Digital Culture

Future Libraries: Is Anybody Out There?

Margaret Atwood Future Libraries 1Ella Barker

“I am sending a manuscript into time. Will any human beings be waiting there to receive it?” As the first author to participate in a century-long initiative, Margaret Atwood sums up the hopes and fears of the Future Library project: to find a receptive reader in an unknown future for her (as yet) unpublished work Scribbler Moon. Scottish artist Katie Paterson sowed the seeds for her artwork “Framtidsbiblioteket,” (Future Library) back in May2014 when she planted one thousand Norwegian spruce trees in Nordmarka, just north of Oslo. Each year, the Future Library Trust invites a distinguished writer to conceive a work of any length, genre or language that will be kept unread, unpublished until 2114. The Turkish novelist Elif Shafak joins Icelandic lyricist Sjón, British author David Mitchell and Canadian born Atwood as the first four participants of the project. Ninety-seven years from now, Nordmarka will supply the paper to publish Paterson’s curated writings. Until then, the content of such works will remain solely with the writer.

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From sound recordings of melting glaciers played on discs of ice to mapping out “All the Dead Stars,” Paterson’s works engage with temporal notions of geological change. Future Library is her project most intimately connected with our natural surroundings to date: both indebted and dedicated to Oslo and its Norwegian hinterland. Paterson notes that the imperative of nurturing the spruce trees over the next century provides “a conceptual counterpoint” to the invitation that she, and others after her, will continue to extend to authors to bring their own work to fruition, for an audience as yet to be embodied. The New Deichmanske Library, opening in Bjørvika, Oslo in 2019, will store the authors’ manuscripts in trust (one hard copy, one on a USB stick) in the Silent Room until 2114. A sequestered space, fostering only one or two visitors at a time, the Silent Room will be lined with wood from Nordmarka,whilst the forest itself will be within view on the horizon.

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In an age in which the written word is seemingly undermined by the punch of 140 characters, it seems timely that this is Paterson’s first artwork to take a literary turn. It is “a tribute to the written word,” as Atwood writes, a tribute to “the material basis for the transmission of words through time.” Paterson’s comments on Shafak – her ability to “embrac[e] a plurality of voices” and create “connectivity between people and places” – are as pertinent when describing Sjón, Mitchell and Atwood. All of the current authors can be reconciled by their power to transgress temporal boundaries in their works – boundaries, which are in themselves dissolved by the submission of their works. All that binds them now to their penned piece is trust: trust in their successors, in the continuation of the project and in our future planet. “We trust that our trust is not misplaced.”

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