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The ‘Future Library’ is humanity’s sustainable literary time capsule

In 2014, a project was set underway to plant one thousand tree saplings in Norway. Their destiny? To be turned into books a century from now, as part of the Future Library project.

When you imagine what the world will look like one hundred years from now, you probably don’t think about which books humans will be reading. Perhaps after reading this, you will.

Deep in Norway’s Nordmarka forest sits a growing collection of unpublished manuscripts written by some of today’s most renowned authors. One manuscript has been to the archive each year since 2014, waiting to be printed and read for the first time in the year 2114.

Though most of us won’t live to see these books published or read the stories on their pages, this is precisely the intention of the Future Library, a project put forward by Scottish artist Katie Paterson.

Famous for incorporating elements of geological time into her artwork, Paterson has previously mapped dead stars, sent a meteorite back into space, and broadcasted sounds made by melting glaciers.

Her artworks aim to help us consider our unique relationship to the ever-changing planet we live on. Her century-long project Future Library is no different, driven by values of sustainability and the desire to connect present and future generations of humanity.

A symbol of regeneration

When the concept of the Future Library was first launched, a section of the Nordmarka forest was cleared to make room for a special place that would hold the collection of 100 manuscripts.

This building, which opened for visitors in 2019, is named the Silent Room and was built out of wood from the trees that were chopped down.

Around the outside of the Silent Room, one thousand new tree saplings were planted. These too will eventually be chopped down and used to make paper for 1,000 copies of each unpublished manuscript in the year 2114.

As part of the century-long project, the Future Library Trust was formed. The organisation signed a contract that binds them to protect the forest until the trees can be used to print books in 2114.

These manuscripts are now on display inside locked boxes in the wooden Silent Room.

Books for generations of the future

The project has commissioned one author to submit an unpublished manuscript to add to its collection every year since 2014.

Each new author is chosen based on their ‘outstanding contributions to literature or poetry, and for their work’s ability to capture the imagination of this and future generations’. They present their submission at an event called the called the Handover Ceremony each spring.

The first author to submit a manuscript was the famous Margaret Atwood, with a future book called Scribbler Moon.

Speaking on the honour of contributing her work, she compared the Future Library with Sleeping Beauty, remarking ‘how strange it is to think of my own voice – silent by then for a long time – suddenly being awakened after 100 years.’

This is precisely the point of the project, which aims to highlight how short our own human lives are in comparison to the longevity and resilient nature of our planet.

Amongst the other authors that have submitted works to the Future Library are David Mitchell, Sjón, Elif Shafak, Han Kang, Ocean Vuong.

I’d say humans of 100 years from now will have some pretty amazing content to look forward to. While many of us will never get to read these books, we need to take care of our planet so that future generations can.