There are few surprises in The Artist’s Library: A Field Guide. Author-librarians Laura Damon-Moore and Erinn Batykefer do not have to convince bibliophiles that the library is hallowed ground. What they set out to do, and accomplish nicely, is offer ideas for becoming a more resourceful user regardless of intent.
Library and arts funding are not priorities in unstable economic times. Elected and self-appointed Neo-Cons label them elitist and unnecessary. . . unless their kids attend Ivy League schools or study at a prestigious arts conservatory. When confronted with choosing snow removal or renovating the library, what would any small town or large city pay for first? Any lobbying in The Artist’s Library is on behalf of the utilization of the available to guide the possible.
The book is both a summary and continuation of the authors’ “Library as Incubator Project.” An outgrowth of their work at UW-Madison School of Library and Information, the Project website offers ideas for use on- and off-line to “promote and facilitate creative collaboration between libraries and artists of all types, and to advocate for libraries as incubators of the arts.” The authors generously define “artists” as “professional artists and writers,” someone “testing out a new artistic skill,” or “creative hobbyists who simply enjoy the process of art-making.” This encouragement is an invitation to both patrons who actively use their library and those who have not done so since school.
In keeping with the spirit of fostering a community, an especially helpful guide to the different types of libraries is included. Any basic search starts with the local public library to locate material. If the library does not have the book, recording, document, etc., an inter-library loan from a member library is possible. Rare and/or non-circulating items are located in special collections such as those in a larger public library (like the specialized branches of The New York Public Library), a university (such as Princeton, where the Scribner publishing archive is kept), or individual special collections (two famous ones are The Folger for Shakespeare folios and the John F. Kennedy Library for Ernest Hemingway’s papers). Some of these items are available to view online. If closer study is desired and the request justified, an appointment can be arranged. It takes time, but the rewards are many.
The authors condense their ideas in seven chapters:
Exploring the Library as Subject
Finding Inspiration in Library Collections
Using the Library for Creative Research
Using the Library as a Space to Work
Using the Library as an Arts Venue
Creating Successful Programming Partnerships with Libraries
Using the Library to Build Your Arts Organization or Business
Each chapter features a “Library as Incubator” artist to illustrate how his or her project used the technique described. For example, one artist studied 18th century medallions commemorating Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia to create her own history of the continent in a series of drawings, and another is working on a photo archive of libraries built by Andrew Carnegie (there are 1689 in all).
As the book’s subtitle is A Field Guide, exercises are included at end of each chapter for the reader to explore. They range from exploring library space for solitude or work and objects to exploring a favorite or—even better—new area of interest. All aim at demystifying those perceived distances between a borrower, the borrowed, and their caretakers.
The Artist’s Library: A Field Guide is the best kind of self-help book—the library providing intellectual and artistic growth on a personal level.