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.
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.