The Secret History of Libraries




Why do we care about libraries? Why are they so special? What makes them feel like secular sacred spaces? How do we capture and preserve that feeling? How do we recreate it?

This session explores what's so special about libraries, and unpacks the layers behind what makes a library a library. Open data wasn't invented in the age of the computer!

In this session, from a computer scientist with a history degree, you will learn such things as:

  • why and how traditional Jewish law says that no writings with the name of God on them can be discarded, and how this led to treasure troves of resources on medieval Jews (as it turns out, people in that era who could write, would barely write anything without referring to God, so if you want a medieval shopping list, I'll tell you where to go!)
  • how craftspeople in the Renaissance would use old books, and scraps of paper, to make boxes. This preserved writing never intended for posterity (posterity in the form of a box, no less!) What can we learn from this? Come and find out!
  • what's the use, in 2021, of what is effectively a medieval sticky note saying "Could you please get me some wild roses? But make sure to include some that are not yet flowering!" Why do we have a 600 year old sticky note, much less care what it says?

Find out how we can create future libraries, and what we can do to preserve the libraries we have now. What even is a library? This will be a fast-paced history lesson, relating everything you hear to the modern day. Find out what's next, from the past.

  • Conference: Write the Docs Portland
  • Year: 2021

About the speaker

Paris Buttfield-Addison