Three students in the School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) have combined organizational savvy and community outreach to create a resource for connecting artists, libraries, and the people who love them.
The Library as Incubator Project “seeks to learn how artists (writers, visual artists, and performing artists) use libraries in their research, creation, and promotion of their artistic work,” resulting in efficient, economical partnerships that can inspire art and library patrons again and again.
“We’re used to thinking of libraries as an incubator for scholarly and personal projects, but not for art and literature,” says Steve Paling, assistant professor in SLIS and the project’s current adviser.
“This is a new perspective. It’s great to see such a unique resource.”
The site serves as a clearinghouse for ideas shared between a number of users: artists promoting their work can submit descriptions of what they might offer to libraries or school programs; teachers can glean ideas about integrating visual, performing and literary arts into their lessons; libraries can learn how to broaden their services.
Even those with little connection to libraries or the arts can participate, providing valuable feedback that can help drive patron-centered programming.
“Our role is creating connections between people, resources, step-by-step instructions,” says Erinn Batykefer, one of the project co-founders.
“I would like people to see this as something that’s not ours but theirs.”
Two of the three founders have artistic backgrounds that inform their work: Laura Damon-Moore majored in theater at Beliot College and spent much of her time assisting a faculty playwright in research; Batykefer received her MFA in poetry from UW-Madison and worked at a poetry center where public outreach played a central role.
The third founder, Christine Endres, came to SLIS after volunteering for Americorps in a California school program with a strong literary component.
The project began in May, when Damon-Moore and Endres surveyed a network of local artists about their connections to libraries.
As the project grew, the pair moved from individual interviews to more formalized surveys. When Batykefer joined, she brought a variety of writing contacts, and the survey became an online tool.
“If you look at our survey responses, not every artist uses libraries in the same way,” says Damon-Moore.
“We want to develop a community and a conversation that’s ongoing.”
The months spent organizing content paid off when the site went live in October, 2011.
The website shares information about successful programs and ideas for working with particular constituencies, descriptions of existing art/library connections, and pre-made “kits.”
“Kit’s are fun. We can ask artists to generate kits for us – ‘what would you love to do at a library?’ – and then we can use it as a template for librarians to pick out. They look at it and say, ‘Hmm, If we’re having an artist here, this could really help us,’” says Batykefer.
Madison author and UW-Madison alumna Rita Mae Reese uses fragments of other literature to inspire her work, and created on a kit to help promote her first book, “The Alphabet Conspiracy.”
Reese’s book was published by a small press with few promotional resources, and with two small children, the author could not spend much time away from home on a book tour.
Reese reached out to the Library as Incubator project to create a kit called “Primary Sources: A Poetry Workshop or, How to Steal Your Next Great Idea from the Library Stacks.”
Usable on its own and easily downloaded, the kit is also the basis for a workshop that Reese can present in schools, libraries and other local venues.
The Library as Incubator website offers opportunities for artists and nonprofits who must make every dollar count to bring their work into the public eye, while sharing the wide spectrum of services libraries offer to communities.
Advocating for libraries is crucial during a time when every public expenditure may become a target for scrutiny.
“A lot of people don’t understand all that libraries do. Your tax dollars are worth it. You’re getting a return on your investment,” says Damon-Moore.
“When budgets for libraries and arts coalitions are being gutted, these two entities can combine, support, and promote each other.”
In addition to honing their advocacy skills, the students push each other to learn and apply other new skills such as web development and design.
“It’s been a bottom-up effort, almost entirely student-generated – conceptualizing, promoting, designing,” says Paling.
“It gives me a lot of confidence for the project’s durability in the future.”
Looking down the road, Batykefer looks to a website called “Awful Library Books,” where librarians spotlight some of the books they removed from their collections and why.
While the outmoded illustrations in some of the books might make visitors laugh, the creators have become well known for teaching the practice of professional collection development.
“Through their website, they’ve built careers,” says Batykefer.
“We see this as our career here. It’s the beginning.”