The Fringe Future of Libraries

Watching Fringe tonight, the clip below caught my eye. If you can’t read it, it says “Thousands of Libraries Burned to the Ground.” This scene takes place in a remote settlement whose inhabitants have made it their lives’ work to record the history of humankind after the Watchers invade the twenty-first century. If you don’t follow Fringe, it’s now set in a dystopian future where a different race has occupied Earth.

Shown here is a news clipping from the coolest archival management system ever, which involves transparent data cubes stored in slots in the walls of a reading terminal, for lack of a better term (booth? cubicle? room? Let’s go with terminal, with its connotations of “computer”). The cubes are activated by placement into the top of a pedestal. Once activated, their contents, mostly news articles and some diary entries, hover in a cylindrical pattern around and above the pedestal, which the reader can access by tapping the air. They’re something like holograms, set into an invisible rotating rack of sunglasses.

To return to the importance of this image. The struggle for freedom is now the key plot element in Fringe. The main characters’ mission is to resist the occupation and return humanity’s self-governance and individual freedoms.

Which makes it so interesting that this headline was chosen to appear as the Archivist explains the purpose of the archives (to preserve the historical record of the historical losers, which has a habit of being trampled by the historical record of the historical winners).

Science fiction portrays libraries as symbols of freedom.

Lots of other discussions can be started from this (different archives for different communities; preservation of cultural materials that might not otherwise be preserved; meanings for future generations; stability of the storage facility and technologies; backup storage; the meanings/significance of libraries for their communities; libraries as institutions that protect the freedom of information, among others; et cetera, et cetera), but I like to keep things simple.

I would also like to point out (again) the awesome nature of the futuristic archives.

Don’t you just love science fiction?

*This clip is shown around 9:42 in the episode

**Image from Fringe episode 5.4: Schapker, A. (writer) and Straiton, D. (director). (2012). The bullet that saved the world [Television series episode]. In J.J. Abrams, A. Kurtzman and R. Orci (Producers), Fringe. Beverly Hills, CA: Fox. Aired on 26 October 2012. Retrieved on 4 November 2012.

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