Katie Paterson, a Scottish artist, has started a 100+ yearlong journey to build a library from scratch—quite literally. In a rather unconventional way to build a library, she is starting from the ground up: by planting trees that will eventually be used to print the books that no one has read or will read until 2114. Each year, she collects one unpublished manuscript from the likes of Margaret Atwood and hides them away from the public. In 2020, they will be moved to what Paterson calls a “Silent Room” instead of a reading room in a library in Oslo.
Merve Emre writes, “Increasingly, it seems, there is something unbearably precious about writing novels that cannot be read — an act of delayed gratification that can have no real payoff because it has no real stakes, only symbolic ones. And there is something more straightforwardly unbearable about planting trees knowing that, in a time of mass deforestation and consumer waste, they will be cut down to make paper… the Future Library, which grafts an environmental taboo onto an artistic one: trees that are planted to be cut down; books that are written not to be read.”
When considering a librarians role with this project, I am rather intrigued. What responsibilities do they take on when handling a book they or no members of the public have any knowledge of? Is it exclusionary or an opportunity for librarians to engage users on another level? At what point in collecting the books do they start classifying and can it be done appropriately with knowing only the title? It is more obvious that an artist started this library rather than a librarian when considering the intention of these books is “to be worshiped, to be desired — a desire that draws all its strength from the impossibility of reading or reproducing them: Theirs is the fetishization of the singular, the uninterpretable.”
The act of keeping these books away from the public is even more resonating when considering how buildings and its objects (whether physical or digital) can be lost to means beyond our control: “it was shocking to remember, in an age of hard drives and big data, how quickly the matter of memories could disappear. The Future Library makes the physicality of culture palpable by insisting that we confront the long, laborious process of preserving language. It refuses to take it for granted. And it reminds us that we have not always been attentive to how literature is made, distributed, preserved and celebrated.”
By Taylor Norton, INFO653-02