A Library to Last Forever [NYT Op Ed]
Op Ed by SERGEY BRIN - Co-founder of Google
New York Times: “THE fundamental reasons why the electric car has not attained the popularity it deserves are (1) The failure of the manufacturers to properly educate the general public regarding the wonderful utility of the electric; (2) The failure of [power companies] to make it easy to own and operate the electric by an adequate distribution of charging and boosting stations. The early electrics of limited speed, range and utility produced popular impressions which still exist.”
This quotation would hardly surprise anyone who follows electric vehicles. But it may be surprising to hear that in the year when it was written thousands of electric cars were produced and that year was nearly a century ago. This appeared in a 1916 issue of the journal Electrical World, which I found in Google Books, our searchable repository of millions of books. It may seem strange to look back a hundred years on a topic that is so contemporary, yet I often find that the past has valuable lessons for the future. In this case, I was lucky — electric vehicles were studied and written about extensively early in the 20th century, and there are many books on the subject from which to choose. Because books published before 1923 are in the public domain, I am able to view them easily.
But the vast majority of books ever written are not accessible to anyone except the most tenacious researchers at premier academic libraries. Books written after 1923 quickly disappear into a literary black hole. With rare exceptions, one can buy them only for the small number of years they are in print. After that, they are found only in a vanishing number of libraries and used book stores. As the years pass, contracts get lost and forgotten, authors and publishers disappear, the rights holders become impossible to track down.