Tuesday, 18 October 2016




If you're a selective Luddite like me, you've probably also spent time arguing with your friends over the validity of printed books and physical archives. Even though I own an e-reader and am fairly obsessed with my mobile devices, I would still rather be able to open a book and hold a photograph without using technology as a proxy.

That being said, I'm a huge fan of the New York Public Library project Biblion: The Boundless Library. The NYPL has carefully combed through their archives and curated two online exhibitions centered around the 1939-1940 World's Fair and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. You can access both collections through your PC, but they are really meant to be downloaded as apps.

The app design is gorgeous and interactive in really unique ways, including different interfaces for portrait and landscape views. But the real treat is the obvious love the library staff has for the source material. They knew the material (culture) inside and out, and were therefore able to choose the perfect complimentary pieces for each section.

A mechanical dog to usher in the 1940s

Complimentary is the key word. Since Biblion is so clearly a passion project, the right pieces had to be selected to represent the curator's vision, but that in no way makes any other archive less valid. We save the ephemera not because we are obsessed with stuff. Yes, we are a culture than can veer into compulsive hoarding a little too often, but the tangible remnants of our past have a way of rooting us back in the present. Without material culture we are tangential; we focus too much on what could be because we cannot properly remember what was.

Browsing through Biblion is like listening to a themed playlist of your favourite songs from different artists. It really hits the spot sometimes, but it won't replace your albums. I'd love to pore over the real archives one day, but in the mean time I won't reject your mix-tape, NYPL. It means you like me.

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