Internet Archive Begins Backing Up Books on Paper. Huh??


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With the move to the digital age, a person can easily figure that backups of books would mean a copy of the digital file on several hard drives. After all, we normally hear about the shift to digitizing books -- scanning them so they're available online rather than in hard copy. But in an interesting flip, Internet Archive has decided to store one hard copy of every book ever printed in the entire world. It sounds odd, but it makes perfect sense. Storing Paper Books for Posterity -- Like Seed Banks
The Internet Archive writes that after digitizing a book from a library to provide online access for readers, some libraries would move these hard copy books to off-site repositories. And at least one library (but likely more) were tossing the books that had already been digitized.

However, the Internet Archive feels that the original hard copy should be saved as a reference should there be any issues with the digital version. And that's why they decided to start keeping an archive of hard copy books as well as digital books:

The computer hard disks, while holding digital data, are still physical objects. As such we archive them as they retire after their 3-5 year lifetime. Similarly, we also archive microfilm, which was a previous generation's access format. So hard drives are just another physical format that stores information. This connection showed us that physical archiving is still an important function in a digital era.

The Internet Archive likens the project to a seed bank, "storing important objects in safe ways to be used for redundancy, authority, and in case of catastrophe."

Digital Storage Isn't Perfect
Anyone who has experienced their computer's hard drive crashing without a backup is likely sympathetic to the project. And anyone who has ever worked on digital archive projects, you'll probably recognize the intelligence of the plan.

Ars Technica writes, "Another reason for keeping a physical copy, and one that Kahle doesn't mention, is that the problem of long-term digital storage still isn't completely solved. The cloud as a large-scale storage medium has only recently emerged, and it's definitely not perfect as a long-term archival medium. Digital archivists have long pointed out that given a sufficient length of time, data loss is a problem even for highly redundant, highly available, distributed storage systems. Apart from the well-known phenomenon of bit rot, bits can get flipped for any number of reasons as they traverse a network and multiple software stacks, and ECC and other failsafes don't catch 100 percent of these errors. So on a long enough time horizon with a large-enough, complex-enough system, these undetected, flipped bits will begin to accumulate."

Internet Archive expects to tore as many as 10 million books out of 100 million published, which will go into climate-controlled storage containers in Richmond, CA. They're starting with donations from libraries, collectors, and individuals. As books come in, they're digitized and then carefully stored.

So while the debate rages on about whether it is preferable to read a book on an electronic reader or in ink-on-paper form, there is no debating this point: digital is great but we still need paper books -- or at least a few of each.

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