The Future Library is a forest in Oslo

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 17.59.32The 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:

Margaret Atwood with the secret manuscript “Scribbler moon”. Photo: Kristin von Hirsch

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*.


Further reading:

Follow Future Library on Twitter @FuturelibraryNO

Future Library

The Guardian – Into the woods: Margaret Atwood reveals her Future Library book, Scribbler Moon

Huffington post – Future Library reminds us how connected books and the environment really are

(*In 100 years, all will be forgotten)


One thought on “The Future Library is a forest in Oslo”

  • As it happens it’s just over a hundred years since James Elroy Flecker wrote his poem To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence:

    I who am dead a thousand years,
    And wrote this sweet archaic song,
    Send you my words for messengers
    The way I shall not pass along.

    I care not if you bridge the seas,
    Or ride secure in the cruel sky,
    Or build consummate palaces
    Of metal or of masonry.

    But have you wine and music still,
    And statues and a bright-eyed love,
    And foolish thoughts of good and ill,
    And prayers to them who sit above?

    How shall we conquer? Like a wind
    That falls at eve our fancies blow,
    And old Maeonides the blind
    Said it three thousand years ago,

    O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
    Student of our sweet Engligh tongue,
    Read out my words at night, alone:
    I was a poet, I was young.

    Since I can never see your face,
    And never shake you by the hand,
    I send my soul through time and space
    To greet you. You will understand.

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