We’re delighted to share this interview with some of the folks at NYPL’s Mulberry Street Branch and to showcase a new service launched as a practicum project by Rebecca Rubenstein, an artist and library school student at Palmer School of Library and Information Science, Long Island University. Read on to learn more about Mulberry Street’s art shows and how Rebecca built exhibition pathfinders and book displays in order to help patrons learn more about the art and local artists. ~Erinn
LAIP: Give us a little bit of background on the NYPL Mulberry Street Branch and the community it serves.
Jennifer Craft, Library Manager: Mulberry Street Library opened to the public in May 2007 in a building that formerly housed the Hawley and Hoops Chocolate Factory. We serve an age- and culturally-diverse community located in the Little Italy/SoHo/Chinatown area of Manhattan. Our programming encompasses story times for children, gaming and crafts for teens, and art classes and book discussions for older adults.
LAIP: Can you tell us how the library came to show the work of local artists? How did the community respond? Any other markers of the program’s success?
Sherri Liberman, Senior Librarian: The art shows at Mulberry Street library sprang out of some grass roots advocacy on the part of both staff and community. Our Library Manager, Jennifer Craft, knew that she wanted to have artwork in the branch, and looked at how other branches of NYPL utilized art in their spaces.
Our first exhibits were directed to us through patrons and word-of-mouth; many of our artists are friends and acquaintances. We also put out a sign on the desk when we first opened in order to solicit artists, and we also put out a call for artists through our Mulberry Street Library Facebook page, the Nonsense NYC list, and through the arts organization Third Ward. As time passed, people began hearing about us as an art space. We started a blog called Meet the Artists that gave exhibiting artists a voice and more exposure to the NYPL community at large. Our measure of success is that word has spread positively enough that we are booked through the end of 2013. Library patrons comment positively on how the artwork impacts their visit to the library.
People like being surrounded by art.
LAIP: Rebecca, tell us about why you wanted to intern at Mulberry Street.
Rebecca Rubenstein: I started volunteering at Mulberry Street in October 2011. I immediately felt a connection with this library– it’s an environment that promotes and encourages the creativity of its staff and exhibiting artists alike– and I knew I wanted to work on more in-depth projects with them as their intern.
LAIP: Tell us about the exhibits you worked with and what extra content you made for each.
Rebecca: The first exhibit I worked with, “Beauty in Reading – An Exhibit by Kamia Funchess and Mychel Russell-Ward” was about the joys of books and reading. Kamia Funchess is a photographer. In her photos for this show she captures people in the act of reading. Mychel-Russell Ward’s watercolor pieces act as diary. She conveys a love of books though these works.
- Beauty in Reading – A Pathfinder to the Exhibit | NYPL Mulberry Street Bibliocommons I created an annotated reading list for “Beauty in Reading”t that included titles for all ages.
- Meet The Artists: Kamia J. Funchess & Mychel Russell-Ward I conducted interviews with the “Beauty in Reading” artists for Mulberry Street’s Meet the Artists blog (the first question in this interview was contributed by Barry Gillian, a staff member at Mulberry Street).
The next show I was involved in, “MAPnificent: Artists Use Maps,” was curated by Yulia Tikhonova. Each of the nine artists in this exhibition expressed through their artwork what maps and/or what the act of mapping means to them.
- MAPnificent Book List | NYPL Mulberry Street Bibliocommons I created an annotated reading list for “MAPnificent” that included titles for all ages.
- We set up a display in the library so patrons could easily see what titles were on the list. We included copies of the pathfinder for patrons to take with them, as well as copies of the artists’ biographies and CVs.
- Meet the Curator: Yulia Tikhonova I conducted an interview with the curator of “MAPnificent: Artists Use Maps”
- Meet The Artists: Alaistair Noble & Marie-Christine Katz I attended a presentation at the library given by two of the artists in the “MAPnificent” exhibition and wrote a blog post (intro by Sherri Liberman)
LAIP: How did you decide that pathfinders and blog interviews were the best way to give patrons the opportunity to dig deeper into these exhibitions?
Rebecca: I wanted to use the positive qualities that I think pathfinders offer to further engage Mulberry Street’s patrons in the creative spirit of their library and to help them expand their knowledge of what the art they are seeing as they browse around the library. Pathfinders can also motivate patrons to make connections to books that might offer additional exploration into the themes presented by the exhibitions.
I think librarians should create lots of pathfinders for their patrons! This is a wonderful way to build quick and concise reference guides for a wide variety of topics and interests.
The interviews were something that the library was already doing. During my internship it was suggested that I be involved with the interview process because it correlated with my pathfinder idea.
The interviews and pathfinders ended up being a great match because these activities informed one another. In thinking about what questions to ask the artists, I started to think about book titles that could be related to the discussion, and vice versa.
How did people respond to what you created?
Rebecca: People felt it was a nice complement to the exhibitions. I noticed people looking at the books on the table and grabbing pathfinders on their way over to the reference desk. The placement of the display table was ideal. It was next to the reference desk and near the entrance to the community room, where many of the library’s events take place.
Links to the pathfinders and blog posts were placed on Mulberry Street’s facebook page, and I learned that people enjoyed being able to peruse the information this way as well.
LAIP: Do you have any tips for other libraries interested in creating similar resources for their art shows?
Rebecca: I discovered it is important to keep pathfinders short (one page), but also to make them comprehensive. They should include titles from various genres and they should be suitable for different age groups within your library.
Download Rebecca’s pathfinders and get reading!
Rebecca Rubenstein is an artist who earned her MFA from from Pratt Institute before enrolling as anMSLIS student at the Palmer School of Library and Information Science, Long Island University. She will be doing a second internship this fall with the Fine Arts Subject Specialist at New York University’s Bobst Library. One of her projects there will be to create pathfinders with resources that can help students looking for jobs in the arts. Visit her website at www.rebeccaprojects.comPin It