The Elastic System

Research output: Non-textual formExhibition


“The Elastic System” is an interactive artwork produced as the main output of an AHRC funded research project called “The Internet of Cultural Things” It was made in collaboration with The British Library while artist-in-residence.

"The Elastic System" is a digital portrait of the librarian Thomas Watts. In 1840 Watts invented his innovative “elastic system” of storage in order to deal with the enormous growth of the British Library's holdings that was threatening to overwhelm them. A mosaic image of Watts has been generated from 4,300 books as they are currently stored in the Library's basements, an area not normally accessible to the public. Each one is connected live to the library's electronic requesting system. By clicking on a book you can find out more about the item and how to request it from the British Library.

The Elastic System can function like a catalogue, allowing people to visually browse part of the British Library's collections which are not on public display. Furthermore, when a book is requested it is removed from the “shelf” to reveal a second image underneath, an image that represents the work that goes on in the library's underground storage basements, the hidden part of the modern requesting system. With a collection as large and as diverse as the British Library's, its successful functioning depends on a well tuned human element, which although it is as essential as the electronic networks, is less visible and less appreciated.

It was exhibited at the British Library for 6 weeks as an installation.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherThe British Library
Publication statusPublished - 9 Sep 2016


  • Digital Art
  • Digital Media
  • library catalogues
  • Cultural history

Cite this