The Boston showing of metaLAB’s documentary/web documentary COLD STORAGE at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design took place in early February of this year, but we are now preparing for the film’s European premiere in Paris. The presentation will take place at 4:30 pm on Wednesday, September 30, in the Petit Auditorium, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Quai François Mauriac, within the setting of the conference Vers une littérature mondiale à l’heure du numérique?. The program will include a screening of Alain Resnais’s Toute la mémoire du monde followed by Cold Storage and a presentation and discussion of the Cold Storage database documentary.

Here’s a full description of the documentary project:

Parce que leur mémoire est courte, les hommes accumulent d’inombrables pense-bêtes. Devant ces soutes pleines à craquer, les hommes prennent peur, peur d’être submergé par cette multitude d’écrits, par cet amas de mots. Alors pour garantir leur liberté, ils construisent des forteresses.

So begins Alain Resnais’s 1956 collaboration with Chris Marker and Remo Forlani Toute la mémoire du monde, their evocative and sometime playfully self-reflexive tribute to the Biblothèque Nationale de France. The film begins in the underbelly of the BNF, only to rise up through the venerable building, circle its rooftop walkways, survey its stacks, and map its special collections rooms. The film concludes with an overview of the legendary Salle Richelieu, abuzz with readers, each of whom is deeply absorbed in contemplating his or her “slice of universal memory” (as Forlani’s screenplay would have it).

Like Toute la mémoire du monde, Cold Storage is a documentary short (26 mins.). Carefully reworking shot sequences and elements borrowed from the script and soundtrack of Resnais’s film, it explores the world of the library fifty-seven years later in the form of an institutional portrait of the one of the world’s largest book and document depositories: the Harvard Depository (HD). The film begins:

Because their memory is short-lived, humans accumulate an infinity of memory aids. Confronted with the teeming depositories that result, panic sets in. They fear being trampled by information, submerged beneath heaps of words and data. So, to ensure their freedom, they erect formidable fortresses, faraway stockhouses, libraries that can’t be read except by machine minds.

Whereas the Resnais film documents a world where books and readers, the dead and the living, comingle and coexist in the very same edifice, Cold Storage explores a world where the interplay of document and reader occurs along transformed lines. The HD serves as the dislocated heart of the Harvard University library system, housing close to ten million items in a facility that is at once a kind of analog server farm and a data center linked to a reading room as small as a handheld device or as big as the world.

Cold Storage is but one component of a database documentary developed by metaLAB (at) Harvard in 2013-2015 as an “animated archive” and extension of the volume The Library Beyond the Book, published in 2014 in the metaLABprojects series by Harvard University Press. The supporting website for The Library Beyond the Book is located at

Some further information:

Cold Storage (2015)

Total duration: approximately 26 minutes
Ultra-high def digital

Director: Cristoforo Magliozzi
Producer: Jeffrey T. Schnapp
Executive producer: Matthew Battles
Writers: Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Matthew Battles
Line Editor and sound mix: Peter McMurray
Director of Photography: Cristoforo Magliozzi
Research: the entire metaLAB team, students from Library Test Kitchen and Humanities Studio II


- September 16, 2015