It is always surprising (yet really never all that surprising) when a reader contacts Techlife with a problem that leads to a massive discovery. In this case the problem was “How do I burn this?” from our friend Allan over at He had found a Grateful Dead concert he wanted as a CD.  But herein lies the surprise, it wasn’t the concert being online that surprised me, it was the location, The Internet Archive.

Ominous sounding?  Yes. Intriguing, even more so. The Internet Archive is an astounding non-profit all digital library. Like any good library, it would take hours to begin to explain the vast array of collections and how to access them.  So for this column we will stick with our aural sensibilities and examine the audio section of the Internet Archive. If you were looking for some new material for a workout, a long drive or flight around the world how does over 700,000* free digital recordings work for you?

How is that staggering amount of audio organized? I’m glad you asked:

And of course to add to the quirky yet completeness of this library The Grateful Dead is given their own top level category with 7,780 items; more items than 7 of the main categories as organized!

Within each category is of course plenty of subcategories.  I quickly sought out the Radio Programs category, which had a sub-category of Old Time Radio. I clicked on Browse by Title “A” and found 4 different collections of Abbott & Costello and in less than 10 seconds I was listening to the famous, “Who’s on First?” routine.

As with most libraries, this one appears understaffed.  It has 17 contributors for the entire audio section, which is likely why there were four Abbott & Costello collections with some repeats and some files with no descriptive text or titles.  But they also offer context for the content in the form of Top Downloads, Top Rated and Top Reviews. Each added piece of user-generated content makes the library all the more useful.  Plus there are many encyclopedia type entries along with great user generated tidbits while you listen.

Finally getting to Allan’s  request of burning a CD; Audio Player? Smartphone? CD? Streaming? However you listen the choices today of carrying your audio collections with you have made it easy to store, listen and access content. The Internet Archive’s Audio Archive Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain for example is available on the site to stream, in both low and hi-fidelity M3U format, two quality versions of the MP3 format and in an Ogg Vorbis format. Oops…did we forget to tell Allan how to burn that CD?  Ok, I’m just going to listen to one more song, I promise.

* Numbers as of 10/18/2010.  Note total item numbers might vary as with the example of Radio Programs – 1,947 items at the top level. There were eight sub-collections with a total of 4,195 items.  That is more than double the top level’s reported items.