Feature writer Rebecca Rubenstein recently visited an exciting new show at the Center for Book Arts in New York– a show that re-imagines the concept and purpose of a library, and turns libraries into works of art.  Don’t miss the rest of Rebecca’s features on library-as-incubator happenings in NYC! ~Erinn

IMG_0355Brother Can You Spare a Stack at the Center for Book Arts

by Rebecca Rubenstein

Brother, Can You Spare a Stack presents thirteen art projects that re-imagine the library as a force for social change. Each project constructs a micro library of sorts that serves specific economic or social needs within the community. ~Exhibition summary

Yulia Tikhonova, curator of “Brother Can You Spare a Stack” at the Center for Book Arts in New York, brings together a group of mobile library projects that got me thinking about what my role as a librarian really is. Librarians are in the business of sharing information, but could the way in which we do this be enhanced?

The individuals and groups involved in this show share books and ideas outside traditional library spaces.  They encourage participation, and through their travels, they each create unique communities and have important stories to tell. Tikhonova commented that the projects “challenge the model of the conventional library” because they are “based on a trust system.” The projects in the Brother Can You spare A Stack exhibition confirm Tikhonova’s sentiment that “artists think about books as physical objects”–each project “library” is valued and respected as an art object in addition to a means of transmitting ideas.

Among the highlights for me were projects such as “The Patriot Library,” a collaborative project between the collective Finishing School and librarian Christy Thomas.  It’s a library that travels and collects books on controversial subjects. Their collection policy states that they acquire “materials that support curiosity, teaching and research in areas that the United States Government might consider ‘dangerous’ works in light of current domestic and international policies.”

Pacifist LibraryAnother library in the exhibition, “The Pacifist Library,” is carried on the backs of its originators, Valentia Curandi and Nathaniel Katz. It travels, through the streets of Queens, New York, among other places. The donated books in the artists’ library are on subjects such as social change and non-violent action. Their goal is simple: to create a conversation– something that can be difficult on the streets of New York City. One of the activities of “The Pacifist Library” during its stint in Queens focused on the book From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp. When the artists discovered that none of they Queens Library branches held this title, they decided to translate the work into various languages and then donate copies of the translations to the branches, based on the particular population for each branch.

1Micki Watanabe Spiller created “Bubbles and Books: A Library in a Laundromat.” This project is based in her local laundromat in Woodside, Queens. As her project description states, she wanted to offer kids something else to do besides “stare at clothes going round and round,” or “begging for quarters to jam into gum and toy vending machines.” As part of the library project, she also hosts story time at the laundromat. In addition, she created a coloring book entitled “A Woodside Walk.” All of the illustrations depict places in her Woodside neighborhood. Neighborhood kids can also use the book as a treasure hunt and identify all the places pictured.

Brother Can You Spare a Stack also included projects by The Reanimation Library and The Sketchbook Project, both of which have been previously featured on the Library as Incubator Project, as well as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement library.

Want More?

Check out recent Library as Incubator posts on some of the projects featured in Brother Can You Spare a Stack:


rebecca_rubensteinRebecca Rubenstein is an artist who earned her MFA from from Pratt Institute before enrolling as an MSLIS student at the Palmer School of Library and Information Science, Long Island University. She recently completed an internship with the Librarian for Fine Art at New York University’s Bobst Library. One of her projects there was to build a Lib Guide which includes online and print professional development resources for visual artists. She currently works in the eLibrary of an educational software company. Visit her website at www.rebeccaprojects.com.

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