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.
Brewster 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 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.”
So 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.
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.
Learn More About the New Internet Archive Physical Archive (INFOdocket; June 7, 2011)