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Book Hive animatronic celebrates 400 years of public libraries in Bristol

  • Date: 12 December 2013
  • Area: South West
Books in their hexagonal cells

Book Hive: a giant living sculpture. Credit: Adam DJ Laity

A giant living sculpture known as Book Hive is bringing books to life and thrilling visitors to Bristol Central Library in a celebration of 400 years of public libraries in the city.

Bristol's award-winning creative robotics collective Rusty Squid has created the installation with an award of £88,241 from Arts Council England's National Lottery-funded Grants for the arts scheme. 

Now a swarm of animated books in their hexagonal cells are gradually filling the beautiful Grade One listed entrance hall and responding to the movement of the library's visitors, creating beautiful patterns.

The sculpture uses animatronic, movement-responsive books, encouraging visitors to interact and feedback.  The behaviour of the hive will evolve over time, responding to the different ways in which visitors interact with it.  By using digital technology to infuse books with new life, Book Hive is a direct response to the impact digitalisation has had on libraries and our relationship with physical books. 

Rusty Squid developed a fully working prototype at their Spike Island workshop and tested it out at Easton's Junction 3 Library - to the joy of all their visitors - before launching the installation in Bristol Central Library on Saturday 7 December, the 400th anniversary of its opening.  Book Hive will grow over the coming months until 400 books are integrated into the sculpture by early February 2014, one for each year of library history.

The anniversary marks the day Bristol merchant John Redwood handed over the keys to his Kings Street lodge so that it could become the first public library in Bristol - and only the third in the country.

Kate Murray, Head of Libraries in Bristol, said: 'I'm delighted that the library has secured Arts Council funding to celebrate such a significant milestone in this unique way.  Book Hive is already proving popular with our users and I am sure that it will also be much enjoyed by new visitors.'

Over 40 volunteers have been trained as Book Hive Keepers, to help with public engagement and keep the sculpture looking its best. Workshops are also planned to allow people to join in with the Book Hive build as well as a programme of book-related events. 

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said: 'This is an imaginative and inventive installation that brings together past, present and future in a way that is both thought-provoking - and marvellous fun.  We believe that everyone, particularly children and young people, should have the opportunity to experience the richness of the arts, museums and libraries, and by supporting excellent projects like Book Hive, we can bring together the right partners to commission and create something amazing.'

Book Hive will be at the Central Library until 7 March 2014.  For opening hours see


Bristol Libraries are asking people to donate books to become part of the sculpture.  Staff at the Central Library will be delighted to accept hardback books between 180mm and 250mm high and 110m and 160mm deep for possible inclusion in the artwork.