'In the Stacks: Print Wikipedia' displays knowledge as art

Living in the technological age, people often take the knowledge available to them for granted. Professor and artist Michael Mandiberg tackled this idea with his exhibition “In the Stacks: Print Wikipedia,” which is an artistic display of the vastness of the online encyclopedia.

“Print Wikipedia” is the collection of 61 of the encyclopedia’s 7,473 700-page volumes located near the encyclopedia section on the first floor of Hayden Library on the Tempe campus. On the entrance level, ASU students have access to the 36 volume Wikipedia Contributor Appendix which lists names of all 7.5 million Wikipedia editors.

The work does more than display a massive collection of human knowledge and at times human error. Rachel Leket-Mor, ASU associate librarian, reflects on the artistic merit of the collection.

“('Print Wikipedia') can help students with thinking and imagining the amount of knowledge available through Wikipedia and through scholarly resources,” Leket-Mor said. “I wouldn’t say it is utilitarian, but it is a door opening for (students) to think about knowledge in general, and knowledge curated by librarians and that are available in libraries.”

  • A wealth of knowledge comes to ASU in the form of physical Wikipedia encyclopedias
  • "In the Stacks: Print Wikipedia" displays knowledge as art
  • Hayden Library gains a new art fixture in the form of volumes of Wikipedia

Mandiberg’s process for creating the physical collection was quite time-consuming. It started with Mandiberg writing a software that transformed all of Wikipedia’s English-language content into printable encyclopedias with covers between every 700 pages.

The first exhibition of Mandiberg’s work was on June 18 to July 11 at Denny Gallery in New York City. The exhibition was live on the entire encyclopedia’s upload to print-on-demand website, lulu.com

“The upload process lasted 24 days, 3 hours, and 18 minutes and was on continuous view, with the gallery open 24-hours to the public during the first weekend,” Mandiberg stated on his website.

Mandiberg’s vision fits well with ASU’s, as he inspires people to think and the University inspires people to innovate. His other art includes a Firefox plug-in, called “The Real Costs,” that shows users emissions data when they search for flights on travel websites. ASU librarian James O’Donnell said he sees the importance in the young artist.

“(The display) brings an opportunity for people to come together,” O’Donnell said. “We had a great event last week with faculty and the artist speaking. It also provokes the discussion — some professors are using it in conjunction with their classes. It advances the conversation of people figuring out what it means that we aren’t necessarily in a print world, but we aren’t, by any means, fully in a digital world.”

“Print Wikipedia” is now a permanent fixture in the Hayden Library, but displays and other visualization will be available for students to see until the end of the semester. Individual volumes of “Print Wikipedia are available for $80 on its website, and the whole collection is selling for $500,000.

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Reach the reporter at tanner.stechnij@asu.edu or follow @tannerstechnij on Twitter.

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