In response to the coronavirus pandemic driving millions of people to practise self-isolation and social distancing, libraries, organizations and publishers the world over have opened extensive catalogs to the public for free.
Most recently, the Internet Archive launched the National Emergency Library to “address our unprecedented global and immediate need for access to reading and research materials” — making 1.4 million (and growing) books in its lending library freely available to everyone around the world until 30 June, 2020. The move suspends the customary waitlisting process and expedites borrowing for everyone signed up to the service. The group’s digital librarian, Brewster Kahle, said, “This was our dream for the original internet coming to life: the Library at everyone’s fingertips.”
This welcome news for displaced learners and bibliophiles alike comes at the heels of another giant publishing platform waiving its subscription fees: Scribd is making its library — which includes millions of ebooks, audiobooks, magazine articles — available to anyone, free, for 30 days. The goal, says CEO Trip Adler, is “simply to ensure everyone has access to their favorite books, authors, and quality content as we settle into our new normal for the next few weeks.”
We have been heeding the call for community quarantine — while tireless front-liners work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 around the world — and, for some of us, reading can be a curious consolation. A readily available “solace” for those privileged enough to help stem the tide of the virus just by staying home. (A passage from the wartime diary of journalist Teodoro M Locsin becomes startlingly relevant: “The war has given me what I never had before: time to read as much as I like. I had several books I bought and never found the leisure to read. I had given them up as money lost. During the last three weeks, I was able, between alarms and all-clears, to finish reading them all. The war has been an unexpected dividend.”)