The New Library

I’m obsessed with a recent Tweet by YouTube’s Hunter Walk asking for thoughts on the value of archives, of the past, in the era of real-time everything. It’s interesting to think about there being value on both ends of the timeline. And clearly Twitter, who’ve recently locked down their API so you can no longer, as Social Media Editor Anjali Mullany used to do, ifttt your Twitter feed over to, say, a Google Calendar as a hacky way to archive your tweets. Now Twitter says it’ll soon let you download an archive of your tweets. (So, what, then, as of this moment, they have ‘em. But you can’t?)

This was all on the table during today’s digital staff meeting at Fast Company. Exec. Ed. Noah Robischon brought up the point that archiving things in the digital age isn’t as simple as storing documents, virtual or otherwise—it’s about being able to capture not only the message but the medium, because more and more often today, the two are inseparable. The easiest way to think of this in concrete terms is if you look at the Smart Car Argentina’s recent Twitter flipbook. Archiving those individual tweets wouldn’t do the trick at all. You have to archive the whole medium along with it.

Here comes the what-if.

What if the function of libraries—physical spaces—(and let’s face it, plenty of folks have questioned the use of physical libraries as repositories of documents and literature in the age of Google) became something more like a museum… or a time machine? It’d be a massive undertaking. It’d be organized by era. And if you wanted to see how web design evolved in the mid- to late 1990s, you’d go to that time period’s section and use the technological tools of that era to access, say, a Geocities page (probably “under construction”). You’d sit behind a giant, thick monitor hooked up to a clunky tower and listen to the dialup squawk until it connected at some hideously low baud rate…. Why? Because you can’t fully understand the design or technological choices that were made back then if you ignore all of the environmental factors (or hurdles) that creators had to deal with. A document can’t very well capture all of that.

Several of us a agreed this works as a concept to consider in our coveage. How to play it out on Fast Company? Still working on that one.