Library Project saves out-of-print books

In the past weeks the technology world has been focused on digital books. Amazon’s Kindle, a hand-held e-book reader that comes with a service for downloading books and newspapers, was released to a frenzied media. Just over a week later Carnegie Mellon announced that its Universal Digital Library Project has now surpassed 1.5 million books.

While we know trying to stop technology is frequently a futile task, we’re still wary of plans that separate words from paper. While the convenience of being able to have any book nearly instantly or bringing one’s entire library in the portable size of a single book on vacation is appealing, there are some chilling realities that sound more like details in a dystopian future.

For example, from a design perspective, the Kindle has only one typeface, which means every book will look the same, a uniformity impossible to find in a physical library. Also according to the Kindle Terms of Service, Amazon can track which books you have read, including how long you read them, what page you leave off on, and if you make any notes or markings in your digital volumes. Most disturbing, however, is that as the device is always passively connected, nothing stops Amazon from updating the content of your book. From a typo or a poorly worded sentence to the removal or addition of whole chapters and characters, they can rewrite your favorite novel without limitations.

The Universal Digital Library Project, led by Carnegie Mellon, holds the better position on the topic of archival honesty. Its mission statement involves providing free access to all of human knowledge and protecting the integrity and availability of the data. While many of the books they scan are under copyright and cannot currently be viewed online, their sights are certainly set for the long term. Yet even as this is presently the best way to form a repository of human literature, we question what is lost as we digitize all of the world’s books. However, once books go out of print, they seem to disappear. The benefit of the Universal Digital Library Project is that it preserves these books in an online format.

So as the bibliophiles we are, we plan to keep acquiring books in their present form for as long as we can and revelling when we find any typo, an unchangeable reminder of humanity in print.