March 2015 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Harvard Library's "Cold Storage"

Last month, the Harvard MetaLAB released Cold Storage, a mini-documentary about the Harvard Depository (HD), a 127,000-square-foot "guarded compound" 25 miles from campus where approximately 9 million of Harvard Library's lesser-used books, pamphlets, records, etc. are stored in a space reminiscent of Home Depot.  

The 24-minute film, written and directed by Jeffrey Schnapp, provides a real sense of the vastness of the collection--this "analog server farm"--and manages to do so artfully. Its beauty does not reside, as one might assume, in images of rare books, wooden desks, and warm desk lamps. Here, mechanized forklifts buzz down gloomy aisles in search of one barcoded item or another. The stark, cement-and-metal scenery evokes (and speaks to) Alain Resnais' 1956 Toute la memoire du monde (All the World's Memory), which documented the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Cold Storage impresses upon us the importance of the HD not only to the university's scholars, but to humanity as a whole; it is a paean to preservation.           

Cold Storage
premiered on February 6 in conjunction with Icons of Knowledge: Architecture and Symbolism in National Libraries, an exhibit at Harvard's Loeb Library through March 22.

Watch here: