Spread across campus in the Hatcher Graduate Library, Shapiro Undergraduate Library, and the Art, Architecture & Engineering Library, Bookmarks: Speculating the Future of the Library is a mixed media exploration that does just that.
The main installation in the Hatcher Graduate Library, In Search of the Pale Blue Spin, is an audio walk through the library created by Stephanie Rowden & Jennifer Metsker. Visitors may use their own personal device or borrow an mp3 player and headphones from the information desk. The walk is inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’s short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, and although I found the context of the story confusing, I must believe that that was part of the point.
More than anything, In Search of the Pale Blue Spin encourages “travelers” to stop and notice the details of the library. The calm voices in the recording, along with ethereal string bass and clarinet, usher listeners out of the everyday. You may have spent hours doing homework at the Hatcher Graduate Library, but have you ever stopped to take in the mosaic-like paintings in the North entrance, the arched ceiling of the reference room that is reminiscent of a train station, or the carvings of men in horses on the second floor? As the voice in the recording led me through the stacks in search of a mysterious book about Earth, I was able to be present in the library in a way that studying there doesn’t allow. I had never really stopped to take in the illuminated stained-glass window depicting a boat at sea, and I certainly had never noticed that it includes the letters “U M” at the top. Furthermore, I had never even been to some of the areas that the audio walk took me through.
Along the way, there are other pieces of art that are a part of Bookmarks. One of these works, Sophia Brueckner’s work Captured by an Algorithm, appears to be a set of Victorian-style porcelain plates at first look. However, further scrutiny, and a reading of the artwork’s description, reveals that the plates are printed with images made by applying Photoshop’s Photomerge algorithm to scans of romance novel covers. Each plate also includes a Kindle Popular Highlight from a romance novel. In other words, the set is a juxtaposition between what is old and what is new, and between what appears to be and what is.
Despite my enjoyment of In Search of the Pale Blue Spin, I cannot agree with its view of the library’s future. After heightening listeners’ appreciation of the library, the audio concludes, “Some of us have appointments to get to. Some of us are just tired. We need to say goodbye now. We need to say goodbye to the library, though we hope that it will still exist.” The World Book Encyclopedia may have become obsolete in the age of the Internet, but this does not mean that libraries are dead. They certainly are changing and must continue to, but evolution is the very thing that prevents extinction. In the twenty-first century, libraries have the opportunity to embrace and expand their role as epicenters of community and education, and we should be giving them new life by working to make them as accessible and relevant as possible, not mourning their death. We should not and cannot write off libraries just because the world (inevitably) is changing.
Bookmarks: Speculating the Future of the Library is free and open to the public and will continue through May 26. For more information, visit the exhibition’s webpage.