[Image: work station for Vannevar Bush's visionary Memex machine, the grandfather of the intertubeweba nd hypertext. Source: http://etec.ctlt.ubc.ca/510wiki/Hypertext]
Many have considered books and paradise and the ways to a great library and the correct books to read (and not read). Seneca was convinced of the efficacy of book on a shelf and their being much like a family, and Erasmus and others believing in books as libraries within themselves but without walls, and of course Borges and the infinity of books exceeding the size of the universe, perhaps having him come to the conclusion that hi sheaven would be a book. Thee are jusst a few examples of many--very few of all o fthese writers looked into the future at the book and the library. There was Kurt Lasswitz's 1901 novel The Universal Library (a source of inspiration for Borges' later work, The Library of Babel which was written in 1941); there was H.G. Wells' The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia and then the great Memex idea by the grandfather of the internet, Vannevar Bush, in As We May Think which was published in The Atlantic in 1945. And of course Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Libraries of the Future by J.C.R. Licklider (1965) are also standouts. Perhaps though the tandout in the practical and possible vision of teh future library was painted by Charles Cutter in 1883.
Charles Ammi Cutter published a short story in 1883 titled "The Buffalo Public Library in 1983". The story appeared in the Papers and Proceedings of the Sixth General Meeting of the American Library Association, Held at Buffalo, August 14 to 17, 1883. This sounds like a pretty arid place to grow such a flower of the future, but sometimes that happens. Cutter--a major figure in the hsitory of American librarianship-- predicted what a library might look like 100 years in the future, and a bunch of it mostly came to be true (and decades ago):
"From the newspaper basement a lift took us to one of the reading-rooms. These rooms were narrow, to ensure perfect light at every desk. The windows ran to the very top of the room and occupied more than half the wall space. The desks had every convenience that could facilitate study; but what most caught my eye was a little key-board at each, connected by a wire with the librarian's desk. The reader had only to find the mark of his book in the catalog, touch a few lettered or numbered keys, and on the instant a runner at the central desk started for the volume, and, appearing after an astonishingly short interval at the door nearest his desk, brought him his book and took his acknowledgment without disturbing any of the neighboring readers."
“This,” said my guide, “is our cataloging and machine room. The books are classed and prepared for cataloging, each in its own department, under the eye of the librarian of that class. Difficult cases may be referred to the chief librarian, who will decide them or turn them over to the council, an advisory body composed of the several librarians, who meet every week, presided over by their chief, and deliberate on doubtful points of administration. But in the department the book is only prepared, the heading is settled, notes are written, and the like; the actual cataloging is done here by fotografy, instantaneous of course, as all fotografy now is. Here, you see, the new books are arranged, open at the title, against this upright board. These are duodecimos and octavos, the quartos are put on that stand farther off, and the folios farther off still, so that all the plates may be of about the same size. The standard catalogue card now is ten centimeters wide and fifteen high. Underneath each title you notice a slip, on which the cataloger has written those facts which the title does not show; the number of volumes, various bibliografical particulars, and sometimes short criticisms. These are reproduced on the plate. Longer notes, which are sometimes needed, must have a separate card. When a sufficient number of boards are ready one is put upon this travelling-car which is moved forward by clock-work; as each title comes in focus the slide of the instrument is drawn, and the title and its note are fotograft. The whole operation is very short, and, since the late improvements, much cheaper than writing. The printing from the negative is done in this way. We want, of course, different numbers of the different titles according to the number of times which they will enter into the catalog. A few, for instance, will only appear in the author catalog; others must be put under half a dozen different subjects. Multiplying the number of our catalogs by the number of appearances, and doubling this (for we always reserve the same number that we use) gives the required number. You see these round stands some with 6, some with 7, some with 8 sides, and so on. The cards to be printed are put into these and revolved in focus before the instrument. Different combinations give us the number of cards we want. If it is 25, two tens and a five are revolved; if it is 16, a ten and six are put on.” But doesn't the mounting take a long time? “Oh, no; nobody mounts nowdays, we fotograf directly upon the card.” The cards, by the way, were not kept in drawers, but ingeniously fastened together to make little books so contrived as to allow insertions without rebinding. “Experience has shown that they can be consulted more readily in this way than when kept in drawers.”
And in summation:
"But I have shown you enough for you to see that our library is not a mere cemetery of dead books, but a living power, which supplies amusement for dull times, recreation for the tired, information for the curious, inspires the love of research in youth, and furnishes the materials for it in mature age, enables and induces the scholar not to let his study end with his school days."
Read the full piece here: The Buffalo Public Library in 1983 by Charles Ammi Cutter (1883)