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As the digital world turns, the Internet Archive soldiers on in quest to preserve history

Brewster Kahle is a legend among pioneers of the early internet.

Kahle is known as the inventor of WAIS (Wide Area Information Servers), the internet’s first distributed-search and document-retrieval system—more commonly known as the precursor to the World Wide Web. As the internet evolved into a ubiquitous utility, Kahle, a lifelong advocate for universal access to knowledge, decided that his next mission should be to preserve the vast amounts of information shared around the world.

Thus the Internet Archive was born. A non-profit dedicated to creating an indelible record of humanity’s transition into the digital age, it has operated out of a former Christian Science church in the Inner Richmond since 1996. There, Kahle’s small team of digital librarians work tirelessly to acquire and archive documents and data from across the world, seeking to construct a modern Library of Alexandria through funding from various foundations, such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Council on Library and Information Resources and the National Science Foundation.

However, the Archive’s work hasn’t been without controversy. Since its primary goal is to provide access to the ever-growing well of digitized knowledge, questions (and lawsuits) have arisen about the Archive’s legal right to distribute copyrighted works without permission or licensing from the original creators.   

Watch our video above to hear more from Kahle about the growth of the Archive’s mission, explore its unique offices and discover the eccentric way the Archive honors those who dedicate their lives to cataloging human knowledge.

Jesse Rogala can be reached at