Cold Storage

Explore an Estranged Life for Books

A Receiving Tomb

Harvard President, Charles William Eliot, spoke of the library’s needs at the turn of the 20th Century, proposing, “not a crematorium for dead books, but only a receiving tomb.” Receiving tombs were holding places for bodies that couldn’t be buried in the frozen winter ground and so an apt analogy for those books that a library was not quite ready to retire permanently from the collection. With its single-module beginnings in 1986, the Harvard Depository was a module of narrow-aisled, space-saving, climate-controlled efficiency that was designed with the dark archive in mind — a place principally focused on preservation rather than convenient access.

Cold Storage visits the Harvard Depository today, which has since expanded to 7 modules and so many millions of volumes that cherry pickers launching forty-feet high for laser scanner item confirmation has become the norm. The project, directed, shot, and edited by Cristoforo, consists of a 24-minute linear documentary and an archive of media artifacts discovered or generated along the way. This latter archive has scanned research documents, behind-the-scenes videos, photos, and content generated by students who took an experimental media class alongside the main film’s production.

Interactive Archive

Using the floorplan of the Harvard Depository as a navigational UI, the linear film is divided into 7 clickable modules that serve up these artifacts corresponding thematically to the portion of the film in question. Check out the interactive site here (note: this site was last maintained in 2015 so some features may no longer be fully operational).

Accessions, one of the many artifacts placed in the the interactive gallery (below). A brief, animated visualization of the Depository’s growth by Cristoforo:

All the World’s Memory

Inspired by the closing chapter of Jeffrey Schnapp and Matthew Battles’ The Library Beyond the Book, the main film also pays homage to Alain Resnais’ 1956 documentary, Toute le memoire du monde (All the World’s Memory). It serves to compare how a warehouse processes books in a decentralized library network to the majestic French National Library from a bygone era.


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