THE ROLE OF THE LIBRARY
The subject of how to actually USE the Library in a world that is rebuilding is one that comes up occasionally. Here's my take on it...
Let's assume an EMP has occurred. The actual event which caused a collapse could be a number of things with varying effects. The technological infrastructure is down. Some or all of it is damaged and unusable. Electrical power sources,if any, are purely local, The grid is gone and there are no sources for spare parts other than salvage or making them yourselves.
The population has been drastically reduced probably by as much as 80%-90%, conceivably even more, due to disease, hunger, dehydration, exposure and violence (though violence is actually the smallest factor).
The massive refugee migration of people seeking food and water and safety has ended. The immediate emergency of living through the collapse and it's immediate aftermath has been achieved. The survivors have begun to come together to form communities/villages/towns.
Living through the immediate aftermath of a societal collapse is NOT the subject of the Library. There are literally thousands of site devoted to "survival" skills and techniques and tools. How to build a shelter. How to hide in the woods. How to store food for that emergency. How to collect edible plants. How to fight a running tactical battle with bandits and which set of night vision goggles is best for the Zombie Apocalypse.
There's a famous military saying.. "Amateurs study tactics. Professionals study Logistics."
One of the brutal realities of living through that kind of collapse is that the largest part of your survival will actually most likely come down to sheer chance. I don't care how many guns you have, how much food you have stored, how isolated and secure your bunker is.
If someone finds it and knows you have food they WILL take it. Fixed and isolated fortifications cannot stand. Individuals and small groups WILL fall if attacked.
The people who survive will survive as much by chance as by skills and planning. So don't count on forming a community with a bunch of former Navy Seals and Army Ranger and Marine Force Recon who can all makes headshots at 50 yards, are Scout-Sniper qualified and who toughed it out like a post apocalypse novel.
Next time you leave your house look at the first 50-100 people you see. It is people just like that THAT is who will be the other survivors with whom you will be living.
Once the worst of it has passed people will start having to plan for the long term. Not just the next hour or day or week but next month, next year and the year after that.
The reality is that single families and lone individuals have little chance of long term survival. No individual or even a large family can master all of the skills required for long term survival beyond mere subsistence level. There is safety in numbers, there is security, socialization and the ability to have a wide variety of skills and capabilities and most important the ability to generate surpluses.
People will quickly begin to form communities. A few families getting together at first. The more successful groups like that will attract others and before long villages, towns and other forms of communities will form.
The first priority of a community is Physical Security. Without that nothing else matters. There is no point in trying to grow a crop that someone is going to come take away from you. You would not survive the first winter.
So the first responsibility of those capable of doing so will be to provide security for the community. That is not a full time occupation and will likely only require lookouts initially while everyone else farms. Everyone will either carry weapons or keep them close at hand and respond to a warning. That is also one of the main driving forces behind communities forming. Ten isolated families can't defend against a gang of bandits. Ten families united have a much better chance if for no other reason than the bandits will most likely look at the defenses and simply go find some isolated families which are much easier pickings with much less risk.
As soon as feasible the community will send out parties to eliminate local bandits, raiders and those individuals or groups which threaten the security of the community. No. They won't be arrested and tried in a court. They will will be dealt with in whatever way necessary to ensure they will no longer pose a threat.
Once reasonable security is established the next priority is food production which will take precedence over everything except security.
If a single individual or family on their own loses their crops the result is most likely to be starvation and death. If a family's crops fail in a village of 50 families everyone will likely survives because the margin between starvation and survival is much larger. In a village almost every crop would have to fail before there was starvation. Even a severe level of crop failure would still provide enough food for at least minimal survival. The larger the community the larger the margin of survival.
More importantly in subsistence farming almost everyone works in agriculture. That is the priority and everything else is secondary except security and rightly so. You get up with the sun and you work in the fields till you fall exhausted into bed at night. That is your life.
In a community once security is ensured and people can share their knowledge of agriculture food production will increase. That produces surpluses of food and it will, in time, reach the level where there is no longer a need for every able bodied individual to be working in agriculture.
Once there is a sufficiency of food and surpluses can be realized individuals can be freed from agricultural jobs. Individuals can begin to spend at least part of their time on specialized skills such as smithing, building, lumber production, carpentry, weaving, livestock and animal husbandry, horse rearing and training, leather making, etc.
The first one to three year after a community forms the primary tasks are going to be providing security, providing security, eliminating immediate security threats and food production. Little else will matter until those requirements are met. Even if people have to live in tents or old vehicles or shacks or salvaged houses, being safe and being able to eat are the most important things.
Once a reasonable level of security is established and food production becomes more established there will begin to be a specialization in agriculture. The guy who used to be a farmer or avid gardener is probably going to be producing a LOT more food than the guy who used to be a corporate executive or a policeman. When the farmer tells you that he will provide you with 25 bags of wheat if you work on his farm and your best yield to date has been 10 bags you won't hesitate long before working for him.
Within 3-7 years food production will begin to specialize and once started will accelerate as those most proficient at producing food expand and hire workers.
If you see you can trade your labor for more food than you can grow yourself who would hesitate?
If you can trade your physical labor doing farm work for more food than you can grow yourself the choice is a no-brainer. Even better if you can provide a service that no one else can your labor becomes even more valuable.
As the surpluses grow and food security become less of an issue it becomes possible for one or more members of a family to do simple farm labor while one specializes in a skill or service that is needed. Or it might be as simple as having a little leisure time and figuring out how to make a basic oil lamp from salvaged materials that works well. As more people have even a little leisure time to improve their living conditions such as their homes, heating, lighting and a few comfort items little things like a working oil lamp will be in great demand.
A piece of salvaged metal beat into shape with a hammer and attached to a stick can make hoe. It doesn't take a huge level of smithing skill to produce basic tools that are in demand. A hoe, a shovel, a pick, nails. Those are products that were traditionally made by novices since they took the least amount of skill and provided needed experience. Someone who can make even simple tools like that can quickly have a valuable commodity to trade for foods or other goods.
Someone who can spin and make thread or weave and make cloth, someone who can repair or even make shoes and boots. someone who can build chairs or produce firewood and lumber or even produce the tools needed for any of those things would be highly valuable to a community. All of those skills become currency that can be traded for food and the work of others.
The ability of a blacksmith to make ganged plows can dramatically increase food production through the application of "technology" to replace manual labor.
As the more basic skills are provided; food, smithing, lumber, carpentry, weaving, leather, animal husbandry, etc. the technological level of the community increases. The quality of products produced by the community become higher, the standard of living increases and trade becomes possible with other communities who perhaps have other desired products and commodities. Trade builds larger communities and "wealth".
The increasing "wealth" of a community fuels further growth, trade, attracts more people, attracts investment, it provides the means to form full time governments and professional security forces (Police, Militia).
One of the largest factors that promoted trade and growth in the medieval period was professional security personnel who provided and maintained security on the roads between towns and cities. When it is safe to travel and ship goods between cities and towns trade and the spread of technology explodes.
Most people think of "government" as providing those services. What most people don't understand is that it was merchants, traders and business men who provided the funds (the wealth) to staff a full time government and to hire the security personnel.
Businesses did not come into being and grow because governments created a safe environment for them. Governments grew and created a safe environment for business because the businesses created the wealth and paid them to do so.
That is the way people rebuild the world.
So how does the Library fit into that? What is it's role?
Even in the worst case of a Solar EMP which damages or destroys virtually all computer technology there will be some working computers.
Parts salvaged from stores to build one, pieces of equipment sitting in metal buildings which survived the EMP surges, laptops sitting in Faraday cages or even metal sheds, new laptops in static bags or delivery vans, even salvaged hardened military computers. One person with even a modicum of technical knowledge will be able to piece together a working computer, perhaps several. The same applies to printers. No matter how bad the EMP some working computers and printers will be salvageable and available for at least a few years.
Electrical power is not really an issue. At the simplest level someone pedaling a bicycle connected to a car alternator can make electricity. Hand built windmills using alternators and permanent magnet DC motors, even salvaged solar panels for a time. Salvaged batteries will last at least a few years until they become useless. The basic ability of create electrical power and store it in at least a specific location for a specific task will be relatively simple.
In the long term there will be no spare parts. Toner and ink will run out and there will be no more salvageable sources. But for at least a few years there will be some working computers and printers available to a community even after the worst solar EMP.
In a community with even a single working computer the Library can provide an invaluable source of knowledge. What if no one in the community was a farmer or gardener? What if no one has anything other than theoretical knowledge of growing food? Even those with some agricultural experiences are used to having access to chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides and powered farm equipment that is no longer available.
BOOK OF THE FARM AND OTHER SPECIALTIES
The Book of the Farm in the Library is a detailed, almost step by step, textbook on how to operate a farm from an era when there was no electricity and no powered farm equipment. That single set of books alone on a computer where it can be consulted, read or even printed in multiple copies could mean the difference between starvation and plenty for a community. Evan a hand copied text of it would provide an incredible amount of knowledge of how to operate a pre-electrical era farm.
Some references in that set of books such as how to make lime or fertilizers is not always addressed in enough detail since it was assumed that even in the 1800s there were supply chains for some common materials. There are, however, other books in the Library that detail how to make lime, how to make fertilizers and most other commonly needed materials, how to recognize and treat crop diseases, how to diagnose and address livestock diseases. All of it would be on a computer for the members of the community to consult, read print or copy.
As specialization begins to appear within the community the Library becomes an even more valuable tool.
One person starts beating some salvaged metal into a needed tool like a hoe by heating it and bashing it with a hammer. Crude perhaps but functional. Once he makes one someone else will ask him to make some other tool.
There are a lot of books in the Library on smithing and how to form metal into tools. Consulting those books will provide the essential knowledge of how to become a better blacksmith until that person develops enough skills to become a full time smith. Clearly experience will be required to turn someone into a skilled blacksmith but with the sources in the Library they will not be building those skills through trial and error. The knowledge will be available. Their task will be to master how to apply that knowledge.
Exactly the same principle applies to every other needed skills, weaving, making leather, sewing horse harnesses and saddles, making shoes, cutting timber and creating lumber, making furniture, building wagons, making wheels.
And here's the rub. Even if you were a professional, manufacturing almost any of those products your skills were developed in a world where there was a supply and technology infrastructure and a source of power.
Will those skills transfer to a world without those supply chains, that infrastructure, that reliable source of electricity? Most likely no. Someone who relies on electrically powered machines to manufacture items will have to learn an entirely new set of skills in a world without electricity.
Someone who is a skilled hobbyist leatherworker would almost certainly be completely ignorant of how to actually make leather from hides and even how to collect and preserve those hides to start with not to mention hunting and skinning the animals whose hides they need.
The Library provides a wide range of knowledge of how to manufacture items and perform skills in a world without electricity and sophisticated supply chains.
Those books do often assume access to an 1800s supply system but you can find other books which provide the knowledge and techniques to produce those items yourself.
Need sulfuric acid which is the basis of many industrial processes? There are books detailing how to make it. Need the sulfur required for that process? There are books on mining and extracting sulfur from a number of sources.
In short virtually the entire "technology" of the 1800s is documented in the Library in a wide variety of books from how to mine limestone to how to dig the ovens to how to cook it into lime to how to use it on farm fields to how to make it into whitewash to paint your house or barn to how to use it in as an ingredient in medicines or use it to make cement or concrete.
If a community is lucky they might have a doctor among their number. That doctor, however, trained and practiced in a world of high tech equipment, sophisticated labs, sterile hospitals and a massive world wide supply chain of medicines, materials and supplies. None of which would be available.
For a short time perhaps some medicines and supplies could be salvaged but they would quickly run out and not replaceable. Even that is unlikely since in the aftermath of a collapse the vast majority of medical supplies and medicines would be used up trying to treat the massive number of sick and dying people until even the medical system itself collapsed. There would little left to salvage in the aftermath.
Even the most highly trained modern Doctors do not know how to manufacture medicines. They do not know how to make surgical instruments. They do not know how to make anesthetics or antibiotics.
The level of medical technology,even after a community became well established, would essentially be that of the mid to late 1800s. Even surgery would become a major issue until someone started manufacturing anesthesia. There are books in the Library on how to do that.
Anesthetics and pretty much every type of medicine would have to be manufactured locally once salvageable supplies were exhausted. There a number of books with the formulas for making a wide variety of medicines, antiseptics, Anesthetics and other medical supplies. There are other books which detail how makes some of the more sophisticated ingredients needed in the manufacture of many of those medicines.
Most doctors know modern surgical techniques. Most of those techniques are, again, built upon access to sophisticated modern technology. Few doctors have knowledge of something like an amputation on a kitchen table or an appendectomy using nothing but the surgical tools in their bag. Oh there are "field surgery" techniques but they almost all assume that the surgery is an emergency measure and that the patient will be transferred to a hospital subsequently.
There is a large collection of books on the Medical skills and techniques using the technology of the late 1800s and up to World War 1.
Few people realize how much surgical knowledge still used today was developed during WWI when doctors had little technology available and in a time before antibiotics. That knowledge is preserved in the Library as is a wide range of medical knowledge from the era before electricity and antibiotics. WWI was in one sense a massive experimental surgery lab which operated for several years virtually uninterrupted.
While reading some of those books may chill your blood... imagine this situation...
Your child has acute appendicitis and is in agony. The ONLY medical information available is a surgery textbook from 1916 detailing how to perform an appendectomy.
Let's lessen the horror of that by assuming that someone has managed to produce some nitrous oxide anasthesia. Unlikely, but lets pretend at least that.
Watch you child die slowly in horrific agony knowing you can do nothing to even ameliorate the suffering.
Operate using 1916 surgical knowledge with at least a chance of a successful recovery.
SANITATION AND PUBLIC HEALTH
Most people know or can figure out simple things like don't build your outhouse uphill from your well. Don't dump sewage and waste upstream from where you draw drinking water.
But once communities start to form issues of sanitation and public health become an issue. Few people know what happens to what in their toilet once the flush it. Oh some folks might have septic tanks or even outhouses and know at least some basics of it. Few people know much about their water sources other than it comes out of the tap and the shut off valve is at the sidewalk.
Of course some folks have wells and might even have drilled them themselves but that's not the norm.
The reality is that once the communities start to form preventing disease and maintaining public health, clean water and safe disposal of sewage, garbage and waste becomes an issue. Right now in some American cities garbage and human waste on the streets have increased the rat populations to the pint that Bubonic plague is once again present in our cities along with a host of other diseases once thought eradicated.
The year is 2020 with the most advanced technology and the highest standard of living the world has ever seen. Yet in some of America's cities there are enough rats that you have a real chance of contracting bubonic plague and other diseases visiting those cities.
If even a modern city in 2020 America has that problem do you imagine a community trying to rebuild after a collapse wont?
Fortunately there are entire categories in the Library devoted to sewage, garbage disposal, water treatment, rat eradication and other disease prevention and public health subjects. And none of them require technology any more advanced that that of the 1800s.
The survivors won't have to learn all of those public health lessons the hard way like our ancestors did.
As communities expand and mature they will quickly, I suspect, start to expand beyond simple manual technology. Horses, oxen and mules are adequate for pulling plows. A water wheel might be adequate for a village grain mill or a small weaving operation powering looms.
But quickly there will be a need for more powerful and reliable motive power. Internal combustion engines are not something you can easily make in a blacksmith shop. Even if you could make them the gas stations would be closed... permanently.
Steam engines CAN be made by a skilled blacksmith. Most of the early one were. Even a simple steam engine requires only wood or coal to produce steady, reliable power.
It was the development of the steam engine which powered the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s which grew to the spread of railroads, steamships, factories, deep shaft mining and a wide variety of manufacturing simply not possible without that source of power.
There is a large section of the Library devoted to Steam Engines since they are the foundation of an industrial economy being rebuilt.
There are a wide variety of books on other aspects of an emerging industrial infrastructure; telegraph, radio, railroads, chemical processes, engineering, industrial processes, even how to build and manage factories themselves.
All of the growth of a community beyond the basic Security/Food level ultimately relies on education. Those who survive whatever event causes a collapse will likely be reasonably well educated. They will, at a minimum, probably be able to read which makes the library usable.
The children who grow up in that world will not. Unless they were older they might not even be literate.
The rebuilding will not happen overnight. It will take decades and more likely generations for the world to recover and rebuild to anything like our current level of technology. That means that educating those children will be a high priority as well.
Most communities will realize this and soon after Security/Food needs are met parents will establish at least part time schools to teach the young to read even if they teach nothing else
The Library contains a large selection of books on Teaching and Education. From the simplest forms such as the McGuffey Readers to teach the most basic levels of literacy up through the higher levels, books on History, Math, Science, Social Studies, Civics, Geography and all of the basic subjects.
There are a number of books on HOW to teach, how to manage classrooms, how to operate schools and school systems.
Despite the what the catechism of modern educational theory promotes one does not need a degree in Education to teach a child phonics and the basics of reading. One simply needs the tools. The Library provides those tools.
In a community with even a single computer the Library can provide an immense wealth of knowledge of HOW TO rebuild a technological civilization.
Better still a small network of computers which all have access to it. It does not require a high degree of technical knowledge to build a basic network of computers to share files or even to copy all of the files onto each computer.
Even better is to print out and bind books which are most applicable to that climate and geographical location. (There is an entire category of the Library on Bookbinding. I learned it from those books.) Clearly books on steamships are unlikely to be of much value to a community on the Great Plains. A book on mining coal is of little value to a community in a part of the country with no coal deposits.And so on. Some books will be useless to some communities. Those same books will be invaluable for others.
Eventually the last computers will die or break and there will be no more salvageable parts. It will be several generations before anyone is making new ones. Hopefully in the time that they are available every book that contains useful information will be printed or even hand copied if necessary to preserve the knowledge.
PASSING THE KNOWLEDGE ON
Eventually of course there will be printing presses and book publishers and public libraries. There will be textbooks. There will be skilled craftsmen and manufacturers teaching their skills to others. There will be trade schools teaching specialized skills and trades.
In that period between starting to form communities again and the days of printing presses, publishers and trade schools the Library, in whatever form it is maintained on even a single computer, can provide a width and depth of knowledge and skills that can spell the difference between a perpetual subsistence level life and a growing, expanding developing community rebuilding a technological civilization.
And that is why I distribute the library. Please pass it on to others. Make copies for your friends. Every book in the Library, to the best of my knowledge, is Public Domain or so far out of copyright as to be de facto Public Domain. There are no limitations on copying them or printing them as far as I know. I make every reasonable effort to ensure that none of the material in the library is still in copyright. Should you encounter any that you believe may be, please contact me and let me know.
Flash drives are inexpensive. Whenever you replace an old hard drive with a newer one copy the library on the old one and stick it away somewhere. When you replace a laptop copy the Library onto the old one and stick it away somewhere.
If we ever do have a solar EMP, or rather WHEN we have a solar EMP, or some other major collapse that takes down the infrastructure all the survivors will need will be one copy of the Library.
Hopefully if there are enough copies out there in enough hands and in enough places that one copy will be there when they need it.
Few people realize just how complex and interconnected the industrial infrastructure of the developed world is and more importantly just how fragile it is.
You local grocery stores relies on a massive industrial infrastructure. Just a few of those industries are:
- Trucking companies
- Shipping Lines
- Refineries and Fuel Distribution
- Petroleum Production and Transportation
- Packaging Manufacturers
- Fertilizer Production
- Seed Production
- Electrical Power Generation
- Coal and Gas Production
- Lightbulb Manufacturers
- Computer Manufacturers
- Refrigeration Compressor Manufacturers
- Chemical Production Facilities
- Electronic Inventory Systems
Most of us don’t think about the truly massive complex of industry that supports the grocery store in which we buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. Most of us don’t realize or appreciate that if just ONE of those critical industries fails the grocery store (and our food supply) ceases to function.
The failure of the electrical system over a wide area would stop fuel production and distribution which would stop the truck and trains which would bring the food distribution system to a halt. 2-3 days after that… the grocery store are out of food.
If the electricity stops, the Food stops. The Water stops. The Sanitation system stops. Communications (radio, television. internet, radio) stop.
The Police can no longer function once they fuel supply runs out, once the radios stop working.
Local, State and Federal governments can no longer communicate or coordinate activities once the communications and transportation stop.
Your individual knowledge of the world around you would suddenly be limited to what you personally can see and hear… nothing more. Your world would become much, much smaller…
No Radio, no TV, no Internet, No Newspapers…
The books in the Library date predominantly from the 1800s through early 1900s. Some are much older and date back into the 1700s and even earlier. They contain knowledge of skills and techniques that have been made obsolete by more advanced technology.
Some date from much earlier periods because the technology in them quite literally disn’t change in several hundred years. Building a bow to shoot arrows has changed in recent decades due to new and advanced materialsand methods of construction. Without those advanced materials however a bowyer of the 1500s and a bowyer of the late 1800s used virtually identical techniques, materials, tools and skills.
Who needs to know how to make carriages and wagons when automobiles and trucks have replaced them? Horse drawn carriages are a quaint novelty for tourists and festivals. Wooden barrels are a specialized item made only for brewers and landscapers today since we have metals and plastic replacements.
One of the most noticeable characteristics of the skills of the 1800 through the early 1900s is that virtually all of the technology in them can be produced using relatively simple tools. Most early automobiles and airplanes were produced in home workshops using tools not as sophisticated as most hobbyists have in their shops today.
Books on managing a home from the 1800s taught not only how to cook and clean but also how to manufacture most of the supplies and materials needed.
Modern cookbooks provide a list of ingredients which can be bought at the grocery store. 1800s cookbooks often explained how to make or produce all of the ingredients yourself.
Many of the books from those time periods did not assume that you had access to a sophisticated industrial infrastructure from which to procure tools and materials. Many of them were instructions on how to manufacture your own tools and materials.
Books concerning aeroplanes from the pre and post WWI era are at a level of technology which could be recreated by most modern craftsmen. The engines used on most aeroplanes of that era could be manufactured in the machine shops of many modern hobbyists.
The technology of the 1800s through the early 1900s is simple enough that the majority of it could be recreated by any relatively skilled craftsman using relatively simple tools. The tools and equipment needed which are no longer in common use today could itself be manufactured using simple tools.
In short, it is a level of technology that a community of survivors could easily master and recreate using simple tools available in the aftermath of a massive disaster. It would be possible to produce an infrastructure as sophisticated as that of the late 1800s and early 1900s… an industrial infrastructure that in less than 40 years produced nuclear energy and jet aircraft. A technological system that within 70 years went from the Wright Brothers early experiments with flight to putting a man on the moon.
Most importantly it is a level of technology and industry which can be “bootstrapped” by a community of people who have to rely totally on simple tools and their own ingenuity.
It does not require engineers, chemists, programmers and physicists. The first airplanes were built by mechanics and bicycle makers. The first rockets were made by hobbyists and tinkerers.
The technology in most of the books in the Library is well within the reach of most craftsmen, tinkerers and hobbyists who have basic tool using skills. It is a level of technology that is surely well within the reach of a community of people trying to rebuild a collapsed industrial world.
Let’s assume you have the survival skills necessary to see you through a large scale disaster. You and your family had enough food and water. You were in a safe location and had sufficient security to see you through the aftermath and death of the majority of the people in your country.
For a while afterwards you can salvage supplies, materials and tools from the ruins of what’s left. You can start to establish a self sufficient environment for the future. But what happens next?
When the last battery wears out do you know how to make more? When the last flashlight bulb breaks can you make another one? When your last solar panel breaks can you make a replacement? When the last computer dies can you make a new one? When the last pair of shoes wears out are you going to go barefoot?
What will your children do when there are no more parts to salvage? What will your grandchildren do?
Much of our existing technological infrastructure has been built upon increasingly sophisticated technology which some time ago passed the point of being “bootstrappable” i.e. able to be recreated from scratch. Much of our technology requires other precursor and support technology which is itself not capable of being “bootstrapped” from scratch.
Computer production requires optical and electronic devices far beyond the capability of an individual to produce. The crystals of silicon used to produce most computer chips require sophisticated ovens and production facilities that few people could build. The tools used to manufacture wafers from silicon crystals depends on generations of development that could not be built in even a sophisticated machine shop. Even something as seemingly simple as a pocket calculator was beyond the capability of the technology that put a man on the moon in the 1960s.
The U.S. built the worlds first nuclear weapon in the 1940s. They built submarines. Aircraft that could fly half way around the world. Primitive ballistic missiles. Jet engines But all of the technology of that time could not build a simple pocket calculator as we know them today or an LED flashlight. They not only did not have the technology but would have had to build several generations of new industries in order even to create the tools and technology to do so.
Most of us today know how to OPERATE modern technology but few if any of us have the knowledge to manufacture that technology.
The Library is currently about 170 gb of data made up of over 10,000 PDF files.
There is a certain irony, as several people have pointed out, of collection digital copies of books that are accessible only through electronic devices (i.e. computers) in order to have the the knowledge of how to rebuild an 1800’s through early 1900’s technological and industrial infrastructure after a Solar or Nuclear EMP has destroyed most electronic technology. And it’s a good question.
Unfortunately we’re already at about 2.5 million pages of information and still growing. The last time I worked out the figures it would take something like 400 cases of paper and several hundred toner cartridges for a common Laser Printer to print out a single copy of the library. I calculated the costs, a retail prices at about $30,000 just for the paper and toner. That does not even take into account binding the books or putting up shelves on which to store them.
So how do you store something that’s too expensive to print, too large to store physically and could all be erased in an instant from a hard drive by an EMP event?
There are several solutions listed below. They are by no means the only solutions as I’m sure people have already come up with others that they just haven’t shared.
In the event that the Library is ever actually needed it’s going to be after a collapse and after the survivors have made it through the initial emergency, the die-off, have established self sufficient communities capable of surviving for the long term in food, shelter and security. Once that point is reached they are going to start making long term plans on how to start rebuilding, organizing, developing trade and industry again and restoring a technological infrastructure for when salvage e is no longer a viable source of supply.
1. STORING the Data
Optical Disk Storage (DVD/CD)
100+ gigabytes equates to roughly a couple dozen DVDs full of information if you store them in the most space efficient manner rather than separating them by category. For the sake of argument, lets say 24 DVDs. If you used CDs instead it would require about 150 cds.
24 DVDs cost a few dollars and most modern computers have DVD writers on them. I’ve made several sets of Library DVDs. I even took the extra step of printing attractive labels on them with the categories they each contained. When completed the set, in protective cases, was a couple inches high.
The bottom line is that storing the entire Library on DVDs is cost effective, simple and easily duplicated. It’s quite simple to make multiple copies to store in separated locations or with other people. The DVDs have a long lifespan if not physically damaged though naturally multiple copies provide extremely inexpensive insurance.
This is the method I most recommend since it’s EMP proof, inexpensive and easily duplicated and distributed to others. As long as the discs are protected from heat and physical damage they should have a long lifetime.
Hard Drive Storage
100+ gigabytes is a rather small amount of space relative to most modern hard drive. It’s becoming increasingly hard to even find hard drive under 100gb. Most laptops made in the last few years have hard drives in the hundreds of gigabytes.
There are a wide ranged or portable hard drive that are inexpensive. You can buy a small portable hard drive with capacities of 500gb for about $50-$70. By shopping around and looking at used equipment you can find them even cheaper. For those technically minded you can buy small cases for the 3.5 inch laptop drives for around $10 and then salvage the hard drive from a dead laptop to make your own.
Regardless of whether you use the hard drive in a laptop or a separate portable hard drive you will have to make plans to protect the hard drive from the effects of an EMP caused by a solar flare or by a manmade EMP attack. That issue is addressed further along.
Most flash drive currently in use are only a few gb in size though there are a few that are large enough to hold the Library. There is at least one 128gb flash drive on the market for under $100 and will undoubtedly be more in the near future and the prices will decline. A large capacity Flash Drive is certainly a viable alternative for storing the Library though Flash drive are significantly more fragile that hard drives of DVD/CDs. Just as with a hard drive the media would need protection from EMP effects.
2. ACCESSING the information
Realistically the only truly effective method of accessing the books in the Library stored in Digital form is with a computer. E-Readers are a possible option but most are limited in size and make reading of scanned books difficult. Almost all E-Readers lack printing capability.
In the aftermath of an EMP event, either natural or manmade, there are unlikely to be many functional computers remaining. With work and some technical skill it would likely be possible to rebuild a few with parts that happened to escape the devastating effects of an EMP event though even that is speculation. Even in the worse case EMP event there are going to be some salvageable computers… motherboards and other components stored in static bags, laptops in metal enclosures that unintentionally serve as Faraday cages, etc.
The best approach to ensuring that a computer is available is to set aside a laptop in a protected EMP proof storage location. There are a couple of options for laptops. When you replace an older laptop turn the older one into an emergency backup. Look for older used laptops. Used laptops can often be found very inexpensively. They may not be adequate for current generation computing but could be more than adequate to load and read a PDF file from a DVD or portable hard drive. Keep an eye out at yard sales, local thrift stores, printed and online classified ads. You might be surprised at what you can find.
EMP effects from a solar flare on the scale of the Carrington Event of 1859 are capable of destroying virtually all electronic devices which use solid state electronics. About the only electronic devices which would survive are those using early to mid 1900s tubes (essentially WWII technology) and those protected by a Faraday Cage. There are a few classes of military devices which were designed to withstand some of the EMP effects of a Nuclear War environment but it’s use has declined over time with the lessening danger of nuclear conflict.
If a solar flare comparable in size to the Carrington Event were to occur today it is safe to assume that virtually every single unprotected electronic device would be damaged beyond usability or outright destroyed.
So in order to make use of the Library in a worse case disaster you will have to safely store the computer equipment needed to read it.
Storing a printer is certainly optional. Ideally a small laser printer in a Faraday Cage but that is more than most folks could reasonably afford. The advantage to a laser printer is that the toner cartridges have a fairly high capacity and can be refilled fairly easily with toner from other cartridges in an emergency.
An older ink jet printer might be an attractive option except for the matter of ink cartridges which have low capacity and limited shelf life after being opened. The best option for storing an ink jet printer is to buy one or two sets of cartridges for that printer and store them unopened. The printer itself should be stored without cartridges in it. Additionally you should take the time to research the various methods of refilling ink jet cartridges and buy the materials and supplies to refill them multiple times.
Regardless of which option to choose, be sure to include CDs containing the print drivers for them and be sure that you have the proper print drivers for whatever computer you have stored.
While storing a printer might seem a bit extreme, imagine being in a situation where you and others needed the knowledge in the books of the Library and the only alternative to reading them on a single fragile computer was to transcribe them by hand.
As with computer technology itself there is a good chance that there will be some salvageable or repairable printers available. The key factor there will be printing supplies for them. Paper deteriorates and cases of paper will not be high priority items for most people to store. Salvaging paper supplies as soon as possible will be critical. The same applies to toner and ink depending on the printer type. Once the existing salvageable supplies of those items are used up it will be a long. long time before they can be replaced.
Theoretically if a book in the library is accessible using a salvaged computer or laptop it could be transcribed manually but that is a labor intensive effort. Setting type by hand to print a book is even more labor intensive.
4. ELECTRONIC PROTECTION
The only really effective means of protecting electronic equipment from EMP effects is by storing them inside a Faraday Cage. Faraday Cages have been used for decades and can provide 100% protection from electrical fields which would otherwise damage or destroy electronics.
Fortunately they are quite simple to build and use. A Faraday cage is essentially nothing more than a metal shield that completely surrounds a volume of space. It’s not armor plating. It does not require special materials or unusual construction techniques. The simplest Faraday Cages are made of metal mesh (e.g. screening material) or sheet metal.
There are two approaches to building a Faraday Cage. The oldest and most traditional is to build a literal “cage”, a rectangular box shape made of metal mesh. A roll of metal window screen works quite well and can be made any size one wishes.
The simplest way however is using sheet metal and requires no construction of metal working skills at all. Galvanized metal trash cans with removable lids have been around for around a hundred years. They can be purchased in various sizes at most hardware stores and are relatively inexpensive. ($15-$30 range)
The key to turning a galvanized trash can into a functional Faraday Cage is to line it so that the contents do not contact the metal of the can and to ensure that the seam between the lid and the body of the can seals with continuous metal to metal contact.
Below are some links to constructing Faraday Cages from galvanized metal trash cans as well some recommendations for additional items to store in them. You can easily find additional information webpages and videos by searching the term Faraday Cage.
A set of Library DVDs and/or a copy on a portable hard drive or a laptop hard drive and an older laptop provides a library of thousands of books worth of information. Even better would be to store an extra printer in a Faraday Cage for printing out books as required if the situation ever dictated needing the Library. Cases of paper would survive most disasters and could be salvaged. Working computers and printers might not.
We have Faraday Cages constructed in this fashion stored in a corner of the attic. They contain several older laptops, multiple copies of the Library as well as a variety of other electronic emergency supplies such as wind up flashlights, solar battery chargers, two way radios, CBs, shortwave radios, extra printers and other items. None of the items are ones we miss since they are mostly surplus items or items we would not normally need. However should the situation ever arise when we did need them they could easily mean the difference between life and death, comfort and hardship not only for ourselves and others but for our community.