Today our feature comes from Melissa Mannon, a school librarian in New Hampshire. Melissa’s article is all about collaboration and connection – themes we’re always excited to embrace! I love the idea of librarians working with art teachers to support the important work that they do! ~ Laura

by Melissa Mannon

The 21st century information professional needs to look beyond the library to best serve her patrons. The arts offer a perfect opportunity to pursue collaborative endeavors that reach beyond the institution’s walls.

As the new librarian at Goffstown High School [GHS] — located in Goffstown, New Hampshire and serving a population of about 1100 students — I recently was involved in an interesting project that assisted an art class. I bring to my position background knowledge and experience in the museums, libraries and archives. With this diverse outlook and connections in various fields, I was able to use my professional network to reach beyond our school community; to try to enhance student learning; and to impact other communities as well.

Art teacher Alexandra Nichols asked me in January if the library had any old encyclopedias she could use for her sculpture classes. The “book art” project was intended as a warm up for the semester to get her students’ creative juices flowing. I was eager to help even though we had no available books in-house and I asked Ms. Nichols if her students’ final products could be displayed in the library. I then turned over her book request to my colleagues on the NH state library listserv:

Our art department is seeking old books to use in an art project. As a former public librarian, I know that sometimes people donate hefty textbooks for the library book sales and the items eventually need to be discarded. Does anyone have some old used books that they are willing to donate to our students for their destruction / creations?

My colleagues responded to my request with enthusiasm and we found a book donor in the DiPietro Library at Franklin Pierce University. Technical Services Librarian Melissa Stearns offered to send me books on the state library van. “I can send you a box full of as many as you want,” she said. “Just give me an idea of sizes…”

My message also attracted the attention of Cathy Vincevic from the Gordon-Nash Library in New Hampton, NH. Cathy was interested in exhibiting our students’ work in her own book art exhibit. Ms. Nichols arranged for our staff to vote for their favorite sculpture on display in our library. On a teacher workshop day, we decided which books would get to go.

“I was wicked surprised!” said 12th grade student Samantha Ward when I interviewed her recently about how she felt when her book art was selected for travel. Samantha’s work included a flower rising from her book’s pages. “I’m not really artistic,” she told me. Samantha is a senior at Goffstown High. Though she is taking three art classes now, these are the first such classes she’s taken on the high school level. After finishing all the core classes that were required to graduate, she wanted to spend her last year being “a little creative.”  Samantha came up with the idea for her work when she flipped through her book and the word “sky” jumped out at her. It made her think of flowers and was her inspiration.

“Do you think of yourself as artistic now?” I asked her.

“I guess so!” she responded with a smile.

11th grader Kendra Siemiesz created a burrowing rabbit with a dinosaur and boat for her selected work. Kendra got her idea by thinking about storybooks. Her mind began wandering with ideas of Peter Rabbit and Jurassic Park. “I really like art,” she told me. “It’s a chance to unwind and have some fun!”

View the video to see examples of the book arts projects!

After the students’ work left our building, I read a press release about a book art exhibit in the U.K. The University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury described how their students’ work would be exhibited at their local Epsom Public Library. I thought that connecting with those doing book projects overseas would give our teens a chance to once again see beyond our local school community. They could see how others around the world are doing similar projects to what they were assigned. They could see how easily our small community could connect to another around the world through the Internet. And, perhaps, the next group of students we have working on a book project at GHS could be inspired by the work of this older group of English artists.

Using the Internet and email, I eventually connected to UCA archivist Rebekah Taylor. I asked if she could send images of her students’ book art for our teachers to share with students in NH. Ms. Taylor referred me to a Pinterest page that she created. “[We are] currently adding images of Artist Books to our Archives and Special Collections board, which is available here. (We don’t have many on yet, but will be adding more!).”

My belief in both the arts and libraries boosting communities was enhanced by this project. I had hoped that having high school work travel outside of the region could take Ms. Nichols art project to another level, could help boost students’ self-esteem and could help our school community see how the library can be an incubator for the arts.

I thanked the two students who shared their ideas about the project with me.

“Thank you. It was nice meeting you!” they said.

“Thank YOU ladies. Please come visit the library for more creative inspiration!”

Collaborators:

Melissa Mannon
Information Specialist / Librarian
Goffstown High School
Goffstown, NH

Alexandra Nichols
Art Teacher
Goffstown High School
Goffstown, NH

Melissa Stearns
Technical Services Librarian
DiPietro Library
Franklin Pierce University
Rindge, NH

Cathy Vincevic
Director
The Gordon-Nash Library
New Hampton, NH

Rebekah Taylor
Archivist and Special Collections Officer
Library and Student Services
University for the Creative Arts
Canterbury Kent. U.K.

Melissa Mannon is an Information Specialist/Librarian for the Goffstown High School in Goffstown, New Hampshire. She is founder and blogger for ArchivesInfo.

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