Among the many appealing qualities of Green's novel is how much it's about storytelling itself, and the way in which books function as a badge of identity, a marker of taste and values... For all it's romantic contours, "The Fault in Our Stars" is centrally a dialectic about why people seek out stories, one that never quite takes a stand on the question of whether we're right to wish for greater clarity in our art, characters we can "relate" to, or, for that matter, a happy ending.
If you had to encapsulate the future of libraries as a story, what story would that be?
Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn?
In this world, technology creates a fast, globalised world where digital services and virtual presence are commonplace. Overall, the mood is fairly optimistic, but digitalisation and connectivity soon create too much information and format instability, so there is a slight feeling of unease amongst the general population. Physical books are in slight decline in this world although library services are expanding. The reason for this is that public libraries now take on a wide range of e-government services and are important as drop-in centres for information and advice relating to everything from education and childcare to immigration. In this scenario, libraries have also mutated into urban hubs and hangouts; vibrant meeting places for people and information that house cafés, shops, gyms, crèches, theatres, galleries and various cultural activities and events.
William Gibson's Neuromancer?
This is a world gone mad. Everything is accelerating and everything is in short supply and is priced accordingly. Electricity prices are sky-high and the internet is plagued by a series of serious issues due to overwhelming global demand. In this scenario, public libraries are initially written-off as digital dinosaurs, but eventually there is a swing in their favour as people either seek out reliable internet connections or because there is a real need for places that allow people to unplug, slow down and reflect. In this world, information also tends to be created and owned by large corporations and many small and medium sized firms cannot afford access. Therefore, public libraries also become providers of business information and intelligence. This creates a series of new revenue streams but funding is still tight and libraries are continually expected to do more with less and less funding and full-time staff.
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451?
This world is a screenager’s paradise. It is fast-paced, global and screen-based. Digitalisation has fundamentally changed the way that people consume information and entertainment, but it has also changed the way that people think. this is a post-literate world where physical books are almost dead and public libraries focus on digital collections and virtual services. In this scenario, books take up very little physical space so more space is given over to internet access, digital books and various other forms of digital entertainment. Public libraries blur the boundaries with other retailers of information and entertainment and also house mental health gyms, technology advice desks, download centres and screening rooms. Despite all this, public libraries struggle to survive due to a combination of ongoing funding cuts, low public usage and global competition.
Or Rachel Carson's Silent Spring?
In this scenario, climate change turns out to be much worse than expected. Resource shortages and the high cost of energy in particular mean that the physical movement of products and people is greatly reduced and individuals are therefore drawn back to their local communities. It is a world where globalisation slows down, digital technology is restrained and where all activities are related to community impact. Public libraries do well in this world. People become voracious consumers of physical books (especially old books) and libraries are rediscovered and revered by the majority of the population due to their safety and neutrality. they are also highly valued because they are free public spaces that promote a wide variety of community-related events. Nevertheless, there are still pressures caused by the high cost of energy and the need to maintain facilities. The phrase ‘dark euphoria’ (Bruce Sterling) sums up the mood in this scenario, because on one level the world is falling apart but on another level people are quite content.
These scenarios come from a remarkable document produced five years ago in 2009 for The Library Council of New South Wales called The Bookends Scenarios [pdf].
It's the only document in the library literature that I've seen that seriously addresses our global warming future. It's the only one that I've come across that confronts us and forces us to consider how we may shape our institution and our services now so we can be there for our community when its in greatest need.
If you had to encapsulate the future as a story, what story would that be?
I suffer from dark euphoria. I worry about global warming.
That's why I'm going to take part in the People's Climate March in New York City on September 21th, 2014.
I'm going because our leaders are not even talking about taking the necessary action to reduce atmospheric carbon and to mitigate the effects of climate change. This is a movement that requires all of us to become the leaders that we so desperately need.
There's a book that goes with this march: This changes everything.
I'm not normally one for marches. I share the suspicion that gatherings and marches themselves don't change anything.
But events change people. There are events that define movements.
You couldn't have an Occupy Movement without Occupy Wall Street. And without Occupy Wall Street, we wouldn't have had Occupy Sandy.
Fight to #EndRacism...for #ClimateJustice. #peoplesclimate BOOM pic.twitter.com/nOJSoLMUJd
— REEP (@reep_ace) September 14, 2014
I understand the feelings of helplessness and darkness when reading or hearing about another terrifying warning about the threat of global warming. I struggle with these feelings more than I care to admit.
I find solace from these feelings from a variety of different sources beyond my family, friends and community. Of these, the study of history oddly enough, gives me great comfort. It has helped me find stories to help me understand the present.
There are those who call the Climate Change Movement, the second Abolition Movement, and I think this description is fitting for several reasons. For one, it gets across that we need to draw upon our shared moral fortitude to make it politically necessary to force those in power to forfeit profit from oil and coal, which unchecked, will continue to cost us grievous human suffering.
It also describes the sheer enormity of the work that must be done. The analogy makes clear how it will be necessary to change every aspect of society to mitigate climate change at this point.
And yet, it has happened before. Ordinary people came together to stop slavery.
On that note, and I hope I'm not spoiling it for you, I took great comfort in the last passage of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, a book of several pasts and a future.
Upon my return to San Francisco, I shall pledge myself to the abolitionist cause, because I owe my life to a self-freed slave & because I must begin somewhere.
I hear my father-in-law’s response: “Oho, fine, Whiggish sentiments, Adam. But don’t tell me about justice! Ride to Tennessee on an ass and convince the rednecks they are merely white-washed negroes and their negroes are black-washed whites! Sail to the Old World, tell ‘em their imperial slaves’ rights are as inalienable as the Queen of Belgium’s! Oh, you’ll grow hoarse, poor and gray in caucuses! You’ll be spat upon, shot at, lynched, pacified with medals, spurned by backwoodsmen! Crucified! Naïve, dreaming Adam. He who would do battle with the many headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain and his family must pay it along with him! And only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!”
Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?