Thursday, February 21, 2008

Preliminary thoughts on Brewster Kahle

Okay, this is going to have to be a short post because it is getting very late, but after reading this interview with Brewster Kahle, I am completely stoked on libraries. I love this question and answer:

As a “digital librarian” and an Internet pioneer, how do you view the library system?

I see the library system in this country as a $12 billion industry dedicated to preservation and access of materials that are not mediated through a corporate experience. You don't have to sign a nondisclosure form to come up with a new idea in a library. In libraries, materials are preserved in original form, uncensored. The alternative is that the materials people learn from are forever mediated by a relatively small number of commercial companies in terms of selection and presentation. This is one of the biggest issues facing libraries in the future: what services will they perform, and what services will be performed by companies or by nonprofits acting like companies. If all content is moderated by a few companies in the digital world, we'll have a giant bookstore rather than a library system.

He knows how to go straight to my heart: Pro-free, uncensored, unmediated information and anti-commercial.

I have mixed feelings about Google. One the one hand, it is a wonderful search engine, and they have lots of really awesome stuff, like Gmail. On the other hand, they have so much power, and while they haven't been too irresponsible so far (I don't think), I am very wary about one company having so much control. I'm sure many of Google's employees have excellent intentions, but as a for-profit and publicly traded company, the primary goal is to make money, which can lead to lots of problems. I haven't spent of a lot of time on the Googlization of Everything, but I'll be interested to read more about this specific issue of Google's power.

Back to Brewster Kahle, the Open Content Alliance sounds wonderful. Books should be digitized, and we need to make it open, free of digital rights management, and accessible to all.

Random information I have learned about Brewster Kahle recently: He is a major donor to Streetside Stories. Also, he (or his people) are able to make an exabyte of space fit in a shipping container. (A terabyte is a thousand gigabytes, a petabyte is a thousand terabytes, and an exabyte is a thousand petabytes. That's a lot, folks.) I'm not sure what the implications of this are, but judging by the reactions of the computer science people I was with, this is impressive.

Another quote (also from "Scan This Book!"):

We have to recognize that it's not only possible but it is our responsibility to bring digital services to the world. If we can build this next generation in the open, the same way the open network and the open software infrastructure of the Internet developed, it will be the librarians' day. Media companies, the Googles and Microsofts, they will play their roles. They'll bring things to hundreds of millions. But they will never bring things to our patrons the way we can as librarians.
I'm really excited to hear him talk. One question I have is what do they do to protect all this data they're archiving? What do they do to make sure it won't be lost? Do they back it up all the time? Do they have servers spread out geographically? I can just imagine a giant magnet falling on their roof and erasing everything (okay, that probably wouldn't happen, but something along those lines). It's a lot easier to erase digital information, especially accidentally, than it is to destroy a paper book (which this article brings up). This is something I've thought about when people talk about blogs as future historical archives. How do we know it will stay online, especially if someone else is hosting it? Google is doing pretty well for itself now, but things change so fast that it could disappear, along with every blog hosted by Blogger, in just a few years. People who are careful will save it and post it somewhere new, but think of all that could be lost. Web pages can require active maintenance - I know I've had web pages which no longer exist, and many of the web sites I frequented in my early teens aren't there any more. This is why something like the Internet Archive is so wonderful, but they'll have to guard their data carefully. This is another reason it's so good that their work is DRM-free, so if something happens to Internet Archive, their work can still be used by other people.


david silver said...

great post amber - i share your excitement for good, free stuff and i share your excitement for tonight's talk. let's talk more about streetside stories - and let's figure out a way to collaborate. see you this evening.

Mary said...

Hey, one of my classmates has worked for the BPL for 19 years. Trufax!! He said he could hook us up with a study space if we wanted (like. he would even let us bring COFFEE inside, I think! O.O)

The name "Brewster Kahle" always makes me think of Arsenic and Old Lace (the name Brewster is code for Roosevelt, you know!)

Amber said...

You can't bring coffee into a library! What if you spilled? Hey, maybe your classmate could hook me up with a job. :)

We should watch Arsenic and Old Lace again sometime. CHARGE!