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Berkeley Hosts the World's Most Public Library

What do you do with 50,000 books? Make a sculpture, of course. 


What do you do with 50,000 books? Build a temple to literature. That was the reaction of Cherilyn Parsons, founder and director of the Bay Area Book Festival, a two-day tribute to literature in Berkeley this weekend. The festival features 150 literary exhibitors, including publishers, indie bookstores, writing programs, and literary organizations, as well as 300 author appearances.

But the real piece de resistance will be Lacuna, a literal literary haven.

Lacuna is a participatory art installation made from duplicate copies of books that had been donated to the Internet Archive and amassed by its director, Brewster Kahle. The installation at the festival is designed by the FLUX foundation, (a Bay Area artist collective whose work you may have seen at Burning Man). Assembled in MLK Civic Center Park, Lacuna will provide a space for visitors to browse, read, and meditate on the written word. The structure will transform as patrons pulls tomes from the shelves, creating gaps (lacuna) in the installation.

1. The books: Volunteers sorted through over 80 boxes of books, classifying them in categories including fiction, non-fiction, children’s, California, young adult, and “fiction we want to read”. Of the 200,000 books offered, 100,000 were accepted. 50,000 will be used for the installation.

2. The roof and walls: A circular structure roughly 80’ in diameter, comprised of twelve alcoves. Each alcove (which measures 8.5'x16'x8’) contains 3,5000 removable books and is formed from four pillars made of stacked books. Connecting the pillars are wooden shelves filled with books, creating walls. Guy wires tether the alcoves to the ground and rise up to meet at a 20’ centerpiece, forming a tent-like structure. Each wire is lined with resin-coated book pages, creating a thatch-style roof. The dormant fountain at the center of the park serves as an interior focal point.

3. The inspiration: FLUX’s design for Lacuna was inspired by formal civic buildings including Rome’s Pantheon and nomadic structures of Central Asia. It is a temple dedicated books and the power of knowledge contained in their covers.

4. The most interesting finds: a book of Native American sign language, guide books translating American idioms, one man’s journey through California hot springs in 1979, classified government reports, letters and mementos stored in books as book marks. Noteworthy titles: "Zodiac Baby Names," "Helping Yourself with Self-Hypnosis," and "The Cereal Murders: A Culinary Mystery."


Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco

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