December 10, 2023

A New Website Promotes Libraries as Incubators of the Arts


Three library science students in Wisconsin have created a website that hopes to encourage and deepen partnerships between artists and librarians.

The Library as Incubator Project was launched in October by Erinn Batykefer, Laura Damon-Moore, and Christina Endres, three graduate students at the UW-Madison School of Library and Information Studies.

“We all have a vested interest in the arts, community engagement, education, and libraries,” Damon-Moore said. “We knew that a lot of libraries and artists were working together and benefiting from each other’s existence already. We just figured that it was time to collect that information and start a conversation about what is already happening, how to do it more, and how to do it better,” she said.

The project began as independent study under Professor Emerita Louise Robbins and then under Assistant Professor Steve Paling.

“A lecture by Dr. Robbins on the importance of creative advocacy for libraries got all of us excited about innovative ways to show the community what the library does and can do,” Damon-Moore said.

In addition, an article in the UW-Madison Friends of the Library magazine by Madison artist and curator Martha Glowacki spurred the trio. Glowacki wrote about how she uses libraries extensively in the research for her work, and several of her pieces hang on the second floor of the Memorial Humanities and Social Sciences Library on the UW-Madison campus.

“I got to thinking about libraries as inspiration for and places to exhibit works of art,” Damon-Moore said.

The three students, who will graduate in May 2012, received a few credits, but there motivation went beyond school work.

“Every single bit of this has been a volunteer effort equally divided between the three of us,” Batykefer said. “We receive no funding, and only nominal credit in our degrees for this project. But it is a labor of love. We care deeply about the worth and longevity of the arts and the libraries in our communities and our country,” she said.

“I think our passion for the project and our belief that it would add something to the arena is what really made the Library as Incubator Project happen.” Endres said. “We started with an idea, and thanks to the participation and enthusiasm of artists and librarians, especially in Madison and the greater Wisconsin community, we’ve turned that idea into something concrete,” she said.

The project, which was presented at the Wisconsin Library Association Conference earlier this month in Milwaukee, highlights the ways that libraries and artists can work together and, according to the website, features:

  • Visual artists, performing artists, and writers who use libraries in their communities for inspiration, information, and as gallery space
  • Collections, libraries and library staff that incubate the arts, and the ways that artists can use them effectively
  • Free-to-share resources for librarians looking to incubate the arts at their libraries
  • Ideas for artists looking to connect with their communities through library programming

“The project is necessary at a time when the institutions that support community literacy and learning and the arts are having their funding cut,” Damon-Moore said. “There are partnerships forming naturally all over the place. We simply hope to offer a hub for conversation and communication, and in so doing, hopefully promote new and deeper partnerships,” she said.

The trio hopes to present the project at an ALA conference and garner more involvement from librarians across the country.

“Artists have been much more likely to send us questionnaires and ideas than librarians have thus far,” Batykefer said. “In the long term, we also hope that we will be able to consolidate the stories and practical kits we’re collecting on the site into a book,” she said.

To ensure long-term funding, the students are preparing a grant application that would allow the project to not just highlight arts-related library programming but also create programming by partnering with a local library system.

“We want to make sure that people know that we want many voices involved in this project,” Damon-Moore said. “We know that there are some fantastic arts-related programs, workshops, collections, and services in libraries all over the country – and while we’re at it, the world. We want to provide a platform for those programs to be shared with librarians, artists, writers, and interested readers the world over,” she said.

In addition to the website, the project has a Facebook page and Twitter account @IArtLibraries.

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.