January 6, 2023
Since its creation in 1978, the online web-based Rudolf Steiner Archive has been used by Anthroposophists and others around the world for personal and professional research. In 2021, the US-based organisation behind the Archive, The e.Lib. Inc., transferred the Rudolf Steiner Archive website of RSArchive.org and related technology, books, and materials to a new non-profit organisation, Steiner Online Library. What follows is a brief history of this whole development.
From a small cottage nestled between two lakes in Northern Michigan, Dr. Christopher Wietrzykowski and his wife Karin run the Rudolf Steiner Archive—the largest digital collection of works of Rudolf Steiner available online in English. In 2021, Chris and Karin formed the not-for-profit corporation Steiner Online Library (SOL) which then acquired the assets of the Archive from The e.Lib, Inc. The Archive holds more than 3,000 of Dr. Steiner’s teachings and reaches approximately 6,000 unique visitors each day.
Today, they are applying Chris’ in-depth knowledge of computing and Karin’s abilities as an accomplished technology lawyer to expand their global audience. Because the Archive was initially developed at the dawn of the digital age, it needs technical and functional upgrades to ensure its viability. Much has been done already and new features are in development to be launched in early 2023.
In the late 1970s, Anthroposophists Werner Glas and Hans Gebert were both working at the Rudolf Steiner Institute in Southfield, Michigan, USA when Jim Stewart, who was new to Anthroposophy, made their acquaintance, often asking Steiner-related questions of them. It occurred to Jim, who had over 15 years of experience in developing databases for the automotive industry, that these questions might be more easily answered if Steiner's books and lectures could be collected in a searchable database. He suggested this to Dr. Glas who cautioned that this would be a very large undertaking, considering the sheer amount of data and the fact that there were no electronic copies of Steiner's writings at that time. He did, however, think it was a worthy effort and encouraged Jim to do it.
The work began slowly at first. Jim had many books by Steiner he wanted to digitize but he was a slow typist. Over the course of many years, as technology progressed, computers and scanners became more affordable and there was a significant improvement in character recognition software that would convert a scanned picture of text into text one could edit. These developments dramatically improved the speed at which Jim could work.
When the Internet became available to the public in the late 1980s, Jim began the Rudolf Steiner Archive as a computer “bulletin board service,” a precursor to the modern form of the World Wide Web, social networks, and other aspects of the Internet.
Soon after this, he set up his own computers which were always running. This enabled people to download the lectures themselves anytime, night or day. Eventually, Jim was able to make around sixty documents available to the public in electronic form. It was at this point that he found an amazing piece of software that not only allowed people to download the files but to search them as well. The Archive was off and running. In 1996, Jim began using the name “The e.Lib” (short for electronic library) and incorporated a not-for-profit corporation under the same name.
Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, a network of worldwide volunteers found their way to the Rudolf Steiner Archive and offered to help with scanning, digitizing, and proofreading the new electronic versions of some of the many English translations of Steiner’s books, lectures, and articles. One of the most prolific contributors, Dr. Christopher Wietrzykowski, contributed hundreds of prepared documents to The e.Lib to be put online. Because Chris and Jim both lived in Michigan, they were able to cultivate a relationship and met personally on many occasions. In 2012, when Jim was diagnosed with lung cancer, he began to think more deeply about who might succeed him as the "e.Librarian." In an emotional conversation, while they were meeting at a bookstore, Jim asked Chris if he would take over the Archive in the future. Chris agreed he would. He had already been thinking about retiring from dentistry early so he could dedicate his life to Anthroposophy.
There was a bit of a lull in the activity on the Archive in the late 2010s, without much new material being added. Most materials that were easiest to digitize already had been converted to electronic form. Furthermore, the website was beginning to show its age, and keeping the computers running was occupying more and more of Jim's time. The original software used for running the web pages had served well in the early years but was increasingly becoming a liability as the technology was never designed for the sheer mass of information involved. The databases had become increasingly unstable, and the decades of layered computer code would often produce unexpected problems.
Meanwhile, Chris was on an intermediate but equally important task—finding his spiritual partner. Chris and Karin Miller had gone to high school together and attended the same church while growing up. Chris secretly had a crush on Karin and when her family moved away after 10th grade, he was devastated. He hoped that he would one day run into her again and have the courage to tell her about his feelings for her. That day would eventually come... almost thirty-five years later.
In early 2016, a friend of Chris' let him know that he had found Karin. She was now an accomplished technology lawyer living in Los Angeles, California. This initially gave Chris some closure regarding Karin, but Los Angeles seemed like a world away from Chris’ small town in Michigan. Then Chris' friend sent him something else regarding Karin. She had just written a book—a spiritual book—Global Values: A New Paradigm for a New World. Chris read the introduction to this book online and knew immediately that his life was about to change dramatically. He contacted Karin, initially only discussing her book and its relation to Anthroposophy. Karin even had a few books by Steiner herself. Eventually, he would tell her how he felt about her. When she read his revealing letter, her knees gave way and she fell to the floor with tears in her eyes. After several visits, Chris left the small Midwestern city he had lived in for twenty years and moved to Los Angeles.
In 2018, the couple were married and the following year they returned to Michigan for what was to be Chris' last job as a dentist. In early 2020, this came to an end and Jim was ready to begin the process of transitioning the Archive to them.
The biggest challenge in assuming responsibility for the Archive was that Chris was a dentist, not a computer scientist. He had, however, studied much about computing over the years, even considering writing a dental software program at one time. He held periodic telephone and video calls with Jim and began intensely studying computer system administration and website technologies. By the Spring of 2021, he felt he was ready and Jim and his partner, Marylin Kraker, began bringing the books, lectures, and computers to Chris and Karin.
Karin, in the meantime, was wrapping up her career as a lawyer. She began to devote all her time to the Archive, setting up the new non-profit corporation, Steiner Online Library, to inherit the assets of The e.Lib, Inc. and drafted an Asset Transfer Agreement which was signed by both organizations. She set up systems for the administration of the new organization, researched non-profit business practices, and planned fundraising strategies. She also began to use her writing skills to produce blog articles and other content for the website.
Things got off to a bit of a rocky start in late 2021. The computers with the databases were misbehaving and sometimes caused the website to be unreachable. There were also many problems with Jim's computers still interacting with Chris' causing all sorts of unexpected problems. Chris' learning about system administration became a trial by fire. Over about a four-month period, he had to rewrite nearly all the computer programming code that drove the website, change all the software packages that ran it, and change over to different computers which were totally disconnected from Jim's.
All this was taking place amidst an atmosphere of global turmoil over Covid. A cloud of fear spread throughout the world, fueled by incessant emergency warnings in the media. Tension was high and the transfer seemed even more critical in this climate. Chris and Karin felt a real sense that they were on a mission.
By the Spring of 2022, the website had become more stable and faster than it had ever been. The database problems had been solved. In addition, nearly every document in Jim’s database previously had been formatted slightly differently. Chris and Karin painstakingly reformatted over 3,000 documents to ensure they would display correctly in the new system. Some cleaning and repairing still needed to be done but the emergency period had ended. Chris and Karin could now focus on other issues such as ensuring people could readily search the documents and view the documents properly on all sizes of devices that didn’t exist when the website was created. The customized search capability that had been built into the original website was something visitors had grown to rely on. Unfortunately, with the large volume of research being conducted on the website daily, the entire site would often crash when several people were using it at the same time. Updating this feature meant that the existing method of searching for keywords, volumes, titles, etc., would no longer work. Fortunately, there now are some very good software programs available for this capability. After extensive research, Chris used one of these programs, Apache Solr, to produce a new search facility that he customized specifically for searching Steiner’s work. Essentially, the documents are stored in a database along with a long list of every word that appears and its location in the documents. This makes looking up search terms extremely fast—under a tenth of a second in most cases. Furthermore, Solr is endlessly customizable, enabling computer system administrators to fine-tune it to produce ever-more-precise results as it learns more about what people are searching for and how they search.
To complement this new search feature, Chris is rebuilding the entire database of Steiner’s works in the Archive. The old database is fifteen years out of date and lacks many of the lectures that have been recently released in German but have yet to be translated into English. With the new database, researchers will be able to visit a web page for each volume of Steiner’s work and see exactly which lectures and articles are contained in that volume. If the Archive has that particular article or lecture, there will be a link to it. Content that is not yet available in English will be listed but not linked.
Additionally, modern websites need to be readable on all devices that access the Internet whether they are computers, tablets, or phones. This means a website must automatically scale down in size to display properly on smaller devices, like mobile phones and tablets. The current Archive software cannot manage this process, so at the moment a user must manually resize the content inside the viewing area. It is a bit like trying to look at a wall mural but only being able to look at it through a window the size of a piece of paper.
Last autumn, Chris and Karin created a demo website, steinerlibrary.org, as a trial run at making Steiner’s digital works clearly viewable on all devices. Since that format worked well, they are now in the process of updating the Rudolf Steiner Archive with the structure and flexibility of the demo website. This will allow phone and tablet users to always see an appropriately sized website, even when they turn them sideways.
These projects are all nearing completion and should be available on the website by early 2023.
The ultimate mission of SOL is to expand the audience of Rudolf Steiner’s work. As we approach the 100th-year anniversary of the burning of the Geotheanum and Dr. Steiner’s founding of the General Anthroposophical Society, this mission seems even more critical. Since Steiner’s death in 1925, many people are concerned that the original impulses would become lost to humanity. SOL aims to ensure a new generation of spiritual seekers is aware of this material to carry the impulses introduced by Steiner into the future of human evolution.
The Rudolf Steiner Archive is a gem that is not well-known by many spiritual seekers outside of Anthroposophical circles. With many new offerings to be announced soon, SOL plans to broaden its reach to inspire and assist people to become more fully human. While the German volumes of Steiner’s work will always be definitive, English has become such a widely used language that it seems only appropriate that these valuable resources be made available for this current lingua franca. Further, offering this information in an easily accessible electronic form has the best chance of reaching an expanded audience. SOL has lofty goals, but technology has made what once seemed like an impossible dream in the 1980s into a real possibility.
Connect. We have many new offerings to be announced soon! A newsletter signup form will be added to the website soon. Until then, simply email us at the address below with your request to receive periodic updates. Please also share our website and goals with your own communities and study groups.
Financial Support. Despite its enormous progress, SOL has experienced some financial challenges. Chris and Karin worked the first ten months with no pay, living on their personal savings. The recent low level of donations is not sustainable. Click the "donate" button on our website or visit our “Help Out” link at the top of the homepage for ways to give, including methods to avoid international transaction fees. If you have a US dollar account you can also mail a donation to Steiner Online Library, PO Box 42, Interlochen, MI, USA. Please make checks payable to Steiner Online Library.
Contact. To join our mailing list for updates, donate, or contact us generally, visit https://rsarchive.org/ or email us at [email protected] Thank you for your support!