U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The Future of the Book

In connection with my post from two weeks ago about the fate of the codex in a digital age, I found this article from today’s New York Times especially pertinent:  “In a Flood Tide of Digital Data, an Ark Full of Books.”

It’s an endearing story about a guy in southern northern California who is taking it upon himself to preserve a copy of every single book.  While his project itself may seem Noahically naive — all those combustible books in one big wooden warehouse? — the motivation behind it seems sensible enough:

Mr. Kahle had the idea for the physical archive while working on the Internet Archive, which has digitized two million books. With a deep dedication to traditional printing — one of his sons is named Caslon, after the 18th-century type designer — he abhorred the notion of throwing out a book once it had been scanned. The volume that yielded the digital copy was special. 
And perhaps essential. What if, for example, digitization improves and we need to copy the books again? 
“Microfilm and microfiche were once a utopian vision of access to all information,” Mr. Kahle noted, “but it turned out we were very glad we kept the books.”

The conversion — or, as some would have it, transubstantiation — of printed texts to some other medium is not new, nor is the destruction of those texts once they have been scanned

I have nothing against digitized, indexed, full-text searchable copies of printed works.  Scan them all, I say.  But for heaven’s sake — or the future’s — keep a hard copy. 

As for me, I will not be sending (or willing) my library, such as it is, to the Physical Archive of the Internet Archive.   I’m a big believer in redundancy.  So I will find someone who wants my books for keeps, and who knows how to use them, and I’ll hand them along.

In the meantime, if the zombie apocalypse strikes, I have plenty of reading material that can double as a barricade.  And, unlike Burgess Meredith, I also have a backup pair of glasses.

5 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Thank you Ryan. Having grown up in Northern California, and having driven across the Bay Bridge innumerable times, I am downright puzzled as to why I transposed him to LaLa Land. Sheesh.

  2. Thanks for the Twilight Zone/Burgess Meredith reference. I vaguely remember the episode (not having watched them since early 1980s reruns. – TL

  3. THis was a nie post to read the same week we got a collection of books from a gentleman who lived in town and passed away recently. His wife did not want all of his history related books so she donated them to us. We will have students go through the collection and make sure anything we don’t have ends up in the library and anything we do have (that is in good condition) we will give away to the students. A great gift to the institution, our department, our students, and to fellow lovers of the printed word.

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