Carton 12 of 12 in the big move.

It costs more beer to get a dozen boxes of books carried across a front lawn than it takes to get a six-hundred-pound hide-a-bed couch shoved through a front door.

“ANOTHER box of books?” groaned the friends who were helping us move, as I handed over the last carton.

“It’s just paperbacks,” I said. “Did I mention there‘s beer?”

By the time we moved into our current house, I’d been amassing reading material for about 25 years. I am now 40 years into my collection. New selections are added and familiar tomes recycled continuously. I thought the Thompson library was pretty impressive until I read about Brewster Kahle’s little project to save the world’s books.

Kahle is an Internet entrepreneur whose goal is to collect one copy of every book ever published. With more books going digital, he wondered what was going to happen to all the hard copies? Now, he and his staff of 150 helpers are packing them away for safe-keeping in shipping containers in a warehouse in Richmond, California. They’re being digitized first but should something happen to the electronic copies, the physical ones, with covers and spines and pages you can turn the corners back on, will still exist. Kahle’s crew has half a million squirreled away already with a goal of 10 million altogether.

The number of books published since publishing began is many times more than 10 million. So how does he decide what to keep? For my own culling criteria, if I look at the book’s cover and know the butler did it with a candlestick in the dining room after finding out the mysterious woman he was having an affair with is really his cousin, it can go. But if I scan the book jacket and find one tidbit I don’t remember reading, it’s a keeper. My old books are usually passed along to other readers but there was one book that sucked so badly I actually threw it away. If I could have tracked down every copy of it and shredded them all to save the reading public from trudging through such crap, I would have. At least I was able to save one unsuspecting thrift store bibliophile from making the same mistake I did.

You can learn more about Kahle’s project at the Internet Archives, an online respository which includes archived text, video and audio. Another great resource for free audio books and stories no longer in print is Librivox, a site for which I’ve actually recorded some selections.

Mr. Kahle, best of luck to you in your efforts. I can’t imagine how much beer money it’s costing you to get the job done.

If you were saving hard copy books from extinction, what book would you make sure made it into the archives?

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Comments
  1. Sounds like an impressive project, hopefully not like the library at Alexandria, which perished in flame. For books to save, how about The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco? 🙂 I’d help you move books without complaining for beer and borrowing rights!

    • I’d have to salvage Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and pretty much anything from Ray Bradbury. You and I could never move books together; we’d end up sitting on the lawn drinking beer and reading them. Which sounds like a delightul way to spend an afternoon.

  2. Nisha says:

    Which books would I save? Old copies of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, since it is the oldest book in ‘English’ still in existence.
    I wonder if Kahle’s collection includes non-fiction, or is it mainly fiction and religious texts? I think if anything happened to the world, the preservation of some non-fiction books would prove valuable to future generations.

    • Good call on Canterbury Tales, Nisha! Haven’t thought about that since high school. I’ll see if I can find a comprehensive list of what he’s collecting; I’m interested to see what’s on it as well.

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