An interesting – and pretty conceptual – art project from Scottish artist Katie Paterson highlights issues around the future of the printed book, and even the survival of literature. The so-called Future Library (Framtidsbiblioteket) for the city of Oslo in Norway looks to commit 100 unpublished works – one per year – to a century’s wait while 1000 trees grow in a Norwegian forest, awaiting the day in 2114 when they will furnish the wood to print those works in an anthology. And the first writer to contribute to the project is Margaret Atwood.

“Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the 100-year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future,” says the project’s introductory blurb. “The manuscripts will be held in trust in a specially designed room in the New Deichmanske Public Library opening in 2018 in Bjørvika, Oslo. Intended to be a space of contemplation, this room – designed by the artist – will be lined with wood from the forest. The authors’ names and titles of their works will be on display, but none of the manuscripts will be available for reading – until their publication in one century’s time.”

Margaret Atwood said in the press release for her contribution to the project:

I am very honoured, and also happy to be part of this endeavor. This project, at least, believes the human race will still be around in a hundred years! Future Library is bound to attract a lot of attention over the decades, as people follow the progress of the trees, note what takes up residence in and around them, and try to guess what the writers have put into their sealed boxes.

The Future Library recalls other extremely long-dated monumental projects such as the Clock of the Long Now (a.k.a. the 10,000 Year Clock) – incidentally financed by Jeff Bezos. And the Future Library’s introductory materials make no mention of the advent of ebooks, but the connections are obvious.

The Future Library also highlights – perhaps unwittingly – the ecological question marks over traditional paper publishing. Of course, 1000 trees grown over 100 years should contribute positively to the carbon footprint. But the fact remains that a part of a forest ecosystem is being dedicated to one single to-be-published work. The Future Library may be nothing like the worst offender compared to the mass churn of pulp trade and newsprint publishing, and planting new trees may be a far better goal than many others, but ebooks don’t need that level of disturbance to the environment at all.


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Paul St John Mackintosh is a British poet, writer of dark fiction, and media pro with a love of e-reading. His gadgets range from a $50 Kindle Fire to his trusty Vodafone Smart Grand 6. Paul was educated at public school and Trinity College, Cambridge, but modern technology saved him from the Hugh Grant trap. His acclaimed first poetry collection, The Golden Age, was published in 1997, and reissued on Kindle in 2013, and his second poetry collection, The Musical Box of Wonders, was published in 2011.


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