Celebrating Wendy Hanamura, Internet Archive’s ‘Storyteller-in-Chief’

When Wendy Hanamura came to the Internet Archive nearly a decade ago, she used her talent as a journalist and  media professional to share the story of the organization with an ever-growing audience.

“The power of storytelling is a tool that cannot be underestimated,” Hanamura said.

As she retires this fall as Director of Partnerships, she leaves a lasting imprint on the Archive. Hanamura’s creativity and dedication helped build new connections, attract more donors, and advance the mission of universal access to all knowledge.

“She became the storyteller-in-chief. She’s helped the organization understand itself and communicate what we’ve done,” said Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. “Through that, she has really helped shape the Internet Archive.”

Wendy at the Internet Archive’s annual celebration in 2017, which she produced.

During her tenure, Hanamura oversaw projects big and small that expanded the visibility and sustainability of the Archive. She stewarded relationships that moved the organization into new areas, such as controlled digital lending and the decentralized web. Along the way, Hanamura became known for her personal touch, warmly moderating discussions, mentoring young staffers, and extending her spirit of generosity to others.

“Wendy makes things work. She thinks things through, connects competent people, works to the highest standard, translates between different types of people, and is decisive and diplomatic,” says Jeff Ubois, of Lever for Change, a nonprofit affiliate of the MacArthur Foundation.

Ubois got to know Hanamura when he was at the MacArthur Foundation and she was spearheading the Archive’s proposal for the MacArthur 100&Change competition. Although the Archive wasn’t awarded the grant, it was one of eight semi-finalists of nearly 2,000 applicants for the grant. The major endeavor, Ubois said, required Hanamura to thoroughly imagine and manage a multi-step process, while enlisting the support of others to participate. “Her vision on the one hand and her implementation skills on the other are superpowers,” Ubois said.

Brewster Kahle, Wendy Hanamura and John Gonzalez supporting Internet Archive’s “100&Change” grant submission.

Hanamura began her career in New York as a reporter-researcher at Time Magazine, after graduating summa cum laude from Harvard University. She moved into broadcast journalism and worked as a correspondent in Tokyo for World Monitor on the Discovery Channel. In the San Francisco Bay area she worked at the local CBS affiliate, covering breaking news, and then as a producer at PBS. Hanamura ran an independent documentary company for 15 years, spent time as General Manager of independent tv network Link TV and was chief digital officer at KCET/Link before joining the Archive in 2014.

“I think of myself as a storyteller for change. What it comes down to is telling your story—your vision—convincingly and bringing others into that vision and finding ways to integrate them,” said Hanamura, 62, who lives in San Francisco. “That’s just always what I’ve done whether it be for Time Magazine, a television network, PBS or the Internet Archive.”

Preserving Important Voices

In building partnerships for the Internet Archive, Hanamura said the best pitch is always personal.

She would often hold up the book, Executive order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans and explain how, after discovering it in her local library in sixth grade, it changed her life. The book is out of print and hard to find. When her son was taking a college class in Asian American identity, it would have been perfect for him. “But his generation believes that if it’s not online, it doesn’t exist,” Hanamura would say. “The only place he can access this book online is the Internet Archive.” She could go on to suggest there are more “valuable, precious” books that need to be available online to people everywhere in the world.

In a tribute to her father’s service in a WWII all-Japanese unit, Hanamura produced a documentary, “Honor Bound: A Personal Journey, the Story of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team.” Hanamura also became involved in helping Densho, a Seattle-based nonprofit, build a Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration materials at the Internet Archive. Her own mother was 14 when she was incarcerated in wartime camps and today, at 95, is one of the few remaining survivors—a story Hanamura told for the Archive’s 25th anniversary.

Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration

“The people who knew and experienced the Japanese American incarceration are dying in great numbers,” Hanamura said. “I really wanted to make sure that the most important voices, the most important literature and research was captured and preserved for all time.”

Hanamura was able to secure support from the U.S. Department of Interior and National Park Services’ Japanese American Confinement Site program to partially fund the effort.

“Wendy’s love of history, community, and story made working with her and the Internet Archive a joy,” said Tom Ikeda, the founder of Densho who collaborated with Hanamura on the project. “[The Archive] was a natural partner to preserve and share over 1,000 video-recorded oral histories of Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII.”

‘A Great Connector’

At the Archive, Kahle said that Hanamura explained not only the history of the organization and the dream of the internet as a library, but how it can help people with challenges in the world. She established online fundraising efforts that people cared about—cultivating thousands of donors through her work. Hanamura grew the Archive’s annual contributions from about $350,000 when she started to about $5 million when she turned over philanthropic operations in 2019.

Brewster Kahle and Wendy Hanamura at the DWeb Summit, 2018.

When it came time to celebrate the Archive’s 25th anniversary, it was Hanamura who coordinated the coverage, content and celebration. She also developed the “Way Forward” part of the campaign, an innovative approach to consider where the world would be in 25 years if access to knowledge was not protected.

“Wendy cares deeply about social issues and has a great sense of what might be done to make the world a little more creative, fair, open, and prosperous,” Ubois says.

Hanamura also cares about the rising generation of professionals in technology who will carry on this work in the coming years.  She has supported the decentralized web community and helped it coalesce–from holding Decentralized Web Summits beginning in 2016 to producing DWeb Camps starting in 2019.

“I admire her ability to be such a great connector, which comes from her acute ability in understanding people’s interests and strengths,” said Mai Ishikawa Sutton, who has worked alongside Hanamura as a co-organizer of the camp. “She has an empathetic ear to people as they talk about what they’re working on and what they’re struggling with. She’s a dynamic force when it comes to helping people who are building a better decentralized, resilient web.”

Held in California, the first camp in 2019 drew about 350 people, and by 2023 it had grown to more than 500 participants. From planning the technical sessions to the nitty-gritty logistics of catering and music, Hanamura’s leadership makes it happen, said Ishikawa Sutton.

Wendy and DWeb Camp organizers, 2019.

Catherine Stihler, CEO of Creative Commons, said Hanamura exudes kindness and empathy. “She has an ability to make you feel so welcome. She’s one of those people if you’re in a room of strangers, they aren’t strangers for long,” says Stihler, who has watched her energy, joy and inclusion bring people together at the DWeb camps.

“[Hanamura] is central to the success of this camp. She has her fingerprint on everything from top to bottom,” Ishikawa Sutton said. “She is able to really envision what it means to build a meaningful event where people can share their work, have fun, and be their full selves.”

As a result of the gatherings, many participants have built trust, collaborated on projects, shared grants and been hired—in part, thanks to Hanamura’s effort to connect people, according to Ishikawa Sutton, who is a co-founder and editor of COMPOST, an online magazine about the digital commons, and project manager of Distributed.Press. She has also played a critical role in making the DWeb organization financially sustainable, they added.

“What I love about the Internet Archive is that we are always looking to what’s next and over the horizon,” said Hanamura, who sees great potential in the young, idealistic supporters of the DWeb, calling it a “life-giving movement.”

Lasting Impact

Although Hanamura retired from her position at the Internet Archive Sept. 14, she plans to continue to be involved in the DWeb community as a volunteer.

Hanamura said her decision to step down as Director of Partnerships was prompted by her desire to give her full attention to caregiving for her husband, who has a terminal illness.

Among her final projects at the Archive was creating a meditation garden outside Funston Street building to provide a quiet space for reflection.

The meditation garden that Wendy designed & landscaped as a parting gift to Internet Archive staff and friends.

“Working at the Internet Archive has been a gift and such an education,” Hanamura said “Here, we have the mission to create lasting impact, lasting stories, and lasting artifacts. I am so grateful to the Internet Archive for giving me the opportunity to use my skills toward that end.”

Added Kahle: “The Internet Archive staff and patrons have felt the power of Wendy Hanamura spending her lifeforce building a library all these years.”

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