Tell me again how the stories will differ… (for 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.
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!