The Internet Archive Launches Democracy’s Library, a Free Online Library of 500,000 Documents Supporting Democracy

“Democ­ra­cy is the worst form of gov­ern­ment except all those oth­er forms that have been tried from time to time.” So said Win­ston Churchill, per­haps not sus­pect­ing how fre­quent­ly the remark would be quot­ed in the decades there­after. Time and expe­ri­ence con­tin­ue to reveal to us democ­ra­cy’s lia­bil­i­ties, but also — at least in cer­tain soci­eties — the nature of its sur­pris­ing stay­ing pow­er. Since well before Churchill’s time, democ­ra­cy and its work­ings have been objects of fas­ci­na­tion the world over. So have its cen­tral ques­tions, not least the one of just how to main­tain the “informed cit­i­zen­ry” on which its oper­a­tion sup­pos­ed­ly depends.

The Inter­net Archive has just launched its own kind of answer in the form of Democ­ra­cy’s Library. “A free, open, online com­pendi­um of gov­ern­ment research and pub­li­ca­tions from around the world,” the site offers cit­i­zens a way to “lever­age use­ful research, learn about the work­ings of their gov­ern­ment, hold offi­cials account­able, and be more informed vot­ers.”

Col­lect­ed from a vari­ety of gov­ern­men­tal bod­ies like the Unit­ed States’ Nation­al Agri­cul­tur­al LibraryFor­eign Broad­cast Infor­ma­tion Ser­vice, and Nation­al Insti­tute of Stan­dards and Tech­nol­o­gy Research Library — as well as Sta­tis­tics Cana­da and Pub­lic Accounts of Cana­da — its mate­ri­als were osten­si­bly pro­duced for the pub­lic, but haven’t always been easy to find. It total, there are more than 500,000 doc­u­ments in the col­lec­tion.

“Gov­ern­ments have cre­at­ed an abun­dance of infor­ma­tion and put it in the pub­lic domain, but it turns out the pub­lic can’t eas­i­ly access it,” says Brew­ster Kahle, founder of the Inter­net Archive. He gives one of the series of talks that com­prise “Build­ing Democ­ra­cy’s Library,” the launch cel­e­bra­tion that took place last week and that you can still watch in the video above. Its pro­ceed­ings go into quite a bit of detail about the efforts of acqui­si­tion and orga­ni­za­tion that went into this project, as well as the nature of its mis­sion. For this isn’t just an effort to doc­u­ment democ­ra­cy, but to strength­en it by mak­ing the infor­ma­tion it pro­duces avail­able as con­ve­nient­ly as pos­si­ble to as many cit­i­zens as pos­si­ble. And no mat­ter the coun­try of which you count your­self a cit­i­zen, you can start brows­ing Democ­ra­cy’s Library here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

His­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der Presents 20 Lessons for Defend­ing Democ­ra­cy Against Tyran­ny in a New Video Series

Why Socrates Hat­ed Democ­ra­cies: An Ani­mat­ed Case for Why Self-Gov­ern­ment Requires Wis­dom & Edu­ca­tion

Han­nah Arendt Explains Why Democ­ra­cies Need to Safe­guard the Free Press & Truth … to Defend Them­selves Against Dic­ta­tors and Their Lies

Does Democ­ra­cy Demand the Tol­er­ance of the Intol­er­ant? Karl Popper’s Para­dox

Bertrand Russell’s Ten Com­mand­ments for Liv­ing in a Healthy Democ­ra­cy

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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