Brain Pickings

A Library of Human Imagination

Human imagination, cataloged and numbered, or what James Bond and King James have in common besides the James.

If VH1 did a Fabulous Lives Of episode about the geektelligencia — today’s literati — it would no doubt include a grand tour of über-geek and web entrepreneur Jay Walker‘s private library. Because Jay Walker’s library is no ordinary lavish and gratuitous showcase of knowledge porn. (Although, OK, it is that too.)

It is a Library of Human Imagination.

Jay Walker's library

Fascinated by the breadth intellectual property, the infamous entrepreneur (of Walker Digital and fame) decided to build and curate a “library”of humanity’s intellectual and creative progress with all its artifacts — from an authentic Gutenberg Bible to an original Sputnik 1 satellite to the chandelier from Bond flick Die Another Day — hosting over 5,000 years of human imagination.

Jay Walker's library: Gadget Lab

Jay Walker's library

The library’s design, spearheaded by Walker’s wife, is a creative and intellectual feat of its own. The 3-story-high building, computer-controlled and brilliantly lit to change colors, is like the set of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, only concerned with something much sweeter and more addictive than chocolate — pure imagination in all its scientific, artistic, technological and undefinable forms. A glass bridge, suspended in space, stretches across the library — so you can literally take a leap of human imagination as you marvel at the world-changing artifacts surrounding you. Even the floor layout is designed like an Escher print. Before the grand window lies a custom-commissioned, internally lit, 2.5-ton Clyde Lynds book sculpture with the mind on the right page and the universe on the left — the embodiment of the library’s spirit.

Jay Walker's library: Gadget Lab

And by “you,” of course, we mean Jay Walker himself an a small set of guests selected even more carefully than the objects in the library themselves — because the private library has remained just that. It was only unveiled to the world earlier this year through Jay Walker’s inspired TED talk, where the conference organizers somehow talked him into decorating the TED stage with objects from the library. A few months later, a Wired reporter became the first press member to enter the library while writing a must-read exposè on the cultural hallmark.

Ultimately, the library is Jay Walker’s attempt to answer the simple yet profoundly difficult question, “How do we create?” His stab at the answer:

We create by surrounding ourselves with stimuli, with history, with human achievement, with the things that drive us and make us human — the passionate discovery, the bones of dinosaurs long gone, the maps of space that we’ve experienced, and ultimately the hallways that stimulate our mind and our imagination.

While we love the idea of a centralized collection of human intelligence and imagination, we’re torn between loving what the library stands for and wondering whether or not it “stands” in all the right ways, being privately owned and pretty much the artifact antithesis of a Creative Commons license.

Doesn’t “human imagination” belong to everybody, the Ukrainian schoolchild as much as the TED elite? And isn’t the greatest gift of imagination the boundary-spanning, all-inclusive propagation of brilliant ideas?

Published December 30, 2008




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