Averting the Digital Dark Age: How Archivists, Librarians, and Technologists Built the Web a Memory (forthcoming)


In early 1996, the web was ephemeral. But by 2001, the internet was forever. How did websites transform from having a brief life to becoming long-lasting? Drawing on archival material in the Internet Archive and exclusive interviews, Ian Milligan’s Averting the Digital Dark Age explores how western society evolved from fearing a digital dark age to building the robust digital memory we rely on today.

By the mid-1990s, the specter of a ‘digital dark age’ haunted libraries, portending a bleak future with no historical record that threatened cyber obsolescence, deletion, and apathy. People around the world worked to solve this impending problem. In San Francisco, technology entrepreneur Brewster Kahle launched his scrappy nonprofit, Internet Archive, filling tape drives with internet content. Elsewhere, in Washington, Canberra, Ottawa, and Stockholm, librarians developed innovative new programs to safeguard digital heritage.

Cataloging worries among librarians, technologists, futurists, and writers from WWII onward, through early practitioners, to an extended case study of how September 11 prompted institutions to preserve thousands of digital artifacts related to the attacks, Averting the Digital Dark Age explores how the web gained a long-lasting memory. By understanding this history, we can equip our society to better grapple with future internet shifts.

Table of Contents


Introduction 1. Why the Web Could Be Saved: From Machine-Readable Records to Digital Preservation

  1. From Dark Age to Golden Age? The Digital Preservation Moment

  2. Building the Universal Library: The Internet Archive

  3. From Selective to Comprehensive: National Libraries and Early Web Preservation

  4. Archiving Disaster: The Case of 11 September 2001

Conclusion: Constantly Averting the Digital Dark Age



Johns Hopkins University Press