Reading rooms (old and new)

In this first column of 2011, which seems set to be a challenging year for all of us, I would like to try and spread some cheer by reviewing a number of new or recent projects that highlight the central position of libraries in general, and special collections and archives in particular, within the production and distribution of contemporary art and culture. Some of these projects are generated from within the profession, but many are being initiated and developed outside the traditional sector, by artists, curators, gallerists or academics that use the form and function of the library to work with issues of display, presentation and mediation, social inclusion, non-commercial distribution, collecting, access to information, digitisation, etc. They may not be traditional but certainly are a rich source of inspiration.


Several galleries and artist-run spaces have opened reading rooms in the last year or two. The new SPACE Library (at SPACE Gallery) has been running a series of exhibitions exploring print publications and collections, the most recent being ‘The Reanimation Library – Hackney Branch’. The Reanimation Library, based in Brooklyn, NY, is a collection of outdated and discarded books that are used as source material for artists and writers. The exhibition presented a selection of books made available for the public to work with in the gallery space, alongside artists responses to ‘Inkblot Perception and Personality: Holtzman Inkblot Technique’ (University of Texas Press, 1961), which included work by Nina Beier, David Horvitz, Ruth Beale, Hans Diernberger, Richard John Jones, Raphael Hefti and Damien Roach. The previous exhibitions were ‘The Library’, a selection of artists’ publications curated by Kris Latocha of ‘Paperback’ magazine, ‘The Librarians’, 8 video portraits about personal libraries and collections curated by Guestroom, and ‘The North Drive Press Archive’, a retrospective that marked the publication of the fifth and final issue of this excellent magazine ‘in a box’.


The Reanimation Library – Hackney Branch

The Reanimation Library

The Library

The Librarians

The North Drive Press Archive

North Drive Press


The reading room at Banner Repeater, the art space run by Ami Clarke on platform 1 of Hackney Downs rail station, is currently hosting the Publish and Be Damned Public Library, an archive of artists’ publications presented at this art fair over the past 6 years. Established by Kit Hammonds and Emily Pethick in 2004, PABD took a year off during 2010 but we are very happy to announce that it will be back in October 2011, when it will be hosted by Chelsea College of Art & Design. More information, including programme and dates will be available soon. Meanwhile, you can watch curator Kit Hammonds discussing the future of print (or otherwise) with Andre Schiffrin, Roy Greenslade and David Roth-Ey in the ICA talk ‘Paywalls, E-books and the Death of Print’, now available on ICA’s YouTube channel.

The ICA also boasts its own new reading room, which presents publications selected by artists to accompany the programme of exhibitions. The opening selection was made by artist and editor Will Holder, on the occasion of the ‘Talk Show’ exhibition. Other gallery libraries / reading rooms coming soon elsewhere…


Banner Repeater reading room

Publish and Be Damned Public Library

Paywalls, E-books and the Death of Print

ICA Reading Room selection by Will Holder


‘The AAAARG Library’, a project curated by ‘Fillip’ magazine for the 2010 New York Art Book Fair, presented a 10,000-item printed card catalogue indexing the content of the AAAARG web site, an online research tool that provides access to books and essays on critical theory, art, architecture and film. A computer and scanner were used by visitors to the Library to share material with the NYABF and AAAARG communities and, during the course of the three day event, a librarian was available to fulfill book requests using the material available on AAAARG.

Another ongoing project engaging with the idea of the library is the ‘Pamphlet Library’, Ruth Beale’s collection of 20th Century political pamphlets and the contemporary responses to it that she has organised, which have included installation, readings, talks, performance and, of course, new pamphlets.


Fillip’s AAAARG Library



The ‘Pamphlet Library’


Tom Phillips wrote some time ago that ‘Artists use libraries in strange ways and it is difficult to suggest how a librarian can predict their needs, except not to de-accession anything with pictures’ (Artists on Libraries 1.‘Art Libraries Journal’, vol. 11, no. 3, 1986, pp. 9-10). A recommendation difficult to follow, but perhaps initiatives like ‘Barterama’, a printed matter swap fair organised by Antony Hudek and Sara De Bondt of Occassional Paper, could be used as an alternative way of disposing of stock that no longer can be kept.


Tom Phillips ‘On libraries’



This article will be continued at the next issue of the ‘News-sheet’, with a review of recent projects involving archives and special collections. Best wishes for the new year.



[Grandal Montero, G. (2011) Resources online: Reading rooms (old and new). ARLIS News-sheet, no. 209, Jan.-Feb., pp. 4-5.]


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