Mmmm…Shall I send a copy of my book Birthing the Elephant to Brewster Kahle out in California? He’s the mastermind behind an ambitious plan to save copies of books even as many of them are being digitized out of existence. He’s been called a “latter-day Noah” — and with good reason. Using $3 million of his own money, he’s created a repository for books in a small community just north of San Francisco.
A Silicon Valley entrepreneur who struck gold when he sold a data-mining company to Amazon.com, Brewster is the founder of the Internet Archive, a nonprofit that has digitized two million books. But he also has a deep fondness for traditional printing — one of his sons is named after an 18th century type designer. And so he came up with the idea of storing books once they were scanned. “We want to collect one copy of every book. You can never tell what is going to paint the portrait of a culture.”
Libraries, academic institutions, and individuals are all enthusiastically embracing Brewster’s mission — and sending him tons of books and films. Every week, 20,000 more volumes arrive. They’re donated by people and institutions who want to make more room on their shelves, but are eager to see physical books preserved instead of discarded. Brewster now has 500,000 volumes tucked away; his goal is 10 million.
What inspired Brewster to undertake this ambitious mission? It’s the old story: love and loss. “We must keep the past even as we’re inventing a new future. 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.”
Wow! Just imagine if we had more plays from Euripides and more words of wisdom from Aristotle. How much richer the world would be. Bravo, Brewster!