The technological advancements of the past twenty years have rendered the future of the library as a physical space, at least, as uncertain as it has ever been.
The information that libraries were once built to house in the form of books and manuscripts can now be accessed in the purely digital realm, as evidenced by initiatives like the Digital Public Library of America, which convenes for the second time this Friday in San Francisco.
But libraries still have profound cultural significance, indicating that even if they are no longer necessary for storing books they will continue to exist in some altered form.
Radio Berkman host David Weinberger postulated in his book Too Big To Know that the book itself is no longer an appropriate knowledge container – it has been supplanted by the sprawling knowledge networks of the internet. The book’s subtitle is "Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room."
Inspired by the work of Harvard Graduate School of Design students in Biblioteca 2: Library Test Kitchen – who spent the semester inventing and building library innovations ranging from nap carrels to curated collections displayed on book trucks to digital welcome mats – we turned the microphone around and had library expert Matthew Battles ask David, "When the smartest person in the room is the room, how do we design the room?"
Matthew Battles is the Managing Editor and Curatorial Practice Fellow at the Harvard metaLAB. He wrote Library: an Unquiet History and a biography of Harvard’s Widener Library.