Andy Potts, ‘The internet’s librarian’
Potts, A. (2009) ‘The internet’s librarian’, The Economist [Online]. Available at http://www.economist.com/node/13174399 (Accessed 9 June 2014).
For a man who has set himself a seemingly impossible mission, Brewster Kahle seems remarkably laid back. Relaxing in the black leather recliner that serves as his office chair, his stockinged feet wriggling with evident enthusiasm, the founder of the Internet Archive explains what has driven him for more than a decade. “We are trying to build Alexandria 2.0,” says Mr Kahle with a wide-eyed, boyish grin. Sure, and plenty of people are trying to abolish hunger, too.
It would be easy to dismiss Mr Kahle as an idealistic fruitcake, but for one thing: he has an impressive record when it comes to setting lofty goals and then lining up the people and technology needed to get the job done. “Brewster is a visionary who looks at things differently,” says Carole Moore, chief librarian at the University of Toronto. “He is able to imagine doing things that everyone else thinks are impossible. But then he does them.”
Mr Kahle is an unostentatious millionaire who does not “wear his money on clothes”, as one acquaintance graciously puts it. But behind his dishevelled demeanour is a skilled technologist, an ardent activist and a successful serial entrepreneur. Having founded and sold technology companies to AOL and Amazon, he has now devoted himself to building a non-profit digital archive of free materials—books, films, concerts and so on—to rival the legendary Alexandrian library of antiquity. This 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.
But all these things are steps towards Mr Kahle’s wider goal: to build the world’s largest digital library. 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.)