Internet Archive is arguably one of the most important projects on the Web, with its mission to preserve the Internet and make available to the public the rich collection of all the digitized material therein: websites, music, videos, as well as public domain books.The
It's the latter - the ongoing efforts to digitize books, something that many libraries, archives, and private companies are currently undertaking, that has prompted the Internet Archive to recognize the importance of not just preserving electronic copies, but physical copies of materials as well.
The Internet Archive has observed that many libraries are moving their physical books to "off site repositories" and some are even opting to throw out books once they've been digitized. "While we understand the need to manage physical holdings," Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle says, "we believe this should be done thoughtfully and well."
And so taking the expertise gained through its digital preservation work - knowledge about how to mark up the metadata for the content, for example, as well as how to preserve the actual storage devices - the Internet Archive has decided to launch a physical archive to go alongside its electronic cultural preservation efforts.
The Internet Archive will now keep a physical copy of every book, record and movie that it is able to attract or acquire, all with the goal of making sure that there is at least one physical copy of a book or record or film preserved.
Although it has built a large storage facility in Richmond, California, this isn't a physical library per se. As before, the Internet Archive will emphasize the digital access to the content. In other words, this new physical archive isn't about retrieval or "checking out" materials, but is about long-term preservation.
Kahle likens the project to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a seed bank that is a way of "storing important objects in safe ways to be used for redundancy, authority, and in case of catastrophe."
The preservation of our digital world is already a huge undertaking, and the Internet Archive's expansion certainly compounds this. (Donate here.) While it wants to be be able to make sure there is one copy preserved of every published work, it does realize that not every text will end up in the Internet Archive's care.
Nevertheless, it has designed a system that can house and preserve over ten million items. "If we are successful," says Kahle, "then this set of cultural materials will last for centuries and could be beneficial in ways that we cannot predict" - something we already say about the Internet Archive's digital mission.