What is a library?

Libraries and books always have the power to bring people together…another reason why I love them. Over the past few days, I’ve come across two international projects that are very good examples of this. During my latest trip to London, I saw a book maze designed and built by the Brazilian artists Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Southbank Centre. I often spend time here reading, thinking, writing and typing when I’m in London as it’s in a great location and is such a multipurpose venue. Entitled ‘aMAZEme’, programmed as part of the arts festival for the London 2012 Olympics, it is a stacked, twisting labyrinth of books based on a fingerprint belonging to writer Jorge Luis Borges. It was built by the artists and over fifty volunteers day and night for five days using 250,000 remaindered, used and new books, most of which are on loan from Oxfam and will be returned after the exhibit. The piece covers over 500 square metres with sections standing up to 2.5 metres high. Below is a time-lapse video of the building process that gives you a real sense of how the installation was constructed. On the very busy Olympic “super Saturday”, the maze was busy, full of people negotiating the paper walls that guided their path, full of children reading and playing, and most of all full of people reading, learning and engaging with words. I was caught at one stage taking breaths between the pages, getting a smile or two from members of the public as if they also did the same ritualistic action when picking up a book for the first time. I’ll talk about the smell of fresh print tomorrow.

The next discovery is the growing initiative ‘The Garden Library for Refugees and Migrant Workers’, founded in 2009 as a social-artistic urban community project by ARTEAM, a non-profit interdisciplinary art collective. Located in Lewinsky Park, by the central bus station of Tel Aviv, the library contains approximately 3,500 books in Mandarin Chinese, Amharic, Thai, Tagalog, Arabic, French, Spanish, Nepalese, Bengali, Hindi, Turkish, Romanian, Sinhala, Tigrinya, and English. The children’s cabinet also holds books in Hebrew. The books were compiled after consulting with native speakers of each language so that the selection appeals to a wide range of tastes, including classics and master works of literature, in addition to bestsellers and graphic novels. The library does not use a conventional sorting systems and implements a unique process to embody the spirit of the library. In addition to a color sticker marking each book’s language, listing its catalogue number, a second, 5cm-high sticker is placed at the bottom of each spine denoting the feelings the book arouse in readers. Therefore, the books are not catalogued according to conventions of genre or author name, but according to the feelings amusing, boring, bizarre, depressing, exciting, inspiring and sentimental. This is such a clever and accessible way to rethink the way to catalogue books! I wish more libraries used this kind of approach. The library is located in a neighborhood of the city predominantly inhabited by migrant workers, where it creates a welcoming space for reading, browsing and socializing. It was designed by architect Yoav Meiri with a unique layout that features no walls or door and comprises two bookcases supported by the walls of a public shelter located in the heart of the park. A permanent canopy stretches above the two structures, providing shelter for both books and visitors. This project is constantly seeking support including funding from the public, in addition to expanding its networks and dialogues through international creative projects…perhaps there’s an opportunity to make a project with China? I’m already thinking…

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