Erin Dorney

Blogging life & librarianship

Tell me again how the stories will differ… (for Artspace New Haven)

with 6 comments

“Library Science” at Artspace New Haven

Artspace New Haven is a nonprofit that showcases local and national visual art, providing access, excellence, and education for the benefit of the public and the greater arts community. Its current exhibition is titled “Library Science”, conceived by New York-based curator Rachel Gugelberger. The exhibition contemplates our personal, intellectual, and physical relationships with the library, focusing on how these relations are changing as libraries adapt to the digital world. From its socio-cultural meaning to its architectural space and classification tools, the library informs the methodology and practice of the artists in “Library Science.”

Presented are the works of 17 artists in a variety of media, including drawing, photography, sculpture, installation, painting, and web-based projects. In conjunction with the exhibition at Artspace, Connecticut artists were invited to submit proposals for research residencies towards creating site- and situation-specific projects at local libraries. “Library Science” seeks to encourage librarians to forge relationships with artists and support the creation and presentation of new artwork by providing assistance with research and access to information.

In a further exploration of personal libraries, Artspace has been contacting librarians (especially those who blog) to invite them to submit written contributions, photographs of their personal libraries, top-ten shelves (ten favorite books), etc. Below is my submission, focusing on my relationship to my personal home library and books as a source of companionship and learning. I encourage other bloggers to write on these topics and send links to their posts to sinclaire(at)artspacenh(dot)org so that she can link to them from the “Library Science” exhibit page.


My Personal Library

Tell Me Again How the Stories Will Differ
When Read on the Screen Instead of on Paper

I’m fairly certain that when the first e-reader was announced, my family released a collective sigh of relief. Surely not because this technology marked the beginning of an era wherein economics and privacy governed the access of information, but because they assumed they would not have to lug another single box of my books to a new residence. In 27 years I have lived in six apartments and a closet (part Harry Potter reference, part truth), each move accompanied by box upon box of skillfully-penned, woefully-bound trade paperbacks. Is it blasphemous for a librarian to prefer the flimsy, mass-produced edition over the handsome hardcover volume? Although my personal library may be organized by color, it does not exist simply as an element of design. No, my books are here to be used, abused, written on, bent up, dropped in tubs, covered in sand, read, re-read, shared, lost, given away. Plainly put, my books make my home.

The three shelves pictured here used to sit in my grandmother’s hallway in Buffalo, NY, stuffed to the brim with the books of May Sarton, Graham Greene, Anaïs Nin, and Colette with assorted wildflower identification manuals and travel guides thrown in for good measure. A personal library is a funny thing. For some, home book collections contain reading material laced with lowbrow embarrassment. For me, being able to look at my shelves and instantly recall when I first read A Girl of the Limberlost (freshman year of high school), who got me hooked on The Clan of the Cave Bear (my older brother), and where I randomly picked up The Handmaid’s Tale (a garage sale), makes me feel like I’ve finally reached land at the end of a long and terrible sea voyage. I distinctly remember a bloody paper cut smearing the pages of The Life of Pi, my tears rippling the pages of Cathy Ostlere’s Lost and the phantom pain in my jaw after we read Autobiography of a Face in my college class on memoir. I have books left behind by past boyfriends, remember stealing my mom’s copy of Summer Sisters (there are dirty bits in there, people!), and my dad has not once, but twice, gifted me copies of The Dharma Bums. My books bring me comfort and have taught me as many lessons as life itself.

Given my overt love of reading, it often comes as a surprise to many friends and family members that I rarely work with print books in my career as a librarian. Instead, I spend the majority of my days solving problems, helping students and faculty members do research, and equipping people will the skills to lead empowered lives. The intersection of knowledge and information is expanding beyond the traditional boundaries of books, covers, and pages. We see content being created communally, locally, and socially, outside the dual constructs of author/publisher. Daily, I witness a new generation of students struggling to reconcile their everyday world of transparent, web-based existence with the conventional assumption of Library = warehouse for books. How best to help the student whose professor has required he make a copy of a print journal article when the library has transitioned to purely electronic journal access. How best to explain to that same student that once he graduates in two years, he will no longer have unfettered access to that body of knowledge due to a strictly enforced pay wall.

In all of this, technology is neither the problem, nor the solution. Print or digital, formats have always come laden with both burden and opportunity. Because print books have served me so well and taught me so much, I am more willing to experiment with my iPad and iPhone as alternative platforms for reading. Last year I experienced a panic attack while riding alone on a New York City subway car. I was able to immediately open The Selected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay on my phone and skim through stanzas as my fingers left faint marks of sweat on the screen. I smiled as my heart continued beating quickly, but this time, for a different reason.

While I am drawn to the idea of having my library in my pocket, with me at all times, I certainly can’t risk bringing my iPad into a hot bath. For now, I will continue to strategically pack and ask my brothers for help transporting my boxes of paperbacks. Plus, I’ve already worked out the best elbow crook for reading in bed and the perfect angle to block the sun while reading at the beach.


Thanks to Amy Pajewski for the fabulous photo work and to Curatorial Assistant Sinclaire Marber for inviting me to participate. And, anyone who has ever recommended, lent, or gifted me a book. If you can make it up to New Haven to see the exhibit (running now through January 28), I am confident it would be worth your trip!


Written by Erin Dorney

November 19, 2011 at 12:30 PM

6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I wish I could go see this.

    Evelyn N. Alfred

    November 19, 2011 at 1:13 PM

  2. I love your post for many reasons. First, this is a great project, and I applaud your participation. My other reasons are hard to articulate without sounding condescending, which is absolutely not my intent at all. But as an “older” blogger with a “younger” mind, I can appreciate your love of the print because my two older children–girls–who are 19 and 22 and avid, passionate readers–have no interest in experimenting with any kind of e-reader (yet). Upon moving my oldest into her new apartment in Pittsburgh (she’s a senior at Pitt), her biggest concern was whether there would be room for all of her books. And as a 50-year-old, lifetime reader with 3 kids, well, our home library is scattered among at least 4 bedrooms, a family room, a dining room, an attic, and a basement. I have never been able to relinquish even a single picture book from my kids’ childhood. I love how you conclude that technology is “neither the problem, nor the solution.” Of course, while my daughters covet their print libraries, I have moved on to reading mostly on my iPad, which just goes to prove your point–the stories don’t differ, and it doesn’t matter how you choose to read them, and age isn’t a factor, either. What matters–what has always mattered–is content. And that just doesn’t change.


    November 19, 2011 at 5:34 PM

  3. @ Evelyn – Me too, it looks so interesting. I might try to drive up to CT to see the exhibition before it closes, but it’s a pretty long drive from southern PA!

    @ Bonnie – Thanks so much for your comment! I didn’t interpret it as condescending at all. Always nice to hear from other Lancaster information professionals. Love your Quotes That Matter blog section, too. I always pull quotes out of books I’m reading but then they just languish on scraps of paper. Maybe I should start collecting them like that on my blog… Happy Thanksgiving!

    Erin Dorney

    November 22, 2011 at 4:19 PM

  4. So, I’m a little late to this, but I love this post. The fact that books have lives of their own, a secondary subtext, is something I think about whenever I pick one up to read. Some of my books have lived broader and harder lives than others: I’m thinking of my copy of The Basic Eight specifically, its spine weathered by the bending and breaking by the hands of so many of my wonderful friends with whom I had to share it–including yours! Every crease, dog-eared page, phantom underline is a testament to where it’s been and who has contributed to its own journey. My brand-spanking new copy of Jane Eyre somehow has more meaning to it since I bought specifically so that my husband could read it. I think it’s those memories that we imparted onto books are part of why I am reluctant to transition to an electronic format. iPads and Kindles just lack the warmth and the soul of a book, at least in my humble opinion. But I like the balanced conclusion that you come to, that technology is “neither the problem, nor the solution,” just another way of going about it.

    I am also SO STINKING HAPPY to see that your books are still arranged by color. 🙂

    Linzeh Main

    December 5, 2011 at 12:24 PM

  5. @ Main – (bwahaha!) Thanks for the comment, lady! Miss your face.

    Erin Dorney

    December 7, 2011 at 9:25 AM

  6. I loved this post because this is exactly what I said when I received an ereader a year ago. Sadly, I have been using it less recently because I have had a LOT of new books on request from the library, which is where I also work. I can go back and forth very easily and can’t tell much of a different, but I love when I have a heavy book to read that I can read it on my Nook and it makes a huge difference when lugging it between home, work, etc.

    So true about taking your iPad into the bath… I would not risk that, either! And while you can highlight passages on the Nook, it’s not near the same as underlining them in the book and writing in the margins as I had when rereading “The Great Gatsby” this month.

    Great blog. I ran across this while googling “library business cards” since I’m planning on going to conferences this year and figured it might be about time to get some while I’m still in school and also in a para-professional position at the library (aka: no business cards).

    Erin S.

    December 9, 2011 at 6:16 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s