Not your average library

By , csmonitor.com

With a history that predates Yahoo and Netscape Navigator, ibiblio.org is now one of the largest "collections of collections" on the Internet. Chiefly maintained by students, and fielding some 3 million requests for information per day, the site is celebrating its 10th birthday – and, as it was on the first day, everything is still free.

The site is a cooperative project of the University of North Carolina and the Center for the Public Domain. It's contents are free to view and download, including materials you would normally expect to pay for, such as music and software. (Ibiblio should be in the links collection of anyone interested in the Linux open source software system.)

That's not to say that you can do whatever you want with any of the materials. But, regardless of legalities, you can access the information for your own use without charge – and in many cases (as when the creator provides permission directly on the web page) can also modify, repackage, fold, spindle, or mutilate to your heart's content.

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While ibiblio as ibiblio is only two years old (the name dates to September 2000), the origins of the current site trace back to 1992. (A detailed timeline is available at ibiblio's History page: http://ibiblio.org/history/.) A 10-year-old website can't help but be a pioneer in the short history of the Internet, but a look at the site's record reveals that it has more than longevity to brag about. Ibiblio's resume includes such Internet milestones as Project Gutenberg, the first online Presidential White House Archives (Clinton), Free Burma (probably the first human rights website, though such claims are difficult to prove in a time before search engines), and the first experimental web home of the National Gallery of Art.

The magnitude of the information gathered over all those years could be a bit intimidating, but the site's home page eases visitors into the collection. Each month, ibiblio posts a new themed home page that features a sampling of material. (For example, September was cooking, July was the history of the American West, April was photography.) Once you've decided to dig deeper, indexes down each side of the home page will take you to more specific interests. On the left are categorized listings (arts, history, technology) and on the right, recent features and additions, extensive Linux resources, and some site favorites.

In addition to requests for information, ibiblio also accepts contributions from visitors. The webmasters liken this to a library where, in addition to viewing the existing collection, "you have the opportunity to critique it, expand it, or to create and manage a new collection in your own area of interest." The site's flexibility is one reason why this review is short on specifics as to ibiblio's contents - any attempt would be as futile as trying to summarize the information available in a local library. As with a library, the best advice I can give is to drop by and poke around, and chances are good that you'll find something of interest.

I imagine ibiblio must be how Internet pioneers first imagined using the new technology – as a tool for the free exchange of knowledge, before dotcoms, before pop-up ads, and definitely before JenniCams. Granted, most of the Web's evolutions have been beneficial -or at least entertaining- but it's also nice to see that an original model is still perfectly valid.

ibiblio can be found at www.ibiblio.org.

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