The Future Library is a forest in Oslo
The future library is a forest in Oslo: 1000 trees was planted in a forest in Oslo in 2014. It is the future library. Each year, an author submits a manuscript, unread, unseen; that will be stored in the national library. In 2114, the trees will be cut down, milled and made into 1000 books containing the stories. And that will be the only format they will exist in.. no digital tools.
It is a remarkable project on several levels: the authors are writing for a very much unknown future, a very much unknown reader. The language will be different, the notion of a paper book… who knows how that will be seen. Clearly, this is about long perspectives. Planting trees are putting some faith in the future, and the growth rings of the trees will represent the 100 chapters in the book. It would be hard to get further from instant gratification.
Margaret Atwood was the first author out, in 2014, and she had this to say about it:
I am sending a manuscript into time. Will any human beings be waiting there to receive it? Will there be a ‘Norway’? Will there be a ‘forest’? Will there be a ‘library’? How strange it is to think of my own voice – silent by then for a long time – suddenly being awakened, after 100 years. What is the first thing that voice will say as a not-yet-embodied hand draws it out of its container and opens it to the first page? I picture this encounter – between my text and the so-far nonexistent reader – as being a little like the red-painted handprint I once saw on the wall of a Mexican cave that had been sealed for over three centuries. Who now can decipher its exact meaning? But its general meaning was universal: any human being could read it. It said: ‘Greetings. I was here.’
2015 was David Mitchell, and he said:
Contributing and belonging to a narrative arc longer than your own lifespan is good for your soul.
At the time of writing, the new national library is being constructed in Oslo. It will be a gigantic structure, but deep within will be the room for the future library: a small, wood-lined room, where you can visit the manuscripts – but you cannot read them. Just like you can visit the trees, and sit in their shade.
To twist the words of Knut Hamsun: In 100 years, all will be remembered*.
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(*In 100 years, all will be forgotten)