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Whose Space Is It Anyway? A question on library behavior for the sake of art

June 8, 2010, 9:51 am

 Last week we had an unusual occurrence—a class
was assigned to develop temporary art installations in the library during their
regular meeting time. Their assignment focused on the concept of personal
space. Here are a few that I found:

 
Photo-45 The transformation of a study room into a dorm room.

 
Elevator2 The transformation of an elevator into a dorm room.

  
Elevator1 The elevator walls.
 

 
Photo-46 These invitations were scattered around the building.

 
Photo-47 On the 4th floor footprints to lead you to a balcony.

 
Food1 Feast.

 
Food2 Art.

 
Food3 People.

 
Getting_ready1 A girl outside the library is "getting ready" for the day. Took her three hours. She acted as if this was her personal space.
  
Floor1 The tape path.

 
Floor2 Putting down more tape  

Overall I like the concept, however, administratively this
posed some questions. We didn’t mind that students were doing these projects
but wished that we known about them ahead of time– although I presume that
that was part of their study. Not only did they want to see how students reacted,
but library staff as well… they were also invading our personal space to get a reaction.
 

I spoke with several of the students and they seemed to have
a conversational wall up.  Sort of
like they knew that they were doing something they probably shouldn’t be doing.
Nearly all of them were very neutral if not dismissive toward my questions, so
rather than be “the administrator who gave us a hard time” I inverted my
attitude and acted as if their project was the most amazing thing ever. I had a
feeling that they were hoping for a more confrontational encounter, but they had to
accept praise instead of drama.

 

This got me thinking of the larger question of whose space
is it anyway? Our charge is to maintain the collections, technology, furniture,
and other stuff inside the building, but what about behavior? Obviously we don’t
want people to be disruptive or offensive. We have an obligation to provide a
safe, welcoming and productivity-driven environment, but where do we draw the
line? What about gray matters like this?

 

If libraries are for the users, then at what points do we decide to
drop in and be enforcers of the space? If a student wants to giveaway free
cookies at a study table—is that ok? What if he wants to draw a masterpiece on
a whiteboard? If they are doing passive activities that don’t directly interrupt
others, is that within our bounds of control? Should we even care? How do you know when to just let it go
and to let users be users?

 

This theme was reversed on me over the weekend when I went to the UCSB Art Museum to view an exhibit of grad student works. I was
interviewing one of the artists and took a picture of her next to her work when
a museum employee approached and said that photography was not allowed in the
building. So even though I had the permission of the artist, I was prohibited from
taking the shot. The creator of the work doesn’t own the activities in the space, she doesn't control the exhibit. She doesn't make the rules. In the same manner, can I dedicate
behavior in the library if their professor tells them to go create an art scene? Isn't the library a space for everyone?

 

Bigger picture. One of the themes I’m trying to develop here is a sense of personality within our building. We’re not as shiny as others, but I want our
users to feel that there is something more going on here than just a place to study. Even
if it is intangible, I want them to feel that there is something inherently good about the library. The problem with that though seems to be
that once you crack that seal you can’t stop of the flow of what comes in. If
you allow some people to do art projects you can’t ban others, and this can obviously
escalate.

 

Just curious what others of you out there allow to happen in your library buildings
outside of your influence and control. You can create a policy but when happens when people operate outside of your rules? I guess we need people to test the rules so that we can reassess the boundaries from time to time. Just thinking out loud here.

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