Papers Past Famous Steampunk Poetry Puke Machine

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Poems were programmed into the machine by National Library new media specialist Sebastian Blair, who also helped build the structure.

Juan Zarama Perini

Poems were programmed into the machine by National Library new media specialist Sebastian Blair, who also helped build the structure.

A wardrobe-sized poetry-vomiting machine that resembles a steampunk Tardis has been installed at the National Library to celebrate the 21st anniversary of Papers Past, New Zealand’s digital archive of print publications and of the Pacific.

The machine, complete with flashing lights and an old thermal printer inside, is “kind of like a time machine,” according to the National Library’s director of digital experience, Tim Kong.

Installed Friday and unveiled Monday in the main entrance to the National Library off Molesworth St in the capital, it will allow the public to pull a lever for several months.

With a flash of light, a whirlwind of noises and a one-year countdown, the machine will then print out a randomly generated poem from the Papers Past collection for people to take home.

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Home Affairs staff scanned more than 90 million items in the Papers Past collection to find 100 poems written by pre-1920 authors.

These poems, written by authors like Katherine Mansfield, former Prime Minister Alfred Domett and ordinary Kiwis, were then programmed into the machine by National Library new media specialist Sebastian Blair, who also helped build the structure.

With a flash of light, a whirlwind of noises and a one-year countdown, the machine will print out a randomly generated poem for people to take home.

Juan Zarama Perini

With a flash of light, a whirlwind of noises and a one-year countdown, the machine will print out a randomly generated poem for people to take home.

The machine was unveiled a week after the country’s National Poetry Day on August 26.

“It’s a really fun thing. It will be interesting to see how it is used,” Kong said.

Three round tables were also organized by the National Library to celebrate the anniversary of the Papers Past website. will discuss the different research uses of Papers Past.

Launched in 2001, Papers Past contains a digital collection of textual items from Aotearoa and the Pacific that anyone can search or browse. It contains historical newspapers, magazines and journals, letters and diaries, parliamentary documents and books.

Every year it increases in number of visitors, now with around 30 million page views from around two million visitors a year.

As Aotearoa rolled out its new history curriculum, Papers Past would become an even more valuable resource for study and learning, said National Library Service Manager Emerson Vandy.

Kong said Papers Past was a valuable resource that changed the research landscape and was an especially useful tool for people investigating genealogy.

Free roundtables moderated by Maori curator of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Paul Diamond, will be held in Wellington on August 18, Christchurch on September 12 and Auckland on September 30. Also available on Zoom in Wellington and Auckland. Visit natlib.govt.nz/events for details.

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