When Books Become Secondhand Sculpture

As a librarian in the emerging digital age, I’ve been a perpetual parallel student in order to keep up with my evolving role: from info seeker and knowledge keeper to information behavior specialist and access provider across multiple emerging platforms. Throughout my career and creative pursuits, I’ve noticed that as we venture deeper into the digital age, the more I see books being used as objets d’art: relics of yesteryear being admired as things of beauty; judged only by their covers.

I, too, appreciate the beauty of a book. The smell of old leather and freshly cut pages offers whiffs of wisdom through olfactory osmosis. Seeing a series perfectly presented on a shelf triggers a satisfying sense of mindful multiplicity reminiscent of Mr. Rogers’ trips to the crayon factory (There was such beauty in the colorful order of things.). But the emergence of digital platforms doesn’t crowd out our Caxton-credited leatherbound friends as information sources, just as the advent of the calculator didn’t negate the need to learn long division. We just have more tools to use!

My mixed media piece entitled, “Digital Display,” is my reaction to this trend: where books are being seen less as information sources and more as secondhand sculptures. The digital age needs information literacy and lifelong learning more than ever, yet the tools to these ends are being “shushed”: framed and hung on a wall to be admired as ornaments.

The book in “Digital Display” is constructed of cardboard, paper, and two letters (“s” and “h”) from a novel written by American horror author Stephen King,  purchased at American retailer Walmart. The title of the book in the piece is presented as “Shhhh” with four “h”s, representing the horror of the four borders we’re seeing nailed around these vessels of knowledge in order to hang them on metaphorical museum walls. On the frame, letters are crossed out with red, black and blue to complete the representation of American thought leadership; The letters “s” and “h” are not crossed out, instead circled in gold to represent the trend towards silence being golden regarding information literacy. The frame is hung with twine, illustrating a flimsy installation that can be corrected. Finally, the colors yellow and red signal a need for caution and redirection.

The key to the American information literacy crisis in this digital age is to take the “secondhand” out of these secondhand sculptures. If we stopped viewing books, authors, publishers and information sources in general as “the other” and took some ownership of how we seek, check, and use information on a daily basis, we would be savvier consumers in the print and digital world.

Now, to make up for the book I butchered for art’s sake, we’ll be visiting a library book sale this weekend.

Happy tagging!