Storing Books against Digital Disaster

It was interesting to read that there is an effort to store physical books so that they will be available in the event that there is a catastrophe that might wipe out all electronic versions or in case the Library of Congress were destroyed.

In an article by David Streitfeld, “In a Flood Tide of Digital Data, an Ark Full of Books,” on the front page of The New York Times of March 4, 2012, the reporter describes a project in Richmond, California whereby books are stored in 40-foot shipping containers in a warehouse. You can find the article at

The project is a brainchild of Brewster Kahle. Mr. Kahle is the founder of the Internet Archive, which is “devoted to preserving Web pages … and making texts more widely available.” Despite—or perhaps because of—his experience with the Web, Mr. Kahle is committed to preserving some 10 million books in his repository.

Information storage and retrieval expert Michel Lesk thinks that the probability of a massive loss of digital information, such as envisaged by Kahle, is very low, as would be the need to re-digitize all those books.

It is interesting to equate Kahle’s effort with what I saw done in preparation for Y2K. There was a real fear that business records, such as customer lists and financial records would be destroyed or corrupted because of the Year 2000 issue of misinterpreting the year as the millennium date rolled over from 1999 to 2000. Such fears may well have been realized had not so much effort been put into application code remediation. The firm for which I was working took the trouble to print out all current critical business information stored in computers and stored the reports offsite just in case the electronic records became inaccessible. Fortunately the loss of data did not occur, but it could have.

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