Website, book highlight creative uses of libraries

For many, the image of a library is a quiet building, filled with books, a few computers, and space for reading and research.

But Wisconsin authors and librarians Laura Damon-Moore and Erinn Batykefer have a broader vision for what a library can be and new ways that patrons can engage with their public library.

Their new book, “The Artist’s Library: A Field Guide,” is designed to help creative-minded individuals find inspiration and support at their local library.

The book grew out of a project Damon-Moore and Batykefer started with friend Christina Jones while they were students in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Library and Information Sciences.

The introductory course where the women met focused on some of the core principles and philosophies of library service. In one dynamic conversation, the students focused on library advocacy — how libraries can reach out to different types of users and learn how to serve them better, said Damon-Moore, assistant director of the Eager Free public library in Evansville. 

As they started to do more research, Damon-Moore and Batykefer realized there were no resources or studies on the ways that artists use libraries.

“Lots and lots of librarians write about how to best serve different groups of people and how to make administrative choices and structural choices and partnerships … but nobody was writing about artists,” said Batykefer, a librarian at the Alicia Ashman Branch of the Madison public library.

As they started reaching out to artists to ask them about their relationships with libraries, they discovered there was a lot more to share and say than would fit in, say, an academic paper. As a result, the Library as Incubator Project was born.

“It was really an organic progression from question to research to considering the best way to share the stories that we had collected as a way to advocate for what libraries can do for artists as a community and how libraries can support creative learning opportunities,” said Batykefer.

The website,, is part of a “social media empire” that spans Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and includes a collection of stories and case studies of how artists use libraries, harnessing the power of community spaces to bring art into their communities.

The book is a natural extension from the website, especially coming from two librarians.

“Books matter a lot to us so of course we wanted to be able to share this in that format,” said Damon-Moore.

Damon-Moore and Batykefer started meeting with their publisher, Coffee House Press, in 2012. The Minneapolis-based publishing house is a small, nonprofit, literary publisher that regularly collaborates with the arts community in the Twin Cities.

At the time, Coffee House was looking to start a new initiative within the company to publish books and start programs that encourage action and “nurture literary arts beyond the page.” After brainstorming with Damon-Moore and Batykefer, the company agreed to publish “The Artist’s Library: A Field Guide” as the first book in the new Books in Action imprint.

“It’s a book that prompts you to go out and do something,” said Batykefer.

“The Artist’s Library” is designed to give readers an overview of the landscape they’ll be exploring and share specific examples of how artists have used libraries in their work — many of them pulled from submissions to the Library as Incubator Project.

For example, Madison author Rita Mae Reese used material from the archives at UW-Madison's Memorial Library to inform a book of poetry based on the work of short story writer Flannery O'Connor.

Artist Stephen Crowe decided to illustrate the text of James Joyce's notoriously difficult book "Finnegan's Wake," a challenge that combines art and literary analysis. Crowe said using an already-established text helps him find structure and a starting point for his creative work.

Each chapter ends with a series of creative exercises designed to help readers use their library in a new way. Readers are encouraged to people watch, browse different library collections, work with librarians on research, and partner with librarians on creative projects.

“Our entire goal was to get people thinking creatively, and if every person who reads it does just one of those exercises at some point, I think we’d be really happy,” said Batykefer. “If you’re a person who is creative at all, we’re hopeful this would spark something in you.”

“The Artist’s Library” specifically defines artist broadly — “a person who learns and uses creative tools and techniques to make new things” — because Damon-Moore and Batykefer wanted the book to feel accessible to all readers. The case studies and exercises can provide inspiration to librarians looking to expand programs for patrons as well as library users or nonusers who embrace art making.

“We really wanted them to see the library as a space to exercise that creativity and explore new subject areas of the library they didn’t know existed or hadn’t visited before,” said Damon-Moore.

The launch party for “The Artist’s Library” will take place, appropriately, at the Madison public library on Friday, May 16, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. The authors will lead creative projects and refreshments will be provided by the Underground Food Collective.

Both Batykefer and Damon-Moore will be serving as artists in residence at the library in May and June. During their tenure, they’ll be sharing some of the projects in the book during public workshops. Batykefer will also be taking over The Bubbler room at the Central Library to work on a first draft of her novel.

Kim Ukura is a freelance writer who blogs about books at her website,

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