March 5, 2012

Internet Archive to archive all books


As detailed in this New York Times report by David Streitfeld, the 15-year-old non-profit Internet Archive has started a hugely ambitious project to assemble and scan all of the world’s printed books. According to Brewster Kahle, the founder of Internet Archive, “We want to collect one copy of every book… You can never tell what is going to paint the portrait of a culture.”

Kahle has already collected 500,000 volumes at a Richmond, California, facility and hopes to eventually collect 10 million books, as well as periodicals and films.

One surprise: much of the material being acquired for the archive is donated by other libraries, which no longer have the resources or space to store physical material. As detailed by the Times, recent donations have come from the Burlingame Public Library (which donated a large collection of magazines) and Pennsylvania State University (which donated more than 5,000 16mm films).

Modeling the new book collection on the Internet Archive’s biggest online project (which archives internet pages and keeps a mirror of their files with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina), Kahle is not only storing books but also scanning them and distributing them to other institutions. Before going to storage, some of the books, “travel 12,000 miles to China. The Chinese, who are keen to build a digital library, will scan the books for themselves and the archive and then send them back. The digital texts will be available for the visually impaired and other legal purposes.”

Kahle wants to avoid any chance of his collection being lost: “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.”


Kelly Burdick is the executive editor of Melville House.