[permaculture] [Fwd: The biggest library ever built | Ben Macintyre - Times Online]

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lflj at intrex.net
Sun Nov 25 05:45:37 EST 2007

 From The Times
November 16, 2007
The biggest library ever built
Ptolemy's great book collection at Alexandria had nothing on what is being compiled on the internet
Ben Macintyre


Today I can select any one of hundreds of thousands of digitised books from the Bodleian, including some
of its rarest treasures, and read them on a computer screen. I can do this when the library is closed. I can do it
without authorisation. I can do it from Antarctica, so long as I have an internet link.

Over the past four years, in partnership with Google, the Bodleian and a number of other great libraries have gradually
been transferring their holdings into digital, searchable form. By next year, the Bodleian will have put half a million
books online. According to one estimate, Google is digitising books at the rate of ten million a year, and it is not
alone. Microsoft, Yahoo! and Amazon are all taking part in what amounts to a digital-literary goldrush.


This digitising of human knowledge is the most profound cultural event since the invention of the printing press itself.
In the third century BC the librarians of Alexandria sought to collect “books of all the peoples of the world”, and
amassed perhaps half a million scrolls. But even the library at Alexandria was thought to contain perhaps as little as a
third of all the books then written.

The great Internet Library is more ambitious: it may one day contain the entire written culture, not just all the books,
but countless millions of articles, half a million films, and billions of web pages. Kevin Kelly, “senior maverick” of
Wired magazine, recently predicted in The New York Times that the online library would eventually contain “the entire
works of humankind, from the beginning of recorded history, in all languages, available to all people, all the time”.
Technology has made achievable what the librarians of Alexandria could only dream of: one vast, searchable,
all-encompassing book, the complete history of the race.


Yet a vast database containing almost all the texts of the past, the good and the bad, the memorable and the forgotten,
has the capacity to change the collective cultural memory. A single search will be able to produce an entire shelf of
online references, linking together subjects and texts not just by specific words, but by footnotes, citations and
bibliographies, forging new families and communities of ideas. In the past, the visitor to a library could read only one
book at a time: now, with a sophisticated search engine, the books can be made to consult one another.


Libraries die when people forget what is in them: they thrive when we are reminded of their riches, and so far from
eroding our physical contact with ancient books, the great online library currently amassing its collection will surely
revive that relationship.

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