The Madison-based website has chronicled the 21st-century evolution of libraries.
The Library As Incubator Project[http://www.libraryasincubatorproject.org/] has spent seven years charting a movement that has now matured. Started by three librarians who met at the UW-Madison School of Library and Information Studies (recently renamed the iSchool), the website functions as part journalistic endeavor and part professional resource, both covering and encouraging a broader trend in which public libraries have become hubs for community and creativity. The project has yielded a book called The Artist’s Library and a collection of information for librarians hoping to expand their own programming.
Libraries are rarely just places to borrow books—it’s pretty common to find children and seniors’ programming on the agenda at libraries, for instance. But LAI is concerned more specifically with the recent wave of libraries playing more active roles in art, embracing technology, and venturing into unusual programming, from a tiny house festival to makerspaces. One vivid example of such innovation in libraries is right here in town—the Madison Public Library’s Bubbler program.
The website’s founders have announced that they’ll stop publishing new material in mid-November, in part because the programming they’re focused on doesn’t seem so novel anymore. “The bulk of the library profession has sort of caught up with what we were talking about,” says Laura Damon-Moore, one of Library As Incubator Project’s co-founders and editors and a community engagement librarian at MPL. “When we started the project it was kind of this new idea of hands-on, participatory programs in libraries, particularly for adults…seven years down the road, that kind of programming, the stuff the Bubbler does and things like that, that’s, if not ubiquitous in public libraries, it’s on people’s radars.”
Damon-Moore started the project with Erinn Batykefer, a writer and librarian now based in Pittsburgh, and Christina Jones, who went on to work as the director of the public library in Altoona, Wisconsin. The project has had several other contributors and editors.
When Library As Incubator Project began, such programming wasn’t quite as common, and people interested in it didn’t have a lot of ways to connect with each other online. The founders and colleagues from across the library profession aimed to fill the void with an array of artist interviews, guest essays, instructional pieces, and links to other relevant coverage. Right from its beginnings in 2012, LAI covered projects in libraries across the country and around the world, and topics ranging from digital comics collections to studying under Lynda Barry to the importance of fandoms to gaming. In 2015, LAI re-published a Tone Madison story about a painting at the Madison Public Library that depicted police violence and predictably drew an angry response from the local police union. That’s been the only formal interaction between our two sites, but at the time I appreciated how interested they were in the conversation about how art in libraries collides with local and national politics.
The website’s coverage was able to delve into a lot of these particular threads because it didn’t try or pretend to be comprehensive. “I think what was great is we didn’t feel like we had to be part of every topic in this conversation necessarily,” Damon-Moore says.
Madison non-profit WiLs is stepping in to keep the site’s existing content online after new publishing wraps up. Damon-Moore says there’s no big fanfare in the works for the wrap-up this month, but she and her co-founders wanted to have a firm end date, and are asking anyone who’s interested in making a final submission to reach out soon. They’re also encouraging people posting about innovative library programming to keep on using the hashtag #IArtLibraries.
“I hope that it was a really rich resource for people because it did cover multiple aspects and levels and a lot of perspectives,” Damon-Moore says. “From my perspective, the best thing was to be able to talk with artists about how they use libraries.”