Jeffrey SchnappCristoforo MagliozziIn ancient Sumer, more than 4,500 years ago, the first libraries were archives of clay tablets etched with cuneiform script.  In our own time, a library may contain not only printed books and journals, but also audio and visual recordings in analog and digital form.  Yet the purpose remains little changed over the millennia – to share information from one human being to another and to preserve a body of knowledge from generation to generation.

The Harvard Depository in rural Massachusetts is a library, too, but on a scale and with a purpose unlike your local public library branch.  The just-released documentary Cold Storage takes us inside the HD and offers a chilling glimpse of the future of scholarship.

“The facility was originally meant as a dark archive for materials that don’t really circulate,” explains director Cristoforo Magliozzi.“There’s both a ‘general population’ area, as they term it, that is somewhere around 50 degrees, for most of the materials. They also have a film vault, which is even colder, for keeping 35-millimeter prints in the best shape possible.”

Much more than a tour of a forebidding fortress, the film builds on critical examinations of libraries by Jeffrey Schnapp and Matthew Battles.

“The last chapter of that book, which unfolds six historically-grounded scenarios for the future of libraries, is a screenplay. It’s a visual essay, a kind of photographic essay with a text that accompanies it.  That text is, indeed, the screenplay for Cold Storage, the film,” Schnapps tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally.

“One of the ambitions of the documentary and the (accompanying) Web documentary project was precisely to experiment with a kind of generative model of publishing,” says Schnapp. “Various pieces – printed, not printed, performed – are captured in a number of different media [and] all intersect one another, but do things that are different, that add value to each of those building blocks that make up a kind of sustained meditation on the nature of human interaction with knowledge.”

Cristoforo Magliozzi is the Director of Cold Storage, an interactive documentary exploring the Harvard Depository, which he shot and edited while serving as a Principal and Project Coordinator for the metaLAB at Harvard.

Jeffrey T. Schnapp is Professor of Romance Languages & Literature and Comparative Literature, and on the teaching faculty in the Department of Architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. He is the faculty director of metaLAB (at) Harvard and faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. With Adam Michaels, he is co-author of The Electric Information Age Book (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012).

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