BIBLIOTHECA: The Library Past/Present/Future

\”Wisdom builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down\” reads the lead verse of Proverbs 14.
The verse may serve as a doubly apt epigraph for a seminar devoted to the past, present, and future of the library as an institution. Apt because the first half has ornamented many a façade of a European library over the course of the past five centuries. Apt also because we live in an age in which digital forms of communication and media are quite literally exploding the prior culture of memory, with the demise of the printed book and the traditional library now a frequent topic of discussion.
What form should the library of the 21st century assume? Should it simply vanish into virtual desktops and merge into a timeless and placeless universal database? Should it adopt a double identity, bridging the worlds of print and digital documents, of physical presence and telepresence? Should it alter its identity and become a workshop, a laboratory, an innovation incubator where emerging and future forms interact and dialogue with the relics of the past? Or should it simply merge with the university itself as a place of knowledge production and reproduction? If so, where then should books \”go\” in the 21st century? And how about all the other \”old media\” that make up the record of human civilizations?
Informed answers to such questions require an understanding of libraries themselves, the practices that have shaped them, their systems of access, retrieval, and storage. For libraries are not just collections of documents and books, but also physical structures and, for that matter, infrastructures. Indeed, libraries are among the most venerable of building types, dating back to the ancient Near East. Their history is also that of cataloguing systems, vault and case designs, carrels and desks, viewing devices, lecterns, and the like.
Bibliotheca combines exploration of the history of the library as an institution of knowledge storage, retrieval and production with a design studio concerned with problem sets involving libraries on the Harvard campus as well as questions the future shape and functions of the library as an institution. The seminar is divided into three sections: the first is devoted to the history of libraries and library infrastructures; the second to case studies of major contemporary library projects; the third to brainstorming about design solutions to the real-world problems being confronted by the Harvard libraries.
Topics will include: libraries in the cultural imagination, library infrastructures from registers to card catalogues to digital catalogues, the history of shelving systems and lecterns, library architectures from the Library of Alexandria to the Digital Public Library of America.