Monday, August 1, 2011

Preserving every book ever written???

I can't even keep track of all the books I have in my house, so I'm pretty impressed to read that Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, wants to preserve a physical copy of every book ever written.

That task is even more ambitious than it sounds.

Consider that the Library of Congress has a collection of more than 147 million items, and it receives its materials "through an acquisitions program that extends throughout the world and includes over fifteen thousand agreements with foreign governments and research institutions for the exchange of research materials; gifts; purchases; transfers from other U.S. government agencies; and copyright deposits. Each day about thirty-one thousand items arrive at the Library; approximately seven thousand of these items will become part of the permanent collections." (source: Not all of those items are books, but that's the type of number we're looking at.

Kahle's goal, according to The Associated Press:
Kahle envisions the book archive less like another Library of Congress (33 million books, according to the library's website) and more like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, an underground Arctic cavern built to shelter back-up copies of the world's food-crop seeds. The books are not meant to be loaned out on a regular basis but protected as authoritative reference copies if the digital version somehow disappears into the cloud or a question ever arises about an e-book's faithfulness to the original printed edition.
"The thing that I'm worried about is that people will think this is disrespectful to books. They think we're just burying them all in the basement," Kahle said. But he says it's his commitment to the survival of books that drives this project. "These are the objects that are getting to live another day."

My next question for Kahle would be about his selection decisions. Do you choose the first imprint of a book? The hardcover or the paperback? The original copyright, or the 20th anniversary edition with a new forward by the author? Or do you keep every copy of every book ever printed? It's a lofty, complicated ambition, for which I admire Kahle. But I also am glad that I won't have to be the one to make any selection decisions. You can keep as many books as you want, until you run out of space. More space costs money, but is it worth it to preserve everything?

I would love an opportunity to tour the facility when he is finished - though his work will never be done.

-- Cheryl Sadler | | @nhcheryl

P.S.: If you want to have a lot of fun (and waste a lot of time), check out the Wayback Machine, part of the Internet Archive, to see what your favorite websites looked like in previous incarnations. Unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps, for how clunky it was before), is not archived with the Wayback Machine.



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