Save the Books

It’s a little scary to meet people who feel like hard drives are as archival as printed books.

Firstly, a dispute about the fidelity of differing digital versions of a book could be solved only by consulting an original printed copy, he says. Secondly, once technology improves, archivists may want to scan books at a higher DPI. And thirdly, digital material can degrade just as paper can: perhaps more easily, as problems such as “bit rot” and “flipped bits” can change data even if the physical hard drives are perfectly preserved.

Kahle is backed up by the well-reviewed 2001 book Double Fold: Libraries and the Attack on Paper by Nicholson Baker, which uses extensive research to argue that the microfilming boom of the 1980s and 1990s resulted in the destruction of many documents, which in his view it would have been better to preserve. He finishes by saying, ominously, that: “The second major wave of book wastage and mutilation, comparable to the microfilm wave but potentially much more extensive, is just beginning.”

According to an estimate produced by Google in 2010, there are nearly 130 million separate titles out there, and Internet Archive hopes to find storage for around 10 million of them, in various languages, as well as audio and video. The books will be packed into climate-controlled storage containers in a facility in Richmond, California, as of this month. . . .

“A seed bank might be conceptually closest to what we have in mind,” Kahle says . . .

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