The Internet Archive Just Backed Up an Entire Caribbean Island

Mike Powers


Aruba’s colonial history also meant documents were spread all over the place. “Our collection was scattered,” says Edric Croes, the head of archival conservation and management at the National Archives of Aruba. There were works to be scanned across the world, including in the Netherlands, Spain, the United States, and other islands like Curaçao. Establishing a hub to find the documents online has been especially helpful, Scholing notes, for researchers located abroad, who no longer have to travel to Aruba to physically dig through archives.

It’s unusual for a country to outsource this sort of project to a foreign nonprofit. “In a dream world, every national library would have enough funds to bring on an amazing team of people,” says University of Waterloo history professor Ian Milligan, who is writing a book on the Internet Archive’s origins, and was not involved in the Aruba project. “Governments often don’t have that.”

The Internet Archive has not previously acted as custodian of a country’s whole collection, although it has worked with a number of national and regional libraries around the world. Back in 2011, it partnered with the Culture Office of Bali, an island province of Indonesia, to preserve what the office described at the time as “90 percent of Bali’s literature.” (This now makes up the Internet Archive’s Balinese Digital Library collection.)

Aruba’s archivists hope other nations will follow in its digital footsteps. “It’s a really feasible model that could be applied to a lot of small islands, developing states, even bigger countries with limited means,” Scholing says.

Partnering with the Internet Archive looks like an obvious solution for cash-strapped archivists. Potential partners do need to think, though, about what it means to rely on another country’s private organization, one with its own challenges.

“When we think about digital preservation, we often think of the technical challenges,” says Milligan of Waterloo. “But I think the biggest challenges are the social challenges, the human challenges. How can you set up an organization that will be here in 50 years?”

He credits the Internet Archive with a very “sustainable structure,” in terms of future-proofing. But that doesn’t make it wholly invulnerable. The Archive is currently facing a number of serious legal challenges, including a lawsuit from major record labels, including Universal Music Group, Capitol, and Sony, that poses an existential threat—the labels are asking for damages that could amount to over $400 million.

That’s on top of an ongoing dispute with publishing companies over a digital lending library it established during the pandemic. While its digitization capabilities are far more robust than many nation-states, the Internet Archive’s position in an increasingly vituperative battleground between copyright holders and tech companies means that its future is precarious, too.

The Internet Archive sees Aruba’s endorsement as especially timely. “It’s been really empowering to see that the nation of Aruba is continuing to add materials and upload content at the same time that we’re facing this,” Freeland says. “We’re in this for the long haul.”



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