Internet Archive introduces Open Library Explorer


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The makers of the “Open Library” have made their approximately 1.5 million digital book inventory easier to access. The “Explorer” is supposed to simulate a real library.

With the Open Library Explorer the book inventory of the public library of the makers of the “Internet Archive” is to be made more accessible to everyone. To do this, the project relies on skeuomorphisms and creates visually real bookshelves and books. As in a real library, the books are arranged thematically and then alphabetically on rustic shelves – but with their front facing forward. The makers even have a 3D view up their sleeve.

The user experience is designed to remind the inclined visitor of the last visit to a real library. What it was like to just rummage through books without having already been determined thematically and in terms of content.

Open Library Explorer in 3D. (Screenshot: Open Library)

That is the philosophy behind the Explorer mode

Like the makers of the Open Library in one post describing the introduction of the new Explorer, this approach is primarily intended to propagate a certain impartiality. Nowadays people would be used to getting information only within – mostly algorithmically favored – bubbles that hide everything that happens outside their own limited horizon.

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A publicly accessible library, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of this. That applies at least if – as with the Open Library – care is taken that the inventory is not subject to any selection criteria. In this regard, the Open Library is open to all publications on earth.

Apart from this idealized representation of the new Explorer essay on the Open Library, it is – viewed soberly – just a very conventional way of presenting the book inventory. In fact, the Explorer may make it easier for some users to find books that they would not have found with a specific search. Anyone who has kept an open mind anyway, would certainly get to him or her hitherto unknown works without Explorer.

This is the start view of Explorer. (Screenshot: Open Library)

This is the open library

The Open Library project itself is not without controversy and is considered by many publishers to be a prime example of intentional and organized copyright infringement. With more than 1.4 million books, half of which were scanned in China, the Open Library offers access to a massive body of knowledge.

That is also the declared objective of the project. Similar to Wikipedia, the Open Library wants to make the world’s knowledge accessible to everyone. The project does not seem to be particularly interested in the will of the knowledge brokers – namely the authors and publishers. The fact that the Open Library also has novels and other fictional content on loan in addition to the “knowledge of the world” should at least be considered a fly in the ointment.

The project is under legal attack from various quarters, including the US authors ‘association Authors Guild and the British writers’ union The Society of Authors. A similar open approach, the Gutenberg project, had lost a slew of copyright lawsuits in the past. The project has been completely blocked since 2018, at least for access from Germany.

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