Sorted out

Library of Approximate Location

The Library of Approximate Location pops up in some far-flung locations. Its current stop is Sierra Nevada College.

The Library of Approximate Location pops up in some far-flung locations. Its current stop is Sierra Nevada College.

The Library of Approximate Location library box is open as a permanent installation at Sierra Nevada College, 999 Tahoe Blvd., Incline Village. For more information about the project and its designer, Charlie Macquarie, visit

A hole in the ground. A bombing range. A summer house in Lagunitas, California. These are some of the approximate locations in which the Library of Approximation Location has found itself in over the years. Soon, it will appear once again, this time at Sierra Nevada College.

“I’m not sure exactly where it will be [on campus], but I’m hoping to figure that out during my stay,” said Charlie Macquarie. Over the phone, he sounds a lot like the librarian he is—softspoken, smart, a bit rambling. Macquarie has a master’s degree in library and information science, is a strong believer in the good of the commons, and holds the title of “fellow” at the Prelinger Library in San Francisco—a place best known for its untraditional method of sorting books by relationship instead of by ordered catalog.

Out of this particular blend of soft socialism and odd vision, Macquarie twists the function of the library even further as he unloads books, shelves and a sign that reads “Library Open” into various landscapes throughout the desert West.

He has cataloged water tanks, rusting signs, something tagged as an “Extremely Dangerous Downhill,” and dozens of old nature guides and USGS maps—all on his web page/digital archive collection.

Three summers ago, Macquarie catalogued the stacks of oversized tires that sit outside D&D Tires in east Reno.

Even if you’ve never sat at the red light on Sutro and Sixth Streets and contemplated what kind of vehicles could possibly use tires that big—and whether piling them outside in the sun is really the best idea for storage—you can still get a sense of what they are by reading Macquarie’s detailed entry, aided in no small part by the poetry he always seems to write into the metadata. Among the descriptive information he includes with each entry, such as geographic coordinates and physical descriptions, he writes some artful observations. Here’s what he said about the tires: “after heat; after tangential curving; after blackout and summer; after we met for the second time; after patterns unrelenting pounded into dry horizon …” Reading these shreds of poetry in an otherwise rigidly classified system is at first startling, then intriguing, then, the next time you pass the object in question, it may have a triggering effect. Perhaps you’ll even project your own thoughts and emotions onto that place.

“It’s sort of my hope that you can look at these interpretive materials to give you a new understanding, new thoughts, new ideas or perspectives about a space,” said Macquarie.

The Sierra Nevada College installation will be a little different.

“It’s not going to get installed outside because there is too much snow right now,” he said.

Instead, the librarian will be building a box—“maybe a batbox”—that houses a wifi router, local area network, and a shelf that holds a small number of physical books and maps relating to the Lake Tahoe area. Once people know where the library is, they can simply walk up to the box, insert a USB stick, open a browser, and automatically download the digital resources stored on the network. It’s a geocache for natural history buffs.