Brewster Kahle is a man on a mission. A mission to collect every book ever published, before these literary works are lost to the ravages of time.
Kahle, a computer scientist with a degree from MIT, is most famous as the creator of the Internet Archive, a non-profit group formed in 1996 with a goal of preserving every web page ever created.
In that same archival spirit, Kahle has recently set his sights on preserving the existing written history of mankind, and he’s off to a pretty solid start.
To date, Kahle’s warehouse in Richmond, California houses 500,000 books. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 130 million tomes collected by Google in its efforts to digitize the entirety of our literature, but Kahle is heartened by the speed at which his group has been able to accrue their half-million books.
The existence of Google’s aforementioned project also causes one to question Kahle’s motivations. After all, if we’ve got the text available online, why keep their archaic dead tree iterations?
“There is always going to be a role for books,” Kahle says. “We want to see books live forever.”
“Knowledge lives in lots of different forms over time,” Kahle adds. “First it was in people’s memories, then it was in manuscripts, then printed books, then microfilm, CD-ROMS, now on the digital Internet. Each one of these generations is very important.”
The key difference, Kahle says, between his project and something like the Library of Congress is that while the latter is a real library, his project is “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,” the AP reports.
While I support the idea of preserving knowledge in any form, I’m not entirely sure that Kahle’s project is actually all that necessary. I mean, what sort of catastrophe is going to destroy the massively redundant storage systems Google has its book collection stored on and the Library of Congress and any other such large book collection that we might have to crack open Kahle’s vault to get another look at how Ahab finally speared that stupid whale?
By that point, I imagine that whatever took out those other massively well-protected archives will have reduced humanity to carbon and ash.