Off to visit the Future Library in 2114

If I had a time machine, I would travel 98 years into the future to 2114. This is the year the Future Library will be released in Oslo, Norway. For those of you who haven’t heard of the Future Library, it is a conceptual art project created by artist Katie Paterson. The idea is each year, beginning in 2014, a different author will contribute an original piece of writing to the library, to be published in the year 2114. So far, Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell are contributing authors. The manuscripts, along with printing technologies on which to print the books, are being housed in the New Public Deichmanske Library. A forest of trees was planted in 2014 to provide paper for the books. To read more about this project, you can visit the artist’s website.

I want to be able to witness the publishing of the Future Library Anthology to satiate my curiosity about a number of things:

  1. Does anyone care about the project? Or is this an idea more exciting for people alive at the beginning of the 100-year period: people who will never get to see the finished product?
  2. I want to know what books published (presuming they are still published) in 2114 look like, and if the printing technologies preserved in the Future Library are at all helpful. Does anyone know how to use them?
  3. What did Margaret Atwood want to communicate to readers 100 years from now?

    source: Future Library, Kristin Von Hirsch, 2016
  4. Finally, what will this project tell future scholars about cultural anxieties surrounding the future of the book in 2014? In my opinion (firmly rooted in 2016) this project reveals much about cultural anxieties surrounding the future in general. The concept of making choices and decisions which affect generations in the future resonates with those concerned with environmental sustainability. Will our current environmental crisis be of lesser or greater interest to people in 2114? When I return from my travels through time, I’ll let you know.

A Seedy Saturday & intellectual property

I intended my example for this week’s blog question to be a textual artifact in digital form (truly, I did!) but my mind kept returning to artifacts neither print nor digital in form: seeds. This has something to do with Adrian Johns’ statement on policing intellectual property: “Efforts to uphold intellectual property against piracy take place in all areas of today’s economy, but they are most prominent in three: media, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture” (499). This statement resonated with me, in part, because I am part of a group starting a seed library in Cobourg. Last weekend I was promoting the project at our local annual seed exchange and was questioned by a visitor about seed copyrights and whether or not what we were proposing to do was legal. I didn’t have an answer because it was something I had only considered in abstract terms. You hear about the large-scale-agri-business farmer in the states being sued by Monsanto for saving seeds, but I had never really considered the possibility that any one at that seed exchange would be violating copyright laws. We were not (as far as I know) as heirloom, untreated, open-pollinated seeds are what people are interested in, but what would happen if someone donated copyrighted soybean seed containing copyrighted pesticide to the library? It is improbable, but it is possible. This exchange really made me question my assumptions about what I own when it comes to my food and food production. I am determined to educate myself further on the subject.

If anyone is interested in the topic of intellectual property rights and seeds from the perspective of advocates for seed sovereignty, there is a free webinar on the subject happening on March 30. The panelists include Ann Slater of the National Farmers Union, Julie Dawson of the University of Wisconsin Madison and Jack Kloppenburg of the Open Source Seed Initiative. It is currently full, but the materials will be posted to the site the following week. It can be found here:

Johns, A. (2009). Piracy: the Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates. Chicago: U of Chicago P.

Inklings & inclinations re: final paper

As I discussed in an earlier blog entry, I am interested in exploring cultural shifts in reading practices through an ecological lens. This includes the materiality of reading platforms as well as cultural practices surrounding their creation, consumption, use, and eventual disposal.

I would like to use the example of field guides as a way into this conversation. iPhone apps such as PlantNet are able to identify plant species using the device’s camera. I am interested in how using an app like PlantNet instead of a traditional print field guide changes the experience of The Nature Walk. How is the process of photographing a plant (and having the name of the species supplied to you) different from locating a species in the traditional field guide format of a printed book? How does this change the way we “read” the plants we may encounter? How does it challenge the very concept of the Field Guide?

I want to somehow tie these thoughts into emerging academic conversations surrounding media and the ecological crisis. The work of poet-thinker Robert Bringhurst, and other scholars interested in the ways humans read the land will be relevant to this inquiry.

Consumer tracking & YouTube

While ruminating on the relationship between content and containers, my mind kept returning to YouTube. In this week’s readings, Whitney Ann Trettien (2013) writes about “artifacts that seem to skirt the peripheries of the average user’s experience in fact occupy a central position within the digital marketplace, exposing the processes of mediation and communication circuits upon which network capitalism depends.” One place where the invisible infrastructure of network capitalism is apparent is the tracked search.

As other YouTubers will attest, the place of advertisements on the site has changed over time. Once one video ends, another will begin almost immediately, creating a continuous play list. In between these videos, advertisements will occasionally play. Normally I do not pay much attention to advertising on the internet, ads are after all commonplace; however, around the time I was planning my wedding, the ads were suddenly all wedding-themed. This shift in content was jarring, and made YouTube’s ability to track my searches obvious.

While I am aware my searches are being tracked on most sites, this sudden shift in ad content, so clearly linked to changes in my recent searching activity, made the surveillance visible. It was a reminder that the continuous flow of content available on YouTube is determined by my search habits and the site’s ability to monitor what I watch. For a moment the infrastructure of logarithms and code designed to make a profit at my expense was obvious.


Trettien, Whitney Anne. “A Deep History of Electronic Textuality: the Case of English Reprints of John Milton’s Areopagitica.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 7, no. 1 (2013).

Reading with the land in mind

I prefer print to electronic screens in most respects. I do not own a tablet or an eReader- a laptop and an archaic smartphone (it should probably be leaking chemicals in a landfill somewhere) with no data plan are the digital devices in my possession. Let’s get this out of the way now: I am not a luddite. A large part of my job involves teaching people how to competently operate digital devices. I understand the merit, worth, and appeal of digital reading platforms. I just prefer to read print. I despise being confined to my laptop screen when reading, I prefer the mobility which a book or a hardcopy of an article allows me. But wait, why don’t I get myself an eReader or an iPad? These devices would allow me a similar freedom of movement.

To unpack my preference for print, lets consider this quotation from one of this week’s readings: “A platform in its purest form is an abstraction, a particular standard or specification before any particular implementation of it. To be used by people and to take part in our culture directly, a platform must take material form” (Montford & Bogost, 2009, quoted in Rowberry). It is the examination of the platform as an abstraction, at the expense of its materiality, that troubles me. One consequence of interrogating the platform as a physical object (which so far has not been mentioned in this class) is the environmental impact of shifting cultural practices of reading.

I do not read eBooks, in part, because I do not wish to purchase their platforms. They have  relatively short life-spans and require replacement after a handful of years, either because they stop working or are no longer compatible with current apps. What happens to the device once it is no longer needed? This question, along with others (what minerals were used to make the device and where were they mined? What was the cumulative hydro-pull of this device throughout its lifespan?) are important to ask. So perhaps what I choose to read on the screen has less to do with personal preferences than it does with this nagging question: What are the ecological consequences of changes in cultural reading practices in the age of ubiquitous computing and accelerating climate change?

Of course books and the paper industry have an ecological footprint too. As someone who grew up in a pulp mill town in northern B.C., I’ve got the increased risk of lung cancer to prove it. My point is not to idealize the paper industry but to point out the absence of the land in our discussions of the future of the book.

Simon Rowberry, “Ebookness,” Convergence: the International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, (2015): 1-18

FB Iconography

This week I decided to take a closer look at a page that (for better or worse) I view frequently: The Facebook Page. I chose this site because I believe it is a good jumping off point to begin a discussion of Andrew Piper’s work. Perhaps because I spend a good deal of time answering questions about “reading” websites for library patrons- of particular interest to me are his ideas concerning the shifting nature of literacy in the presence of digital pages.

You’ll notice in the top right corner of the Facebook screenshot a series of icons. Due to the somewhat unsettling fact that I have been using this social networking site for eight years, and because I frequently use computers and other ICTs, I know that the pictures of an arrow, lock, globe, and speech bubbles are symbols. For example, the globe is a label for my notifications button. As other long-time users of Facebook can attest to, this has not always been the case. At one time that button said ‘notifications.’ This use of symbols is not isolated to Facebook: when exactly did three horizontal lines stacked on top of one another come to mean “Menu”? This language of symbols is not self-evident to people who seldom use computers, or who are learning to use them for the first time. Yesterday, as I helped a patron access information for tax purposes, they asked “Was it hard for you to learn computers?” I had no satisfactory answer for this question, as I cannot recall the first time I used a computer, although I must have been around eight years old, old enough to remember such things.

Piper writes: “Sentences have become pixilated, divorced from their normal grammar in the same way that the digital page is no longer connected to the spine of a book” (56). Here, the imagery of pixilation captures the iconography of the internet which is gradually doing away with written words in its adoption of a language of symbols that consists of images without context. It isn’t until you try to explain to an adult much older than yourself why the three horizontal lines means menu that the taken-for-granted connection between signifier and signified is disrupted.


Piper, Andrew. “Turning the Page (Roaming, Zooming, Streaming).” In Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times. University of Chicago Press, 2012.

The encoding challenge that might have been: Lyric Philosophy

Marlena and I are collaborating on the encoding challenge. We are both interested in Canadian ecological poetry, which led us to consider the work of Robert Bringhurst and Jan Zwicky as options for our encoding challenge.

In what follows I reflect on Jan Zwicky’s Lyric Philosophy, the revised second edition, published in 2011 by Gaspereau Press.

This text fascinates me for many reasons, one of which being the complexity of its form, and the relationship in the text between form and function. Non-linear in nature, Zwicky takes a polyphonic approach to her reflections on time and resonant meaning. On each recto page is a passage by Zwicky, while on each verso are the thoughts of another thinker. While not directly commenting on the other thinker’s work, Zwicky’s placement of the passages allow them to exist alongside, and speak to, one another. In the introduction, she writes: “The relation of the two texts to one another is somewhere between counterpoint and harmony, somewhere between a double helix and the allemande of the earth and moon.” It gestures towards what David Gelernter describes as deep beauty: “An idealized integration of form and function” (Kirschenbaum, 2004). The text is shaped by the physicality and spatiality of pages and signatures. The negative space on each page also adds to the meaning of the text by both inviting the reader’s hands into the margins and suggesting where to pause.

The form of the book challenges understandings of interface. Kirschenbaum (2004) writes: “… the interface is also where representation and its attendant ideologies are most conspicuous to our critical eyes. Ostensibly wedded to the ideal of user-friendliness, the interface is also where we deploy our most creative features and imaginative functions.” The structure of Zwicky’s work is complex: the relationship between form and meaning is not an obvious one, and is certainly not designed to be user-friendly. The form invites the reader to work to make meaning, and much effort is required on the reader’s part to decode the text. The structure of Lyric Philosophy challenges the notion of user-friendliness. It is this challenge which makes Zwicky’s work an intriguing candidate for translation into XML. In the end, we chose a poem by Robert Bringhurst to encode. Lyric Philosophy will have to wait for another time…

TEI in the wild

For this week’s task, identifying TEI in the wild, I selected the New York Public Library’s Digital Schomburg: African American Woman Writers of the 19th Century. This project makes its use of TEI explicit, detailing its use of machine-readable form under a link called “Technical Notes.” According to the site, Digital Schomburg uses Standard General Markup Language (SGML), according to the Text Encoding Initiative Lite Document Type Definition.

On the home page, beneath the technical notes link is a link titled “Editorial Methods.” This includes a comparison of the print and electronic forms of the text, which claims “Not a single character of text has been deleted or excluded from the source documents in their conversion to the Digital Schomburg Edition” ( It describes its use of TEI as “literary,” and explains the difference between a TEI header, encoding description, revision history description, and text profile description.

While the project clearly describes its method, the editors do not go so far as to describe challenges encountered during their work. They stick to a descriptive approach to their use of XML. Having scoured the project’s website, I found no trace of accessible code. While the editors are willing to describe their process, they protect it by refusing to share it with visitors to the site. This closes down the possibilities for scholarly engagement with the text, assuming users’ interest in the project’s form is fairly superficial.

The link to the Digital Schomburg project can be found here:

Digitization & representation

This week’s question concerning representation brought to mind The Selected Poems of E.J. Pratt: A Hypertext Edition, edited by Sandra Djwa, W.J. Keith, and Zailig Pollock. This text also ties in with Monday’s class discussion on popular perceptions of the Digital Humanities.

To explore this project for yourself, follow this link:

While I find the design of this project unappealing, including the small window for text and the font choice of Courier New, I appreciate the way the text makes editorial choices visible.

The use of hyperlinks highlights particular sections of the poem. Words and lines associated with a link are highlighted in blue and underlined. This emphasizes the words in ways in which a footnote citation does not. Footnotes, while by no means invisible to the reader, are less obtrusive. In the print version of the text, the font is also all one colour (black). As a result, the editors direct readers’ attention quite obtrusively to specific parts of the poem. This asserts an editorial presence.

Is all of this necessary, though? The intended reader for this text is a scholar. I draw this conclusion because one can only find this text on the Trent website if they already know of its existence, either through searching the site or following a series of hypertext links through the rabbit hole which is the university’s website. When reading Pratt’s “The Titanic,” does a scholar really need to click on a link which brings them to a grainy picture of the vessel’s deck? A Google image search would provide the same result, and more.

I am curious to hear what my Future of the Book colleagues think about a digitization project such as this one.

On meaning, form & function

Bodach, V. & Logan, L. (2015). Ten Easter eggs. Scholastic: New York.

I left last Monday’s class thinking about the relationship between bibliographic form and meaning. What print books would be impossible to translate in a digital form without losing meaning integral to the text? An answer to this question was literally handed to me the next evening by a young girl during my shift at the Cobourg Public Library. She presented me with one of the library’s board books, Ten Easter Eggs, concerned it had been broken. For those unfamiliar with children’s library collections, a board book refers to a book designed for infants and toddlers with stiff, cardboard pages. In our readings this week Kirschenbaum and Werner write (2014) “… most digitizations focus on the value of the object as a text to be read” (p.419), board books are objects with value extending beyond their printed text. As a result, digitization of board books is difficult to achieve without losing meaning essential to the object.

Board books are designed not only to be read. Manufactured with durable materials, they allow for use specific to the developmental stage of infants: the reader may put the book in their mouth, or grab it by one page and wave it around. Ten Easter Eggs is an interesting board books as its pedagogical function extends beyond the lessons of the text (such as counting to ten, and simple addition and subtraction) to sensorial learning.

The book contains ten three-dimensional eggs. For example, page one contains one 3D egg and nine egg shaped cut-out holes, which reveal the other nine eggs contained in the book. As the page is flipped, a fuzzy chick made with felt is revealed below the egg. Page three now contains nine eggs and one felt chick. The verso pages contain egg-shaped holes. This process continues until ten felt chicks are revealed. This design allows the reader to explore the book with their hands, feeling the holes, the felt chicks and the smooth 3D eggs. This sensory experience could not be replicated in a digitized version of the text. Furthermore, eBook platforms such as eReaders or tablets are not designed for children to put them in their mouths or throw them around. As a result, the child’s relationship to the object would be shaped by greater caution in a digital format (enforced, most likely, by adults) and as a result, would look quite different.

I mentioned earlier this book was handed to me by a young library patron. She was concerned because several of the 3D eggs had been “punched-in” by previous readers, rendering their shape less than egg-like. Rather than understanding the book as damaged, this can be read as a productive interaction between the reader and the text-object. Through using the book in a way it was not designed to be used (applying great pressure to the eggs) the child reader has the ability to change the shape of the egg, creating a very different sensory experience for future readers. In this way the text effects meaning unintended by its designers.