Brewster Kahle, the fellow behind the Internet Archive, is in the process of gathering together every book ever published for safe storage against a future where the prevalence of digital media has utterly devalued physical texts… The Associated Press describes the undertaking as something more akin to The Svalbard Global Seed Vault than the Library of Congress — these books aren’t being saved for lending, they’re being stored for the future.
I think people have been predicting the death of printed books since the Kindle was first announced, but the sort of hysteria that is implied by this article seems a bit over-the-top to me. Does Kahle honestly think there will be some kind of bookpocalypse in which every library in the world will suddenly decide to destroy their books and go digital only? I can’t imagine either the Library of Congress or the British Library or, indeed, my own UT Health Science Center library would do such a thing. As much as my library has been transitioning towards eJournals and eBooks, we are still receiving many printed journals and books and have no plans to stop doing so. Khale is proposing is proposing the antithesis of a library: a book museum, some sort of repository for curious, redundant objects that future generations can come ogle and examine to get an idea of how more primitive humans lived.
“Can you believe they actually printed every single word on paper? How quaint!”
One of the most haunting things I have ever read is James D. Griffioen’s Story of the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository. In it he writes, “Someday the books will tumble from the shelves at the Bodleian and there will be no one to replace them.” Do I think this is realistically possible? No, not in my lifetime. Not as long as I am there to stop it. Like the last Vestal Virgin, I will tend the flame until Rome falls down around my ears. But obviously people think that this sterile electronic digital world without books is where we are headed as a society.
I’ve been accused by people of living in the past because I own both a Kindle and an iPad and use neither to read books. In fact, my Kindle sits unloved in its box, used only occasionally by my mother when she can’t get Large Print editions from the library. I’ve tried to like using eReaders. I have really, honestly tried. While I can recognize their utility in some circumstances for some people, I personally do not like using them. I need the feel and smell of paper to completely my reading experience.
Right now I have a 100 year old book tucked inside my purse (one of that same set of Dumas novels I have mentioned before). I don’t want to be part of a society that needs warehouses and museums for books like that because all other physical books have been destroyed.