Internet archivist seeks 1 of every book written:
Brewster Kahle 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 published.
"There 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 forever." CONTINUED
I love books: not just the printed word, but their feel, their weight, even their scent. I like picking out an old volume in the University of Iowa library stacks, wondering if I'm the first person in years to crack the book's covers. For me, there's no greater joy than stretching out in my favorite chair on a cold winter's day, coffee in one hand and paperback in the other (and in flannel pants, no less). Thus, I shudder when I see bookstores close, big and small alike (a moment of silence for Borders).
Alas, I must grudgingly admit ebooks have their place: for example, my brother--a network security officer and Linux guru--keeps a Kindle filled with technical books at work. Easier to bring the Kindle with him to a job site for reference than to lug around a dufflebag packed with arcane volumes. eBooks also keep backlists in "print," meaning authors can continue to profit on older works (and I won't begrudge writers profiting from their work).
But I'm not ready to give up ink stains on my fingers, or allergy-inducing mold wafting off of old tomes. I'm not ready to give up my bookshelves, where topics are sorted, spines are carefully arranged, and curated collections offer visitors insight on my personal and professional interests: my identity in book form, if you will. And no matter how well eBook readers mimic the look of paper, I'm not ready to stare at screens all day for all my entertainment needs.
Returning to the article, I will concede, though, that books are fragile things. Even with the best climate control, how long can a given book ultimately live?
Then again, books have lasted for centuries, while various digital media have gone the way of the dodo in very short order. In fact, I have some writings squirreled away on 3.5 floppies, which I can't open since I no longer have a 3.5 floppy drive (I'm keeping the disks just in case).
As awesome as digital storage is, perhaps bytes are just as fragile as paper--perhaps even more so, given rapid technological obsolescence, and people's usual failure to back up files and then trip over power cords. To put it another way, odds are I'll never lose my books, barring a home fire. Yet, I could digitize my entire library onto a single beefy USB drive, and then lose every succulent word in an instant through mechanical failure or user error. In the digital age, the delete key is far more dangerous than fire.
All that said, I'm signing off to go read a book--a real book, one made of paper, with the heady scent of pulp, imagination and Starbucks coffee.