I came across an interesting article last month about a project which has been created in Bristol Central Library, England. In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Bristol libraries, a team of engineers and artists has turned a collection of 400 out-of-print hardbacks into an interactive, hive-like structure.
The idea was to enable physical books to interact with the digital age, and for visitors to interact with the books themselves. Controlled by a series of sensors, the books open and close depending on the movements of the people in proximity to them. As visitors walk by, the pages rustle and send wafts of that classic musty old book smell into the air, giving the feeling of strolling through the packed shelves of a second-hand bookshop. The creaking of the machinery as the books come to life only adds to the effect. As Andrew Cox of Bristol Central Library put it:
“We embrace the digital but we all still love books and the book hive is a wonderful blend of art and engineering, reminding us of the intrinsic beauty and love affair we have with books as tangible items.”
Unfortunately, the project is temporary, and will only be available to the public until March 17th 2014. Still, it has been very popular, and was extended from its original end date due to public demand. There are some people who believe that physical books are destined to share the place of Victorian furniture and Fabergé eggs as nothing more than collectable antiques. The thought of a world without physical books does not sit well with me, and to be honest I would rather not dwell on the prospect. If, however, the digital child should ever completely supplant its ink and paper parent, I hope that projects like this one will be around to display these beautiful and timeless objects in interesting and imaginative ways for the enjoyment of generations to come.