In this July 21, 2011 photo, Adriana Garin catalogs books at the Internet Archive’s Physical Archive warehouse in Richmond, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Calif. (AP) — Tucked away in a small warehouse on a dead-end street, an
Internet pioneer is building a bunker to protect an endangered species:
the printed word.
Kahle, 50, founded the nonprofit Internet Archive in 1996 to save a
copy of every Web page ever posted. Now the MIT-trained computer
scientist and entrepreneur is expanding his effort to safeguard and
share knowledge by trying to preserve a physical copy of every book ever
is always going to be a role for books,” said Kahle as he perched on
the edge of a shipping container soon to be tricked out as a
climate-controlled storage unit. Each container can hold about 40,000
volumes, the size of a branch library. “We want to see books live
far, Kahle has gathered about 500,000 books. He thinks the warehouse
itself is large enough to hold about 1 million titles, each one given a
barcode that identifies the cardboard box, pallet and shipping container
in which it resides.
far fewer than the roughly 130 million different books Google Inc.
engineers involved in that company’s book scanning project estimate to
exist worldwide. But Kahle says the ease with which they’ve acquired the
first half-million donated texts makes him optimistic about reaching
what he sees as a realistic goal of 10 million, the equivalent of a
major university library.
idea is to be able to collect one copy of every book ever published.
We’re not going to get there, but that’s our goal,” he said.
workers in offices above the warehouse floor unpacked boxes of books
and entered information on each title into a database. The books ranged
from “Moby Dick” and “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” to “The Complete
Basic Book of Home Decorating” and “Costa Rica for Dummies.”
this early stage in the book collection process, specific titles aren’t
being sought out so much as large collections. Duplicate copies of
books already in the archive are re-donated elsewhere. If someone does
need to see an actual physical copy of a book, Kahle said it should take
no more than an hour to fetch it from its dark, dry home.
In this July 21, 2011 photo, Brewster Kahle, digital librarian for the Internet Archive, demonstrates the zoom function while scanning a book on a touch screen at the Internet Archive’s Physical Archive warehouse in Richmond, Calif. Saving a copy of every Web page ever posted sounds like an ambitious life’s work, but Khale has decided digital isn’t enough. The founder of the Internet Archive wants to expand his effort to provide “universal access to all knowledge” by preserving a physical copy of every book ever written. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
dedicated idea is to have the physical safety for these physical
materials for the long haul and then have the digital versions
accessible to the world,” Kahle said.
with keeping books cool and dry, which Kahle plans to accomplish using
the modified shipping cointainers, book preservation experts say he’ll
have to contend with vermin and about a century’s worth of books printed
on wood pulp paper that decays over time because of its own acidity.
Hanff, acting director of the Bancroft Library, the special collections
and rare books library at the University of California, Berkeley, says
that just keeping the books on the West Coast will save them from the
climate fluctuations that are the norm in other parts of the country.
praises digitization as a way to make books, manuscripts and other
materials more accessible. But he too believes that the digital does not
render the physical object obsolete.
feel an “intimate connection” with artifacts, such as a letter written
by Albert Einstein or a papyrus dating back millennia.
people respond to that with just a strong emotional feeling,” Hanff
said. “You are suddenly connected to something that is really old and
takes you back in time.”
Kahle’s undergraduate years in the early 1980s, he has devoted his
intellectual energy to figuring out how to create what he calls a
digital version of ancient Egypt’s legendary Library of Alexandria. He
currently leads an initiative called Open Library, which has scanned an
estimated 3 million books now available for free on the Web.
of these books for scanning were borrowed from libraries. But Kahle
said he began noticing that when the books were returned, the libraries
were sometimes getting rid of them to make more room on their shelves.
Once a book was digitized, the rationale went, the book itself was no
his life’s devotion to the promise of digital technology, Kahle found
his faith in bits and bytes wasn’t strong enough to cast paper and ink
aside. Even as an ardent believer in the promise of the Internet to make
knowledge more accessible to more people than ever, he feared the rise
of an overconfident digital utopianism about electronic books.
And he said he simply had a visceral reaction to the idea of books being thrown away.
In this July 21, 2011 photo, Mark, who did not give his last name, unpacks boxes of books at the Internet Archive’s Physical Archive warehouse in Richmond, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
lives in lots of different forms over time,” Kahle said. “First it was
in people’s memories, then it was in manuscripts, then printed books,
then microfilm, CD-ROMS, now on the digital Internet. Each one of these
generations is very important.”
new format as it emerges tends to be hailed as the end-all way to
package information. But Kahle points out that even digital books have a
physical home on a hard drive somewhere. He sees saving the physical
artifacts of information storage as a way to hedge against the
uncertainty of the future. (Alongside the books, Kahle plans to store
the Internet Archive’s old servers, which were replaced late last year.)
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.
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.”
SOURCE: The Associated Press