Going Digital; March 1997; Scientific American Magazine; by Lesk; 3 Page(s)
Smack in the middle of Paris, hugging the bank of the Seine, four enormous highrises stand ready, with 395 kilometers of shelf space, to receive up to 22 million books. The French national library¿s new Tolbiac tower complex may be both the last and the first of its kind. Last because most major cities can no longer afford to construct such ambitious public works. But first because the Biblioth¿que Nationale de France will complete its move with a pi¿ce de r¿sistance: hundreds of computer workstations providing ready electronic access to the full text of 110,000 volumes covering much of French history and culture.
All over the world, libraries have begun the Herculean task of making faithful digital copies of the books, images and recordings that preserve the intellectual effort of humankind. For armchair scholars, the work promises to bring such a wealth of information to the desktop that the present Internet may seem amateurish in retrospect. But many technical, economic and legal obstacles still make that promise an uncertain one.