H.G. Wells and the future library

H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells. Public domain image, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I found a funny bit of animation on giphy.com yesterday and tweeted it. This particular GIF featured a woman reading in a library chair while stacks of books magically appeared on the bookshelves behind her.

Wouldn’t it to be handy to have that in real life? All you’d have to do is think of the title of a book and POOF! It would pop up on your bookcase — no wandering through Amazon or Barnes & Noble, no venturing out to the library in the freezing cold or blistering sun, no searching through library shelves only to find that the book you seek was already checked out by another patron.

I doubt we’ll ever see this technology but I read a story on Wednesday about how robots are doing more and more tasks for us. Now that technology could be in the library of the future. You could walk in, track down a book via a kiosk equipped with a computer screen and touch pad, and a robot would whizz along library shelves, track down your book and bring it to you. By the time the book got to you, it would already be processed and checked out.

My library of the future would be designed for comfort, too. It would have big picture windows with a lakeside or forest setting, a lounge area with well-padded chairs, and a cafe with hot or cold beverages to sip as you’re going through the books you got.

Maybe the robot could put the book in a container that would travel through a big pneumatic tube. The container would zip through the tube and arrive in front of you for checkout. If you didn’t like the book after flipping through it, you’d replace it in the tube and send it wafting back to its place on the shelf.

It’s interesting to speculate. Nothing’s ever quite going to replace the peaceful hushed atmosphere, the colorful books arranged so temptingly among shelves and the exciting book discoveries you make by wandering around shelf by shelf.

If anything, tomorrow’s library would resemble the scene below from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, with an automated librarian-and-information system. I love this scene; it’s a great example of how an actor (Orlando Jones) can do a lot with a small part as Guy Pearce’s character struggles to make sense of the new technology. (Video credit: Miguel Mimoso Correia on YouTube.)

Readers, what would you want in your library of the future? Let’s talk.



Filed under Writing

12 responses to “H.G. Wells and the future library

  1. The Christopher Library at my alma mater, Valparaiso University, uses a system very much like the one you describe. A core collection of those books most frequently requested may still be found on shelves, but the bulk of the collection is housed in a climate-controlled automated repository. When you request a book through the catalog (computerized, no cards anymore), a robot crane (yes, really!) retrieves the book and it’s waiting for you at the checkout desk in a matter of minutes. Because it doesn’t need space for walking, lighting, or air circulation, the repository stores materials much more efficiently than traditional stacks. This has actually allowed the library to expand their collection during a time when most libraries find themselves downsizing due to financial and space constraints. I believe that was a major reason they chose the system. It’s pretty cool!

  2. Some of the modern libraries are close to your library of the future: picture windows with scenery, coffee shops, lounges.
    Ours offers the convenience of “ordering” books from their website and it’s at the desk waiting for pick up (unless you are housebound and it comes to you)
    Still like to wander the old aisles just seeing what’s to be found on an unexplored shelf. And nothing can replace an old bookmobile – wrapped in books when you sit in there. (Sigh)

    • None of mine have a coffee shop yet…but I live in hope! It would be fun to enjoy a cup of British Breakfast or Earl Grey tea while I’m glancing over what I’ve checked out. I can dream, right?

  3. I remember this scene. It seemed a bit too cold and aloof, but still had some pretty cool tech stuff. As long as there was a quiet reading space with comfy chairs and actual paper books and windows. Perhaps a fireplace? Sounds a bit Dickensian with Asimov, doesn’t it?

    • Fireplaces would be good. Although it would have to be one of those enclosed gas fireplaces so any soot wouldn’t ruin the books.

      I find it interesting that the teacher and kids in this scene are carrying around futuristic tablet computers. The movie was made in 2002 and tablet computers would really take off later, around 2010. Predictor of the future?

  4. In Edmonton Alberta, some of the libraries have beverage counters in house. Most are located with nice urban views, except the downtown one, but even it has windows overlooking a square and a lovely live-theater venue. When I am reading at the library what is outside rarely matters as I am IN the book and wherever it has taken me. Edmonton Public Libraries also have a large part of their collection of books (and magazines!) available to order for pickup, delivery or to read via the internet. If you have internet at the lake cottage, your library of the future is here already!

  5. My library is on my IPad these days. No dust, no clutter, and I can enlarge the type. I tend to buy audio books also. Have given hundreds of books to goodwill, and to family, but have at least a thousand more on shelves throughout the house. If I had all the money I’d spent on books I could take a round the world cruise. Oh wait, I can from my armchair. Just the morning, I’ve been all over Europe and the Middle East. Reading a book about MI6 and Bletchly.

    • Hahahaha! Armchair travel is SO convenient — no waiting in airport lounges, no delayed flights and no jet lag.

      Those tablet computers are handy little numbers, aren’t they? I love them. There are some seriously amazing apps out there.

      MI6 and Bletchly? I hope you review that one on your blog. Sounds so good.

  6. In the future, I would like to have the ability to read (and comprehend) much faster, so I could read more books in less time. So I guess I would have to change along with the books and the libraries!


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