Thursday, November 8, 2012

Arts in the Library, by Heather Moorefield-Lang

Collage by the author, Heather Moorefield-Lang

So as a librarian, I already assume that the library is a central location for books, technology, information, and more. But before I became a librarian, I was a theater teacher. I taught middle school drama for five years full-time, and after I became a middle school librarian I still continued to teach a theatre class when time would allow. As a librarian at the school level, I would have drama performances in the library, art exhibits on the walls and in the stacks, poetry readings, and more. Now that I am at the academic level, I still feel the library, a central building on campus, has the chance not only to be the technology and literary focus on campus but a central arts scene as well.

Ways to Invite the Arts into your Library

  1. Visual Arts: The library is a perfect location to showcase art. So many students, from different departments, come through the library every day. The visual arts are probably the easiest arts-based discipline with which to partner. Talk to your art department about showcasing student work. Have a book building contest with weeded books and see what architecture and engineering students can create. Partner with the public schools and see if K-12 teachers might want to feature their students’ drawings at the academic level. There are so many possibilities. Whether the art is photographic, drawn, painted, sculpted, or built, there is room in the library and students will always enjoy seeing their work displayed in such a public venue.
  2. Theater Performances: Theater takes a little more work. It needs space, although not much room. Actors can make any space work. Find out when theatrical performances are happening on campus. Contact the theater department and see if the directors of the piece might like to give a 10-15 minute preview of the upcoming show. If space is tight in the library, then you can have it outside if weather allows. Another fun option is hosting a night of improvisation or comedy. Poetry slams can also be a really fun and uplifting option.
  3. Music: Inviting musicians and singers to perform during events at the library is a wonderful way to showcase student talent and encourage partnerships between departments. Digital recordings of school performances being played in the lobby or foyer of the library are a nice way to showcase the school’s band, choir, chorus, or orchestra too. Bands and singers make noise, of course, but the days of completely quiet libraries are long gone and again students and faculty will enjoy having their work displayed.
  4. Dance: More than likely the most common way that dance has taken place in the library lately is through the method of flash mob. This is fine, but commonly not under the control of the librarians. Dance performances, like theater, are a possibility for the library and would be great fun. An option would be recording dance performances on campus and featuring them in a viewable format on library televisions, computers, or projectors.

I have visited many libraries around the world and I have seen the arts featured in just about all of them. There have been art exhibits, band performances, dogs dressed in costumes, cake decorating contests, Dance Dance Revolution, improvisation performances, movie nights and much more. Librarians are only limited by their creativity and imagination. All you have to do is get out there, knock on some doors, make some phone or Skype calls, send an email, shake some hands and open up the opportunity. Once faculty and students know that the library is willing, they will want to take part.

Heather Moorefield-Lang is the Education and Applied Social Sciences Librarian at Virginia Tech. She tweets @actinginthelib and her website is This is the second entry she has written for this blog; the previous entry is “When Your Technology Dance Card is Starting to Get Full.”

1 comment:

  1. There is a natural connection between literacy and the arts. Having a positive relationship with your arts council can also be beneficial for both entities. Joint programming, rotating exhibits and a point of contact for local artists are all possibilities.

    The only sticky widget is the determination of what constitutes good or appropriate art, what policy is in place and what type of insurance release is necessary.

    That being said, my former library had several installations from a local artist (Google "Termespheres") as well a weekend music series with local acoustic, cultural and folk musicians coming in to play.