Thursday, 26 August 2010

mappa mundi and the chained library





At the weekend I went to Hereford Cathedral where they house the Mappa Mundi, a 13th Century visualisation of the earth and heavens and all known plants, creatures and monsters. There's also a chained library from the days when books cost the same as farms and were stored with spines inwards so that they could be opened easily on the desks to which they were chained, protected no doubt by curses to ward off copyright infringement. I've been wondering why the place felt so inspirational, as well as reminiscent of the medieval help desk in that famous clip. Here's an analogue web where an overview of all known things can be captured in one image and where users dip into a shared pool of learning using a platform for language whose design has been constantly evolving in the light of technical and economic change.  

I agree completely with those who say that accessing digital 'goods' feels more like borrowing from a library than buying stuff, even if you do pay - and I think this is an exciting transformation. 

All books and information go up to the cloud (of unknowing?) from which individuals draw down what they need in different ways, sometimes for free, sometimes paying for chunks packaged up in more or less attractive ways. The amplified author has the ability to communicate to a circle of readers and writers from his/her desk through social media without needing any intermediary but still needs access to the kinds of skills and services publishers have traditionally provided - to edit, design, promote what she's writing when that feels like a complete work deserving of wider distribution and suitable to sell in some form. 

At the Unlibrary we're planning to experiment with how we can create a (physical and online) hub for writers in the locality to meet, mingle and collaborate. This feels like a very natural setting for writers emerging and established to locate themselves as they find out how to spread their words using all the means now available to them. 


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