Partnering with the Internet Archive

Since 2008, the Princeton Theological Seminary Library (now Wright Library) has hosted the Internet Archive's East Coast regional digitization center and routinely submits print materials in the public domain to the center to be digitized.

Building the Theological Commons

The partnership with Internet Archive has led to a growing digital library of theology and related material. "[T]he Theological Commons represents a blending of the aims and methods of mass digitization, in the manner of Internet Archive or Google Books, with the informed curation and accurate resource description that are the hallmarks of librarianship. The goal is to walk the tightrope between quantity and quality to achieve a balance that maximizes the reach and usefulness of these digital resources for research and ministry."


In early 2008, Princeton Theological Seminary entered into an agreement with Microsoft to digitize public domain (pre-1923) print materials. Project funding would come from Microsoft, materials would come from Princeton’s print collections, and digitization would be performed by the Internet Archive in a scanning center located in Princeton’s library. The goal was to digitize thousands of volumes on theology and religion for inclusion in Microsoft’s Live Search Books service (which was Microsoft’s answer to Google Books). This project aligned perfectly with Princeton’s vision of extending worldwide access to its historical collections, as a means of contributing to the shape of a global digital library in which theological disciplines would be represented. Other institutions joining in Microsoft’s ambitious program included the British Library, Columbia University, Cornell University, the New York Public Library, the University of California, the University of Toronto, and Yale University.

However, after only a few months, in May 2008, Microsoft abruptly ended the program, leaving Princeton and the other participants to consider how or whether to proceed without outside financial support. Recognizing the importance of the broader effort and remaining committed to its vision for a globally accessible digital library that includes theology and related fields, Princeton Theological Seminary decided to move its digital efforts forward by retaining its relationship with the Internet Archive, a non-profit organization dedicated to building a free, open, and well preserved digital library. Thus began a fruitful partnership that continues to the present time. The Internet Archive continues to operate a regional scanning center housed in Princeton’s library. Several other institutions that had joined the Microsoft initiative took a similar approach and have continued to partner with the Internet Archive to digitize large quantities of materials from their public domain holdings.

Through ongoing funding from Princeton Theological Seminary, the library routinely submits public domain print materials for digitization through the Internet Archive. No digitization is performed by way of Princeton staff or equipment; instead, all digitization is performed in the on-site scanning center staffed, equipped, and operated independently by the Internet Archive. Specifically, Princeton librarians select content for digitization in alignment with the library’s collection development policy, gather the selected physical volumes, and deliver both the volumes and their accompanying catalog records to the Internet Archive scanning center. After the non-destructive scanning process, library staff reshelve the physical volumes. When the Internet Archive completes its processing, which includes rigorous quality assurance procedures, each item enters the vast Internet Archive online library and becomes fully discoverable and searchable through its website. Each volume can be read online using the Internet Archive’s BookReader, which provides a familiar reading experience using full-color images of each page of the volume, from cover to cover.

As of March 2, 2018, through this partnership with the Internet Archive, Princeton Theological Seminary has digitized nearly 50,000 items — predominantly books, along with historical periodicals, manuscripts and photographs — totaling over 30 million pages of text.