Welcome to the World of Tomorrow

Welcome to the World of Tomorrow! That’s the kind of jingoistic positivism you’d hear about things like the World’s Fair back in the 1930s and 40s. It’s also what you’ll hear from me right now as I talk about the New York Public Library’s new iPad app, Biblion, which was just released this week. Biblion is a marvelous showcase of how to design interactive information for the touchscreen tablet. It is not a book, per se. Nor is it a website. It is an amalgam of text, image, audio, and video organized in a way that makes sense on this new platform.

Biblion: The Boundless Library contains a wonderful assortment of archival materials from NYPL about the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in New York. The NYPL website suggests that this is just the first of many “displays” for Biblion. Is it a magazine? Is it an encyclopedia? A book series? We don’t know yet. They call it “An NYPL Digital Publication.” Welcome to the post-bibliographic age!

Part of the beauty of Biblion is the variety of navigation schemes that are employed. The linearity of the print book is forever destroyed in this publication. You can riffle through images, scroll through text, pinch and expand thumbnails, and follow sidebars to your heart’s content. Like the much-lauded The Elements, Biblion takes familiar kinds of information (photos, manuscript materials, drawings, posters, etc.) and reworks them for a new medium. All of these are fairly intuitive. The iconography makes it easy to work your way back to familiar territory. There are, nonetheless, a couple of missing elements that I think would be useful: an index or sitemap and a search function.

Gypsy Rose LeeThe elements of Biblion work well together. The whole is rather masterfully curated, wedding spot-on selections from an archive of over 2,500 boxes with contemporary essays by notable authors and scholars. Historic figures like Gypsy Rose Lee, Albert Einstein, and Adolf Hitler all weave together in an interesting story (that still functions as a story). Essays by Amy Azzarito, William Grimes, and Karen Abbott enrich the visual information with compelling text. American Rose at the Fair


A library created this wonderful app, but it is unclear how libraries can help serve library users in this particular information ecosystem. Apple designs things to be accessed and used by individuals. Sharing is not yet part of the plan. Even in a non-sharing environment, however, libraries can still serve to aid discovery. If you’ve ever tried to find something in iTunes, you can image how useful a catalog of apps would be. In terms of owning and sharing collections, maybe those days are over. Maybe now we’ve moved into a world where we still buy materials, but we give each copy away to individuals on an “as needed” basis. Rushing headlong into the post-bibliographic world of tomorrow.

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