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Building Alexandria 2.0

Open Library Logo The current issue of the UK weekly The Economist has an interesting portrait of Brewster Kahle as The Internet's librarian, detailing his wider goal: to build the world’s largest digital library. The article also covers several related issues, including public domain books and universal knowledge access.

As we noted earlier, Kahle's Internet Archive wants to built a non-profit digital archive of free materials—books, films, concerts and so on—to rival the legendary Alexandrian library of antiquity. This - points out The Economist story - "has brought him into conflict with Google, the giant internet company which is pursuing a similar goal, but in a rather different (and more commercially oriented) way." [11march09]

Here are a few more excerpts from the same article:

He has recruited 135 libraries worldwide to openlibrary.org, the aim of which is to create a catalogue of every book ever published, with links to its full text where available. To that end, the Internet Archive is also digitising books on a large scale on behalf of its library partners. It scans more than 1,000 books every day, for which the libraries pay about $30 each. (The digital copy can then be made available by both parties.)

“Brewster wants everything to be free,” says Mr Courant of the University of Michigan. “So do I. But there are important trade-offs between what we collect and preserve and what we can make available.”

Although the two projects take very different approaches—one idealistic, the other pragmatic—it may be that they will end up complementing each other. Libraries can and do work with both projects. And if things with Google go sour, libraries can always go elsewhere. “If Google’s prices are too high, we can and will arrange with other players to re-scan the works. We still have the original source material,” says Mr Courant. Consumers, likewise, are free to access public-domain books in either collection.

But Mr Kahle is taking a very long-term view. Universal online access to all knowledge may not be “a goal that is going to be finished in our lifetime,” says Mr Kahle. “But if you pick a goal far enough out, people can align to it. I am not interested in building an empire. Our idea is to build the future.”

Read the full article:

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