Skip to main content

Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, a non-profit dedicated to "building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form", has broadened his preservation efforts to include the physical realm as well as the digital.  He purchased a wooden warehouse just north of San Francisco to act as a repository for books, and he has spent $3 million thus far purchasing and operating the facility.  Kahle's goal is to "collect one copy of every book", and libraries and institutions are delighted to donate materials to the Physical Archive of the Internet Archive rather than recycle unwanted books and periodicals.  (And there are certainly a lot of unused/"unwanted" books out there—the repository receives about 20,000 new volumes a week.) Some may question the value of some material in the repository—"All New Crafts for Halloween" and "What to Do When Your Son or Daughter Divorces" were two recently received titles—but Mr. Kahle believes that "you can never tell what is going to paint the portrait of a culture."  The repository was modeled after the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which "holds 740,000 seed samples as a safety net for biodiversity", and Mr. Kahle hopes that his work on the Internet Archive and the Physical Archive of the Internet Archive will help him realize the lofty goal of creating a "library that would offer universal access to all knowledge". “We must keep the past even as we’re inventing a new future,” Kahle said. “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.”  

In a Flood Tide of Digital Data, an Ark Full of Books