A letter to the library

A letter to the Library, work in progress, Timo Rissanen 2017

Two weeks after I began working on site, the first project has become clear: we, the users and staff of the UTS Library, are writing a letter to ourselves as well as the users and staff of the UTS Library of 2117. (Yes, I am boldly assuming that humanity will still exist in a century regardless of the events of the past two weeks, and I also make the assumption that the university and its library will exist then in some manifestation. It of course makes no difference in this moment on any practical level if future history has something else in store for us. With that, I choose optimism.) While I am doing the actual writing through cross-stitching, the letter is arising from my observations while working at the base of the staircase as well as the amazing conversations I have daily. If you use or work at the Library and we haven’t met yet, come and say hello. There is plenty of room for us to say what we want to say; the above is the first of six sections in the letter. In a future post I will explain the geometry and the game of numbers that have determined the overall composition of the letter.

It is now evident to me that the question I am asking is a difficult one: What message would you like to send to users and staff of the Library in 2117? Of course very few of us will be around then; I am deliberately inviting people to think about a time in the not too distant future yet distant enough to exceed most of our lifespans. We rarely make plans beyond the next five years, other than perhaps with a mortgage. We generally make no plans beyond our own lifetime, except maybe regarding our immediate possessions as articulated in a will. (I found my will from 2001 yesterday and couldn’t stop laughing at it, because mostly what I had in 2001 was student loan debt.) Yet with issues of sustainability and most definitely with anthropogenic global warming we must take responsibility for time spans that far exceed a single human life time. We must connect with generations of our descendants whom we will never meet. It’s not a problem to have all kinds of emotional responses to that – sad, frustrated, indifferent – but none of them excuse us from the task at hand. I have written about responsibility before; I do not regard it as a burden or blame or being at fault. Rather, it is a choice I make: I am responsible for the people of 2117 and this is what I’m going to do about it.  It can be very difficult initially to relate to people one will never meet, but it becomes easy quickly. Think about what you would like our collective legacy to be. Think about which side of history you would like to stand on, and here I am specifically speaking of choices we make about energy today, as well as the broader values that direct how we live. Think about how you would like the people of 2017 to be remembered or known by the people of 2117. What does that mean for you on a personal level in terms of the actions that you now see you can take? What are you going to stand for? A first action might be dealing with one’s own cynicism about what is possible, something I deal with daily. Cynicism is a simple choice, as is optimism. An excellent reading on time is the Clock of the Long Now by Stewart Brand. Worth our time – yes – is also The Long Now Foundation founded by Brand and others.

If you’re in Sydney but not part of the UTS community, you can still visit me. You will have to sign in with security and show id. I’m at the Library Monday-Friday, 9-5, and I usually take lunch 12-12:45. Best is to check with me a day in advance. I’d love to see you there!

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