Brewster Kahle wants to preserve one copy of every book ever published.
Every week he adds 20,000 books to his Physical Archive of the Internet Archive in Richmond, California.
“You can never tell what is going to paint the portrait of a culture,” Kahle told the New York Times in an interview for a Sunday cover story.
Is he serious? Yes. The Times reported that he has spent over $3,000,000 of his own money on the project.
He’s no Luddite trying to escape the digital world. Kahle made a fortune building a Silicon Valley data mining company which he sold to Amazon in 1999. In 1996 he founded The Internet Archive which has to date preserved 150 billion web pages and digitized two million books.
So why create an archive for physical books?
“We must keep the past even as we’re inventing a new future,” he told David Strietfeld of the Times. “If the Library of Alexandria had made a copy of every book and sent it to India or China, we’d have the other works of Aristotle, the other plays of Euripides. One copy in one institution is not good enough.”
He explains in an Internet Archive Blog post, Why Preserve Books? “A reason to preserve the physical book that has been digitized is that it is the authentic and original version that can be used as a reference in the future. If there is ever a controversy about the digital version, the original can be examined.
“If we are successful, then this set of cultural materials will last for centuries and could be beneficial in ways that we cannot predict.”
Kahle’s project may sound like a quixotic undertaking, but maybe not.
In 2009 Dag Spicer, curator of the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley told David Pouge in another NY Times interview, Should You Worry About Data Rot? that digital preservation can be problematic. He said, “Consider paper as an archival medium. Some paper we have has lasted thousands of years. If Moses had gotten the Ten Commandments on a floppy disk, it would never have made it to today.”