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How to Harvest a Library in Just 100 Years


A forest in Norway. (Photo: Ernst Vikne on Wikipedia)

Literature is available in many forms these days. You can buy a paperback, a hardcover, or a digital book to download. Or you could plant your own forest, let it grow for 100 years, and then harvest the trees for the pages of an anthology.

Katie Paterson, a Scottish artist, has opted for that last approach. In 2014 she launched Future Library, a public art project that begins with a thousand trees planted in the Norwegian forest of Normarka. After a century of growth, these trees will be cut down, pulped, and turned into a collection of books to be housed at the New Public Deichmanske Library in Oslo, which is scheduled to open in 2019.

During each year of the forest’s growth, one writer will contribute a text to be published in the anthology. The writing will be unseen by the public until the book collection is created in 2114. So far, two prominent writers have announced their involvement: Canadian author Margaret Atwood and British novelist David Mitchell. Both authors have either won or been shortlisted for the Booker Prize on numerous occasions.

On May 26, 2015, Atwood handed over her text, a manuscript entitled Scribbler Moon, during a ceremony held at the forest. Mitchell will submit his in 2016. All manuscripts will be kept in sealed boxes at the New Public Deichmanske Library until 2114. 

Barring great leaps in cryogenic technology, Paterson and early contributors to the project will not be alive to witness its conclusion. But personal satisfaction at the outcome is hardly the point. In inviting writers to be part of the anthology, Peterson aims, in her words, “to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.”

In the May 2015 announcement of his involvement in Future Library, Mitchell detailed his own enthusiasm: “The project is a vote of confidence that, despite the catastrophist shadows under which we live, the future will still be a brightish place willing and able to complete an artistic endeavor begun by long-dead people a century ago.”

Though the public is not permitted to see any of the manuscripts, you are are welcome to visit the Future Library forest, which is located just north of Oslo. An official Google map provides the exact coordinates.