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The library—100 years from now

I want to live to be 100 years old. Yes, that is a bold statement, and I’ll admit this goal may be a bit unrealistic and potentially impossible, but my curiosity pushes me to beat the laws of nature. As a 22-year-old avid reader working for a publishing company, I can’t help but wonder: what will be the future of the printed book? Since the creation of the world wide web by Tim Burners-Lee in 1989 and it’s continual expansion since then, this question has haunted the publishing industry, raising profound questions about the state of the industry and the printed book. After the debut of the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook, it seemed as if the days of print materials were numbered. Katie Paterson, founder of the Future Library of Norway project, doesn’t seem to think so, and she’s got a plan to ensure their existence.

A renowned Scottish artist, Paterson is known for her grand-scale artistic ideas and endeavors. On 12 June 12 2014, Paterson began a century-long project as her way of preserving the future of the library and the printed book. Over 1,000 trees have been planted in the Nordmarka forest just outside of Oslo, Norway for the Future Library, called Framtidsbiblioteket in Swedish. These trees, only now just saplings, will grow to full maturity by 2114, ready to be harvested to print the most mysterious literary anthology ever compiled.

Margaret Atwood and Katie Paterson © by Giorgia Polizzi. Used with permission.
Margaret Atwood and Katie Paterson. Photo © by Giorgia Polizzi. Used with permission via Katie Paterson.

Each year, one prominent author submits an original manuscript of his or her writing—be it a poem, short story, novel, play, anything—and seals it in a box. For the next 100 years, that box will be kept in trust, unpublished, until 2114 when the future project leaders will publish the set of works submitted into printed anthologies available to the public. The New Deichmanske Public Library in Bjørvika, Oslo, opens in 2019 and will house the manuscripts in a specially designed room, lined with wood from the forest. Only the authors’ names and titles of their works will be displayed.

For the next 98 years, no one—not even Katie Paterson herself—will be able to read these submissions, and the authors of these works will most likely never experience the public’s reaction to their writings. In fact, most everyone who is currently working on this project with Paterson will never see the results of their efforts, and can only hope that the people to whom they entrust this project will continue their legacy in the ways directed. With hope, their grandchildren might be old enough to purchase a volume of the anthology, but even that’s no guarantee. In a world so consumed with providing a better existence for future generations, how selfless of an endeavor to work on a project the creator will knowingly never be able to enjoy.

Canadian poet, novelist, and literary critic Margaret Atwood inaugurated the project, placing her piece entitled Scribbler Moon into the hands of the chairman of the Future Library in May 2015. Soon to follow was celebrated British author David Mitchell, entrusting his manuscript From Me Flows What You Call Time to the library in May 2016. In a video interview with Mitchell, he describes the project as “an antidote to dystopia.”

Deichmanske bibliotek / Oslo Public Library © by Atelier Oslo and Lund Hagem. Used with permission.
Deichmanske bibliotek / Oslo Public Library, where the manuscripts will be housed. Photo © by Atelier Oslo and Lund Hagem. Used with permission via Katie Paterson.

Mitchell raises a thought-provoking point. In a world so rapidly advancing as ours, with technological feats being accomplished daily, is there any reason to believe that texts will be printed in the future, or that a physical library will house these texts? Will the remnants of a printed past still remain in the digital future? It’s hard to say. But with Paterson’s project, at least there is hope that books will still be printed, bought, and more importantly, read.

The public can now purchase a certificate that guarantees them a printed copy of the final anthology. Your children—or rather your children’s children—can be, in David Mitchell’s words, “a stakeholder in the future,” and one of the first to own an original piece of history, never before seen.

The Future Library announced on Friday, 14 October 2016, that its next contributing author will be Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson, more commonly known as Sjón, who will place his unpublished, original manuscript into the hands of Katie Paterson in June 2017. When asked about the project, Sjón commented:

“Like the best of games, the Future Library makes the player aware of the skills and flaws he or she brings to the playing field, in this case it tests the fundamentals of everything an author must deal with when sincerely engaging with the art of writing: Am I a writer of my times? Who do I write for? How much does the response of the reader matter to me? What in a text makes it timeless? And for some of us it poses the hardest question of all: Will there be people in the future who understand the language I write in? It is a game I look forward to play with enthusiasm and earnestness.”

As the new year slowly approaches, my excitement builds, and I will continue to plot my new near-impossible dream of living to be 120 years old so I can finally read that printed anthology.

Featured Image Credit: Katie Paterson, Future Library, 2014-2114 © by MJC. Used with permission via Katie Paterson

Recent Comments

  1. Nicole B

    What a cool concept! This magical mystery is a reminder of the constant awes presented to us in literature!

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