Home » post » BPE 2007 – Brewster Kahle

Our mission

Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

BPE 2007 – Brewster Kahle

As I mentioned in my previous posting on the 2007 Best Practices Exchange, we had two keynote speakers.

Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive was our second keynote and was an inspiration for those of us trying to be good custodians of electronic government information. Brewster told us that our generation had the opportunity to build “Universal Access to All Knowledge” that will be “Free to All.” He then worked his way through different kinds of tangible media to demonstrate how they could be digitized cheaply and easily. He waived away copyright concerns, which I accepted since he was talking in terms of technology.

I found Brewster most convincing about digitizing audio and video. He estimated that it would take roughly 20-40 million dollars to digitize existing analog audio and noted that the Internet Archive already had 100,000 items in over 100 collections. Moving images could be scanned at the rate of $200/hr and video for $15/hr.

I found him the least convincing about digitizing text, even though he seemingly spent the most effort on it.

Briefly, he stated that the Library of Congress held 28 million books containing about 28TB of data. At the current cost of hard disk storage, just $60,000 would be enough to store all 28 million books. The Internet Archive has been able to make great strides in digitizing equipment and Brewster said that they can digitize 12,000 books a month at a cost of $30/book. He stated that at those costs, the entire LC collection could be scanned for approximately $800,000,000, a very reasonable figure.

However, he failed to mention that at a rate of 12,000 books a month, it would take a little over 194 years to digitize 28 million books. That figure might have been in the back of Brewster’s mind because he stated that although $800 million would be enough to digitize all of the Library of Congress, digitizing one million books might be enough to significantly advance knowledge. This figure could be accomplished in as little as seven years and aside from social/political concerns is very doable.

About those concerns, Brewster faced them head on after taking us through the technology. He quoted someone as saying that “technology is easy, people are hard!” He talked about the Internet Archives work in fighting the seemingly
unlimited extensions of copyright and their efforts bringing orphan works into the public domain. He framed the issue as one of whether the future should be public or private; open or proprietary. Perhaps the right phrase, Brewster suggested is “public or perish.” He certainly won’t get an argument from us folks at Free Government Information on that.

A few other items from his talk:

  • The $100 laptop is real. Well, it’s $175, but it is real and has a very clear readout. Brewster passed around a laptop with a children’s e-book on it. You paged through it with buttons.
  • The Internet Archive has developed a bookbinding machine that can print books fro $0.01/page or a 300 page book for $3.00. We saw slides of the machine in action in the developing world. We saw a finished product and it seemed like a decent binding.
  • A library at the University of Illinois is scanning items from their microfilm collection at the rate of 10-30 reels a day. Internet Archive provided the scanning equipment free and the library provides staffing.

You should have been there. If you get the chance to listen to Brewster, take
it! The next best thing is looking at his presentation
. Or watch him speak at the Library of Congress in 2002.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.