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A Seed Vault for Culture?

by Charlotte Hajer on March 19th, 02012

Not sure what to do with your old paperbacks now that the latest bestsellers are available in electronic format? According to a recent article in the New York Times, Brewster Kahle would be happy to take them off your hands.

Kahle, a former SALT speaker, is undertaking the monumental task of collecting – and preserving – a hard copy of every book ever printed. From world-famous works of literature to long-forgotten obscurities, Kahle stores them all in a large Bay Area warehouse, so they’ll be ready for the readers of the next millennium.

As founder of the Internet Archive, an online repository of web pages and other texts that is open to the general public, Kahle is committed to preserving information and knowledge for future generations. But as the New York Times writes, he wants to do more than simply scan old books into electronic format. While the world increasingly relies on digital data, Kahle believes that our best bet for long-term preservation may lie in old-fashioned bound paper and ink. A tangible original can ensure us that information will never be lost in the cracks of digital transformation – or worse, disaster:

“We must keep the past even as we’re inventing a new future,” [Kahle] said. “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.”

The Long Now’s Rosetta Project shares Kahle’s interest in the long-term archiving and accessibility of knowledge. In fact, the project’s expanding library of language documentation has been included in the Internet Archive as a special collection. And at Long Now, we too are interested in the longevity of non-digital backup: the micro-etched nickel Rosetta Disk has been designed to last until readers in the year 12,012 are ready to explore our second-millennium languages!