I was in a Printing house in Hell and saw the method in which knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation. —Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
With my colleague Neil Fraistat, I recently paid a visit to the Internet Archive in San Francisco’s Presidio, where we had the privilege of listening to chief digital librarian Brewster Khale explain their books scanning process.
By the way, if you’ve never read Blake, hell is a much more interesting place than heaven.
Trust me, it’s where you’d want to be.
The “Scribe” scanner, custom built. Books are held open by the weight of the V-shaped glass plates, and automatically centered for the camera by springs. A foot pedal raises and lowers the glass. Pages are turned by hand. The Internet Archive currently has 213,000+ books scanned, and they’re averaging about 12,000 more a month.
The bits go here. A sample Internet Archive server rack, encompassing a petabyte of storage. A petabyte is 1000 terabytes, and a terabyte is 1000 gigabytes.
Printing and binding station. Via duplex printing, the Internet Archive derives print-on-demand copies of the digital book files in their collection. These are distributed by BookMobiles, among other channels.
The Internet Archive edition of Washington Irving’s Old Christmas. The books are also, of course, available in a variety of electronic formats, including plain text, PDF, and a graphical page-flip format.
When I studied critical theory at the University of Virginia in the mid-1990s there were some of us who took the course with E. D. Hirsch and some of us who took it with Richard Rorty. But many of us took the course from one and audited the other’s lectures. Which is what I did.
There were a lot of Rorty anecdotes that made their way around the graduate student grapevine then, but what I remember best was the culture of open argumentation from his classes. “If you people don’t talk back to me we’re all going to be bored to death,” he announced on the first day. The other thing anyone who ever met him will remember is the amazing shock of white hair and the deep, gravelly voice. He was not the most important teacher I ever had, but my memories of him and those classes remain strong. He was a strong man and a strong mind.
I’m sure many of you have already seen them, but I wanted to make note of these two demos. Both are breathtaking.
Just back from a week in Urbana-Champaign, where I had a fantastic experience at Digital Humanities 2007 and associated project meetings, all held within the hallowed halls of NCSA, home to at least a medium-sized army of fabulously smart people (some of whom, amazingly, are collaborators on the aforementioned project).
Below are a couple of shameless instances of hacker tourism (yes, we got to gawk at the supercomputing clusters in the machine room).