In St. Gallen, the Sitterwerk Foundation set up an art library on an old industrial site. The bookshelves extend over 20 meters on two floors. The publications do not follow any predefined order but are placed on the shelf at random. Visitors return borrowed books to any free shelf space. All books are equipped with a RFID chip. Every night, a robotic arm moves along the bookshelf and scans all the titles. The next morning, if you search the database for a particular book, the system shows you its exact position.
The database creates a digital copy of the bookshelf and is updated every night. Together with the robotic arm and the publications, it forms a technological network of relationships that visitors can fall back on – a safety net so that they do not get lost in the chaos. While the Sitterwerk library questions the traditional systems of reference and order, categorizations, and ideas of seclusion, it simultaneously offers the possibility of purposeful, technology-optimized, and data-supported navigation. The robot's scan does not make the order more valid, correct, or final. But it opens up the space of possibility in which accidental-happy discoveries are possible without the danger of losing oneself in the existential search. The robotic arm, which scans all the titles, enables the enjoyment of the chaos when a much more exciting book suddenly appears next to it. The search for the book expands because the day before a different visitor placed exactly these two titles next to each other on the shelf.
The surrounding workshops facilities feed the large material archive, which together with the Werkbank (transl. Work Bench) compliments the book collection. The Werkbank is equipped with the same technology as the robotic arm. When you place a publication or material from the archive on the table, it appears in digital form, complete with bibliographic data, on a directly connected interface. For example, I am able to access my stored digital Werkbank even two months after my visit. The Werkbank is another tool for giving space to "individual orders of knowledge" – as it says on the Sitterwerk website in reference to Aby Warburg.
Daniel Rohner and Felix Lehner's collection is the founding collection of the Sitterwerk Library. Despite the impressive diversity and uniqueness of the collection, its age is visible, for publications by LGBTIQA* and BIPoC are clearly underrepresented. However, the collection has been continuously enriched with new acquisitions since the library was founded. The team is also working on updating the bibliographic data. For example, publications on group exhibitions list all the artists represented and not just the authors who published them. Events and exhibitions also critically examine the library's own holdings. The case in point is the program "Reading the Library" and "Teaching the Radical Catalogue - A Syllabus" – from November 2021, a lecture series "on feminist and de-colonial approaches to the ordering of knowledge in libraries of the Global North."
You can find more information and images on the website of Sitterwerk.
Picture on top: Vaclav Pozarek: Atlas Archiv Album Los III
Text and Images: Torben Körschkes
Translation: Nina Prader
Support: Annika Dorau, Ina Römling, Urs Spindler