collection of books it holds in digital format but which are generally available only in print format at libraries around the country and the world.1

National Emergency Library

Ordinarily, the works included in this lending library are available only on a one-at-a-time basis: one person at a time can use the digital copy, just as one person at a time can borrow a physical book from a library. Now, however, for the duration of the coronavirus crisis:

To address our unprecedented global and immediate need for access to reading and research materials, as of today, March 24, 2020, the Internet Archive will suspend waitlists for the 1.4 million (and growing) books in our lending library by creating a National Emergency Library to serve the nation’s displaced learners. This suspension will run through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later.

During the waitlist suspension, 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 for the remainder of the US academic calendar, and that people who cannot physically access their local libraries because of closure or self-quarantine can continue to read and thrive during this time of crisis, keeping themselves and others safe.2

The announcement notes that the lending library combines the holdings of “Phillips Academy Andover and Marygrove College, and much of Trent University’s collections, along with over a million other books donated from other libraries to readers worldwide that are locked out of their libraries.” In total, it’s about 1.4 million modern works plus another 2.5 million public domain works that weren’t subject to waitlists anyway.

Users can sign up for accounts allowing for use of the materials at — this allows “checking out” up to 10 books at a time.

Many of the works, of course, are academic in focus: reference materials for educators and students. Which makes them pretty much perfect for genealogists as well. The Legal Genealogist put in the word “history” as a search term for metadata in the collection, and came up with 156,627 results ranging from world history to the history of hip hop. Even putting in “genealogy” as a search term turned up 1,651 results. And there are also 19,830 works of fiction ranging from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises to a wide variety of children’s books.

The potential glitch to the whole idea, of course, is that many of the newer works are still under copyright. Authors can, if they wish, opt in to the National Emergency Library, expressly allowing their works to be made more widely available for the duration — but they can also opt out, taking any of their materials out of the program. Instructions for both are in the FAQ provided by Internet Archive.

It’s a bold stroke, and one that I personally applaud for the duration.

Check it out: the National Emergency Library, at Internet Archive.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Hats off to Internet Archive,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 25 Mar 2020).


  1. See Chris Freeland, “Announcing a National Emergency Library to Provide Digitized Books to Students and the Public,” Internet Archive Blog, posted 24 Mar 2020 ( : accessed 25 Mar 2020). A big tip of the hat to Peter Hirtle for alerting me to the announcement.
  2. Ibid.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email