After having written about the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) recently, it’s only fair that I should write about the Internet Archive as well. (Brewster Kahle, founder of Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive, is actually on the DPLA Steering Committee, so the two organizations are linked.) The Internet Archive is, quite simply, an Internet library. It is a nonprofit and was founded in 1996, so it’s been around for some time now.
One of its cool features is the “Wayback Machine,” which allows you to plug in a URL and pick a date to see what a given website looked like, say, ten years ago (if it was around then).
Amazon.com was around in 2002; let’s see what it looked like, shall we?
A little different than it looks today.
So the Wayback Machine is fun to play with (also, useful). And the Internet Archive’s digital library is a great project; but just in case digital copies aren’t enough, Kahle is also building a physical library (or, as The New York Times poetically puts it, an ark). “In case of digital disaster,” the article states, Kahle’s goal is to collect one copy of every book. Kahle said, “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. One copy in one institution is not good enough.”
Considering how many various file formats and digital storage options we have already gone through in the past few decades, keeping one hard copy of every book isn’t a bad idea. Think about it: if you have some files on a floppy drive from 1998, can you still access them? And if you can’t access them, do they really exist, practically speaking? Whereas a book printed at the birth of the printing press hundreds of years ago can still be read by pretty much anyone (well, anyone patient enough to make their way through a whole variety of spellings).