How the Internet Archive Digitizes 3,500 Books a Day–the Hard Way, One Page at a Time

Does turning the pages of an old book excite you? How about 3 million pages? That’s how many pages Eliza Zhang has scanned over her ten years with the Internet Archive, using Scribe, a specialized scanning machine invented by Archive engineers over 15 years ago. “Listening to 70s and 80s R&B while she works,” Wendy Hanamura writes at the Internet Archive blog, “Eliza spends a little time each day reading the dozens of books she handles. The most challenging part of her job? ‘Working with very old, fragile books.”

The fragile state and wide variety of the millions of books scanned by Zhang and the seventy-or-so other Scribe operators explains why this work has not been automated. “Clean, dry human hands are the best way to turn pages,” says Andrea Mills, one of the leaders of the digitization team. “Our goal is to handle the book once and to care for the original as we work with it.”

Raising the glass with a foot pedal, adjusting the two cameras, and shooting the page images are just the beginning of Eliza’s work. Some books, like the Bureau of Land Management publication featured in the video, have myriad fold-outs. Eliza must insert a slip of paper to remind her to go back and shoot each fold-out page, while at the same time inputting the page numbers into the item record. The job requires keen concentration.

If this experienced digitizer accidentally skips a page, or if an image is blurry, the publishing software created by our engineers will send her a message to return to the Scribe and scan it again.

It’s not a job for the easily bored; “It takes concentration and a love of books,” says Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle. The painstaking process allows digitizers to preserve valuable books online while maintaining the integrity of physical copies. “We do not disbind the books,” says Kahle, a method that has allowed them to partner with hundreds of institutions around the world, digitizing 28 million texts over two decades. Many of those books are rare and valuable, and many have been deemed of little or no value. “Increasingly,” writes the Archive’s Chris Freeland, “the Archive is preserving many books that would otherwise be lost to history or the trash bin.”

In one example, Freeland cites The dictionary of costume, “one of the millions of titles that reached the end of its publishing lifecycle in the 20th century.” It is also a work cited in Wikipedia, a key source for “students of all ages… in our connected world.” The Internet Archive has preserved the only copy of the book available online, making sure Wikipedia editors can verify the citation and researchers can use the book in perpetuity. If looking up the definition of “petticoat” in an out-of-print reference work seems trivial, consider that the Archive digitizes about 3,500 books every day in its 18 digitization centers. (The dictionary of costume was identified as the Archive’s 2 millionth “modern book.”)

Libraries “have been vital in times of crisis,” writes Alistair Black, emeritus professor of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois, and “the coronavirus pandemic may prove to be a challenge that dwarfs the many episodes of anxiety and crisis through which the public library has lived in the past.” A huge part of our combined global crises involves access to reliable information, and book scanners at the Internet Archive are key agents in preserving knowledge. The collections they digitize “are critical to educating an informed populace at a time of massive disinformation and misinformation,” says Kahle. When asked what she liked best about her job, Zhang replied, “Everything! I find everything interesting…. Every collection is important to me.”

The Internet Archive offers over 20,000,000 freely downloadable books and texts. Enter the collection here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

4,000 Priceless Scrolls, Texts & Papers From the University of Tokyo Have Been Digitized & Put Online

The phrase “opening of Japan” is a euphemism that has outlived its purpose, serving to cloud rather than explain how a country closed to outsiders suddenly, in the mid-19th century, became a major influence in art and design worldwide. Negotiations were carried out at gunpoint. In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry presented the Japanese with two white flags to raise when they were ready to surrender. (The Japanese called Perry’s fleet the “black ships of evil men.”) In one of innumerable historical ironies, we have this ugliness to thank for the explosion of Impressionist art (van Gogh was obsessed with Japanese prints and owned a large collection) as well as much of the beauty of Art Nouveau and modernist architecture at the turn of the century.

We may know versions of this already, but we probably don’t know it from a Japanese point of view. “As our global society grows ever more connected,” writes Katie Barrett at the Internet Archive blog, “it can be easy to assume that all of human history is just one click away. Yet language barriers and physical access still present major obstacles to deeper knowledge and understanding of other cultures.”




Unless we can read Japanese, our understanding of its history will always be informed by specialist scholars and translators. Now, at least, thanks to cooperation between the University of Tokyo General Library and the Internet Archive, we can access thousands more primary sources previously unavailable to “outsiders.”

“Since June 2020,” notes Barrett, “our Collections team has worked in tandem with library staff to ingest thousands of digital files from the General Library’s servers, mapping the metadata for over 4,000 priceless scrolls, texts, and papers.” This material has been digitized over decades by Japanese scholars and “showcases hundreds of years of rich Japanese history expressed through prose, poetry, and artwork.” It will be primarily the artwork that concerns non-Japanese speakers, as it primarily concerned 19th-century Europeans and Americans who first encountered the country’s cultural products. Artwork like the humorous print above. Barrett provides context: 

In one satirical illustration, thought to date from shortly after the 1855 Edo earthquake, courtesans and others from the demimonde, who suffered greatly in the disaster, are shown beating the giant catfish that was believed to cause earthquakes. The men in the upper left-hand corner represent the construction trades; they are trying to stop the attack on the fish, as rebuilding from earthquakes was a profitable business for them.

There are many such depictions of “seismic destruction” in ukiyo-e prints dating from the same period and the later Mino-Owari earthquake of 1891: “They are a sobering reminder of the role that natural disasters have played in Japanese life.” 

You can see many more digitized artifacts, such as the charming book of Japanese ephemera above, at the Internet Archive’s University of Tokyo collection. Among the 4180 items currently available, you’ll also find many European prints and engravings held in the library’s 25 collections. All of this material “can be used freely without prior permission,” writes the University of Tokyo Library. “Among the highlights,” Barrett writes, “are manuscripts and annotated books from the personal collection of the novelist Mori Ōgai (1862–1922), an early manuscript of the Tale of Genji, [below] and a unique collection of Chinese legal records from the Ming Dynasty.” Enter the collection here.

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Download Vincent van Gogh’s Collection of 500 Japanese Prints, Which Inspired Him to Create “the Art of the Future”

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Digital Library for Bartenders: Vintage Cocktail Books with Recipes Dating Back to 1753

So, um… you look like you could use a drink… or another drink, or five…. I’ve given it up, but I can still mix a mean cocktail. How about a Stomach Julep (Julepum Stomachicum). No white suit or veranda required. It’s a “saffron syrup made with sherry, spirit rectified with mint, and a non-alcoholic mint distillate” among other “fascinating ingredients.” Yes, this is a recipe from a 1753 pharmacology textbook, but in 1753, one’s bartender might just as well also be the local alchemist, pharmacist, and captive audience. Fearing a resurgence of plague and other maladies, lacking proper healthcare or clean water, the Early Modern British fortified themselves with booze.

The New English Dispensatory might seem like an odd text, nonetheless, to include in an online library for bartenders, but it is perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the EUVS Digital Collection, an appreciable sampling of manuals, cocktail menus, recipe books, and historical ephemera related to “a profession that has rediscovered a justifiable sense of pride and purpose.”




This sense does seem to vary greatly between establishments, but the collection does not discriminate, though it does display a particular fondness for Cuba in its current state of digitization—now up to a few dozen titles spanning the years 1753 to 1959. More books will be coming online soon out of a physical collection of “over 1,000 volumes.”

It may be hard to imagine earning a bartending Ph.D. but one could certainly find a dissertation topic in the impressive breadth and depth of the collection, even in its limited state. Or, more likely, one could put together a uniquely imaginative cocktail menu that no one else in town can boast of. Bartending is both art and science. In his 1892 book The Flowing Bowl, New York bartender William Schmidt, also known as “The Only William,” comments:

Mixed drinks might be compared to music: an orchestra will produce good music, provided all players are artists; but have only one or two inferior musicians in your band and you may be convinced they will spoil the entire harmony.

To the bartender’s list of supplementary roles in the lives of their customers, we can add another: conductor. William first came to prominence in the profession in Hamburg, Germany before emigrating to Chicago, then Manhattan. His tastes, in music and liquors, remained European. “The finest mixed drinks and their ingredients are of foreign origin. Are not all of the superior cordials of foreign make?” he wrote. Clearly he knew nothing of bourbon.

The Only William did know that fine art requires showmanship and style. He was “renowned for his acrobatic bartending feats: throwing flaming and non-flaming drinks in graceful arcs.” The EUVS Digital Collection presents William as a kind of bartending folk hero, a larger-than-life figure who was said to have invented a new drink daily. If this is so, it may not be so surprising. William was not only totally devoted to his art, but he was also a scholar, “credited with an encyclopedic knowledge of the classics.”

The Flowing Bowl contains Schmidt’s “history of various beverages, descriptions of historic Greco-Roman banquets, sample menus with beverage pairings, plus a lively selection of poetry readings whose focus is on drink.” One gets the sense he represents the ideal patron of The Bartender’s Library. What would such a model bartender do during the pandemic? I think he’d hit the books, especially given that so many, like his own, are free online. And given the ever-present possibility of plague and other calamities, I guess he’d offer spirited remedies to the people locked down at home with him.

Note: One commenter on the Cocktail archive site left these comments, which might prove handy:

Here is a list of conversions, with Imperial measurements (from the U.K), as well as few British ones–as both are found in many classic cocktail books and can be mighty confusing.

1 quart (Imperial) = 40 ounces

1 quart = 32 ounces

1 bottle = 24 ounces

1 pint (Imperial) = 20 ounces

1 pint = 16 ounces

1/2 pint (Imperial) = 10 ounces

1/2 pint = 8 ounces

1 gill (Imperial) = 4.8 ounces

1 gill = 4 ounces

1 dram = 1/4 tablespoon (found in the British metric system or English recipes before approx. 1972)

1 wineglass = 2 ounces

1 jigger = 1 1/2 ounces – 1 1/4 ounces

1 pony = 1 (fluid) ounce = 2 tablespoons

1 tablespoon = 1/2 (fluid) ounces

1 teaspoon = 1/16 fluid ounces

A dash is a tricky one. When applied to bitters, a “dash” makes sense: it’s what comes out the top of the bottle. But if you find a recipe calling for “dashes of syrup,” check out similar drink recipes and use your judgment in how much you need.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe

What shall we read before bed?

Georgia O’Keeffe was a fan of cookbooks, telling her young assistant Margaret Wood that they were “enjoyable nighttime company, providing brief and pleasant reading.”

Among the culinary volumes in her Abiquiu, New Mexico ranch home were The Fanny Farmer Boston Cooking School CookbookThe Joy of CookingLet’s Eat Right to Keep Fit and Cook Right, Live Longer.

Also Pickups and Cheerups from the Waring Blender, a 21-page pamphlet featuring blended cocktails, that now rests in Yale University’s Beinecke Library, along with the rest of the contents of O’Keeffe’s recipe box, acquired the night before it was due to be auctioned at Sotheby’s. (Some of the images on this page come courtesy of Sotheby’s.)




In addition to recipes—inscribed by the artist’s own hand in ink from a fountain pen, typed by assistants, clipped from magazines and newspapers, or in promotional booklets such as the one published by the Waring Products Company—the box housed manuals for O’Keeffe’s kitchen appliances.

The booklet that came with her pressure cooker includes a spattered page devoted to cooking fresh veggies, a testament to her abiding interest in eating healthfully.

O’Keeffe had a high regard for salads, garden fresh herbs, and simple, locally sourced food.

Today’s buddha bowl craze is, however, “the opposite of what she would enjoy” according to Wood, author of the books Remembering Miss O’Keeffe: Stories from Abiquiu and A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Wood, who was some 66 years younger than her employer, recently visited The Sporkful podcast to recall her first days on the job :

…she said, “Do you like to cook?” 

And I said, “Yes, I certainly do.” 

So she said, “Well, let’s give it a try.” 

And after two days of my hippie health food, she said, “My dear, let me show you how I like my food.” My first way of trying to cook for us was a lot of brown rice and chopped vegetables with chicken added. And that was not what she liked. 

An example of what she did like: Roasted lemon chicken with fried potatoes, a green salad featuring lettuce and herbs from her garden, and steamed broccoli.

Also yogurt made with the milk of local goats, whole wheat flour ground on the premises, watercress plucked from local streams, and home canning.

Most of these labor-intensive tasks fell to her staff, but she maintained a keen interest in the proceedings.

Not for nothing did the friend who referred Wood for the job warn her it would “require a lot of patience because Miss O’Keeffe was extremely particular.”

The jottings from the recipe box don’t really convey this exacting nature.

Those accustomed to the extremely specific instructions accompanying even the simplest recipes to be found on the Internet may be shocked by O’Keeffe’s brevity.

 

Perhaps we should assume that she stationed herself close by the first time any new hire prepared a recipe from one of her cards, knowing she would have to verbally correct and redirect.

(O’Keeffe insisted that Wood stir according to her method—don’t scrape the sides, dig down and lift up.)

The box also contained recipes that were likely rarities on O’Keeffe’s table, given her dietary preferences, though they are certainly evocative of the period: tomato aspic, Maryland fried chickenFloating Islands, and a cocktail she may have first sipped in a Santa Fe hotel bar.

The Beinecke plans to digitize its newly acquired collection. This gives us hope that one day, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum may follow suit with the red recipe binder Wood mentions in A Painter’s Kitchen:

This was affectionately referred to as “Mary’s Book,” named after a previous staff member who had compiled it. That notebook was continually consulted, and revised to include new recipes or to improve on older ones…. As she had collected a number of healthy and flavorful recipes, she would occasionally laugh and comment, “We should write a cookbook.”

Related Content: 

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Internet Archive Will Digitize & Preserve Millions of Academic Articles with Its New Database, “Internet Archive Scholar”

Open access publishing has, indeed, made academic research more accessible, but in “the move from physical academic journals to digitally-accessible papers,” Samantha Cole writes at Vice, it has also become “more precarious to preserve…. If an institution stops paying for web hosting or changes servers, the research within could disappear.” At least a couple hundred open access journals vanished in this way between 2000 and 2019, a new study published on arxiv found. Another 900 journals are in danger of meeting the same fate.

The journals in peril include scholarship in the humanities and sciences, though many publications may only be of interest to historians, given the speed at which scientific research tends to move. In any case, “there shouldn’t really be any decay or loss in scientific publications, particularly those that have been open on the web,” says study co-author Mikael Laasko, information scientist at the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki. Yet, in digital publishing, there are no printed copies in university libraries, catalogued and maintained by librarians.




To fill the need, the Internet Archive has created its own scholarly search platform, a “fulltext search index” that includes “over 25 million research articles and other scholarly documents” preserved on its servers. These collections span digitized and original digital articles published from the 18th century to “the latest Open Access conference proceedings and pre-prints crawled from the World Wide Web.” Content in this search index comes in one of three forms:

  • public web content in the Wayback Machine web archives (web.archive.org), either identified from historic collecting, crawled specifically to ensure long-term access to scholarly materials, or crawled at the direction of Archive-It partners
  • digitized print material from paper and microform collections purchased and scanned by Internet Archive or its partners
  • general materials on the archive.org collections, including content from partner organizations, uploads from the general public, and mirrors of other projects

The project is still in “alpha” and “has several bugs,” the site cautions, but it could, when it’s fully up and running, become part of a much-needed revolution in academic research—that is if the major academic publishers don’t find some legal pretext to shut it down.

Academic publishing boasts one of the most rapacious legal business models on the global market, and one of the most exploitative: a double standard in which scholars freely publish and review research for the public benefit (ostensibly) and very often on the public dime; while private intermediaries rake in astronomical sums for themselves with paywalls. The open access model has changed things, but the only way to truly serve the “best interests of researchers and the public,” neuroscientist Shaun Khoo argues, is through public infrastructure and fully non-profit publication.

Maybe Internet Archive Scholar can go some way toward bridging the gap, as a publicly accessible, non-profit search engine, digital catalogue, and library for research that is worth preserving, reading, and building upon even if it doesn’t generate shareholder revenue. For a deeper dive into how the Archive built its formidable, still developing, new database, see the video presentation above from Jefferson Bailey, Director of Web Archiving & Data Services. And have a look at Internet Archive Scholar here. It currently lacks advanced search functions, but plug in any search term and prepare to be amazed by the incredible volume of archived full text articles you turn up.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear the Voices of Americans Born in Slavery: The Library of Congress Features 23 Audio Interviews with Formerly Enslaved People (1932-75)

“During the last three decades of legal slavery in America,” writes Lucinda MacKethan at the National Humanities Center, “African American writers perfected one of the nation’s first truly indigenous genres of written literature: the North American slave narrative.” These heavily mediated memoirs were the only real firsthand accounts of slavery most Americans outside the South encountered. Their authors were urged by abolitionist publishers to adopt conventions of the sentimental novel, and to feature showy introductions by white editors to validate their authenticity.

Fugitive slave narratives did not necessarily give white Americans new information about slavery’s wrongs, but they served as “proof” that enslaved people were, in fact, people, with feelings and intellects and aspirations just like theirs. Ex-enslaved writers like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs sensationalized readers with stories of the physical and sexual violence of slavery, and their stories became abolitionists’ most potent weapon. The form succeeded as much on dramatic effect as on its documentary value.

Douglas and Jacobs were exceptional in that they had learned to read and write and escaped their terrible conditions through strength of will, ingenuity, the kindnesses of others, and sheer luck. Most were not so fortunate. But we now have access to many more firsthand accounts—thanks to the work of the Federal Writers Project (FWP) of the Works Progress Administration and others, who recorded thousands of interviews with formerly enslaved people living well into the 20th century, all from the first generation to outlive slavery.

Ted Koppel debuted some clips of those recordings to his Nightline audience in the 1999 episode above. “They are haunting voices,” he says, then prefaces the tape with “brace yourselves for a minor miracle.” What is miraculous about the fact that people who were born in slavery lived into the age of audio recording? Perhaps one reason it seems so is that we are conditioned to think of legal enslavement and its effects as receding further back in time than they actually do. In the 1930s, the FWP filed transcripts of over 2,300 interviews and 500 black-and-white photographs of people born into slavery.

Also, in the 30s, ethnologists like Zora Neale Hurston and the Lomaxes began recording audio interviews with formerly enslaved people like Fountain Hughes, further up, born in Charlottesville, Virginia. Recorded in 1949, he is fearfully reluctant to talk about his experience but vocal about it nonetheless: “”You wasn’t no more than a dog to some of them in them days. You wasn’t treated as good as they treat dogs now. But still I didn’t like to talk about it. Because it makes, makes people feel bad you know. Uh, I, I could say a whole lot I don’t like to say. And I won’t say a whole lot more.”

The Library of Congress puts the 23 surviving recordings in context:

The recordings of former slaves in Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People Tell Their Stories took place between 1932 and 1975 in nine states. Twenty-three interviewees discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, coercion of slaves, their families, and freedom. Several individuals sing songs, many of which were learned during the time of their enslavement. It is important to note that all of the interviewees spoke sixty or more years after the end of their enslavement, and it is their full lives that are reflected in these recordings. The individuals documented in this presentation have much to say about living as African Americans from the 1870s to the 1930s, and beyond.

Only seven of these voices have been matched with photographs. Many of these mean and women were interviewed elsewhere, but on the whole, little biographical information about them exists. The final interviewee, Charlie Smith, recorded in 1975, was the subject of a book and numerous magazine articles. He died four years later at 137 years old. Hear all of the audio interviews with formerly enslaved people at the Library of Congress’s Voices Remembering Slavery project and find resources for teachers here.

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1.5 Million Slavery Era Documents Will Be Digitized, Helping African Americans to Learn About Their Lost Ancestors

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Bird Library: A Library Built Especially for Our Fine Feathered Friends

“The two things I love most are novels and birds,” said Jonathan Franzen in a Guardian profile not long ago. “They’re both in trouble, and I want to advocate for both of them.” Chances are that even that famously internet-averse novelist-turned-birdwatcher would enjoy the online attraction called The Bird Library, “where the need to feed meets the need to read.” Its live Youtube stream shows the goings-on of a tiny library built especially for our feathered friends. “Perched in a backyard in the city of Charlottesville,” writes Atlas Obscura’s Claire Voon, “it is the passion project of librarian Rebecca Flowers and woodworker Kevin Cwalina, who brought together their skills and interests to showcase the lives of their backyard birds.”

Recent visitors, Voon adds, “have included a striking rose-breasted grosbeak, a cardinal that looks like it’s vaping, and a trio of mourning doves seemingly caught in a serious meeting.” The Bird Library’s web site offers an archive of images capturing the institution’s wee regulars, all accompanied by enlivening captions. (“Why did the bird go to the library?” “He was looking for bookworms.”)




Just as year-round birdwatching brings pleasures distinct from more casual versions of the pursuit, year-round viewing of The Bird Library makes for a deeper appreciation not just of the variety of species represented among its patrons — the creators have counted 20 so far — but for the seasonal changes in the space’s decor, especially around Christmastime.

As longtime viewers know, this isn’t the original Bird Library. “In late 2018 we demolished the old Bird Library and started design and development of a new and improved Bird Library 2.0! Complete with a large concrete base for increased capacity and a bigger circulation desk capable of feeding all our guests all day long.” Just as libraries for humans need occasional renovation, so, it seems, do libraries for birds — a concept that could soon expand outside Virginia. “Cwalina hopes to eventually publish an open-access plan for a similar bird library, so that other birders can build their own versions,” reports Voon. And a bird-loving 21st-century Andrew Carnegie steps forward to ensure their architectural respectability, might we suggest going with modernism?

via Atlas Obscura

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Take a Virtual Tour of the World’s Only Sourdough Library

There’s 15-year-old Precious from the Netherlands…

And Bubble from Australia, age 4…

Yeasty Beasty Methuselah, from Twin Falls, Idaho, is estimated to be around 50…

Every sourdough starter is special to the ones who made or maintain it, but of the 1000s registered online with Quest for Sourdough, only 125 have earned a permanent place in the Puratos Sourdough Library in Saint-Vith, Belgium. It’s the world’s only library dedicated to Sourdough, and you can take a virtual tour here.

Housed in identical jars in a museum-quality refrigerated cabinets, these heritage starters have been carefully selected by librarian Karl De Smedt, above, who travels the world visiting bakeries, tasting bread, and learning the stories behind each sample that enters the collection.




As De Smedt recalls in an interview with the Sourdough Podcast, the idea for the museum began taking shape when a Lebanese baker reached out to Puratos, a hundred-year-old company that supplies commercial bakers and pastry makers with essentials of the trade. The man’s sons returned from a baking expo in Paris and informed their dad that when they took over, they planned to retire his time-honored practice of baking with fermented chickpeas in favor of instant yeast. Worried that his prized recipe would be lost to history, he appealed to Puratos to help preserve his protocols.

While fermented chickpeas do not count as sourdough—a combination of flour, water, and the resulting microorganisms this marriage gives rise to over time—the company had recently collected and analyzed 43 venerable starters. The bulk came from Italy, including one from Altamura, the “city of bread, producer of what Horace called in 37 B.C. ‘the best bread to be had, so good that the wise traveler takes a supply of it for his onward journey.’”

Thus was a non-circulating library born.

Each specimen is analyzed by food microbiologist Marco Gobbetti from the University of Bolzano and Bari.

A collaboration with North Carolina State University biologists Rob Dunn and Anne Madden revealed that sourdough bakers’ hands share distinct microbes with their starters.

More than 1100 strains of microorganisms have been recorded so far.

Every two months, the starters are taken out of the fridge and fed, i.e. reactivated, with a combination of water and some of their flour of origin, yearly quantities of which are contributed by their bakers. Without this regular care, the starters will die off.

(The pandemic has De Smedt working from home, but he intimated to The New York Times that he intended to make it back to feed his babies, or “mothers” as they are known in sourdough circles.)

#72 from Mexico feeds on eggs, lime and beer

#100 from Japan is made of cooked sake rice.

#106 is a veteran of the Gold Rush.

Their consistency is documented along a line that ranges from hard to fluid, with Silly Putty in the middle.

Each year, De Smedt expands the collection with starters from a different area of the world. The latest additions come from Turkey, and are documented in the mouthwatering travelogue above.

For now, of course, he’s grounded in Belgium, and using his Instagram account to provide encouragement to other sourdough practitioners, answering rookie questions and showing off some of the loaves produced by his own personal starters, Barbara and Amanda.

Register your starter on Quest for Sourdough here.

If you haven’t yet taken the sourdough plunge, you can participate in North Carolina State University’s Wild Sourdough Project by following their instructions on making a starter from scratch and then submitting your data here.

And bide your time until you’re cleared to visit the Puratos Sourdough Library in person by taking an interactive virtual tour or watching a complete playlist of De Smedt’s collecting trips here.

via Atlas Obscura

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her current starter, Miss Sourdough, was brought to life with an unholy splash of apple cider. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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