01 Jun 2018 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

During my first year as a Book Arts graduate student in 2013/14 I took a course called “The Book as Artifact” and wrote a paper about pop-up, community-focused book programs and ways books can thrive in public space. It was framed as a survey of programs like Little Free Library, Occupy Wall Street Library, The Neighborhood Story Project in New Orleans, etc. Recently uncovering this buried paper, I have been thinking about my tendency to romanticize the book as an object — or as living being(s) for that matter. Do we not form relationships with books? One curious thing about the paper is that I did not include any examples of public artists’ book collections or related programs though I was beginning to self-identify as a book artist. This is not to say such programs did not exist at the time, though I was unaware of those that did, but it seemed reasonable that most artists’ books live behind glass and/or locked doors within private and/or Special Collections. 

Artists’ books should absolutely be protected, and I am so glad that major institutions collect them, make the books accessible to those who request to handle them, and financially support book artists. (I am now graciously employed by one of these institutions.) However, there’s the romantic in me who wants everyone to be able to stumble upon artists’ books unexpectedly, to revel in the tactile, emotional, and intellectual experiences within their potential. I suppose this explains my deep love for democratic multiples, zines and DIY book fairs in tandem with fine bookbinding and artistry.

Five years after writing that paper, I find myself luckily working with a team of local artists, nonprofit experts, and librarians to help found an openly accessible artists’ book collection in New Orleans, Louisiana. I live in a complex city with a historically robust literary and visual arts community and strong grassroots organizations that work to improve education and advocacy for diverse communities. All these variables have been at work in the formation of ABC@PM, or the Artist Book Collection at Paper Machine, a new print studio and workshop space in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. 

ABC was the brainchild of Yuka Petz, a book artist and educator who serves on the board of a local nonprofit arts organization that does amazing work supporting interdisciplinary artists bending towards social justice and community organizing. ABC’s growing collection of approximately 100 artists’ books was made possible through nonprofit sponsorship and generous donations of artists who love the idea of their work made accessible within a public teaching collection. 

There are no glass cases at ABC@PM — the books are organized upon shelves on the second floor of the building, open to browsing by all who enter. We are taking great care to thoughtfully catalog the collection, and we trust that our patrons will treat it with respect. (Book cradles and hand wipes are readily available!) ABC@PM hosted its opening reception on May 19th. It is an all volunteer-run budding thing and won’t progress without challenges and occasional hiccups, I am sure, but I am so excited to watch it grow, educate and thrill community members who are unfamiliar with artists’ books.

 Assuming those reading this are book art professionals of some sort, I wonder how you would feel about having your own work in an open, public teaching collection? What concerns would you have? 

Additionally, I would love to hear more about programs with similar operations. I wonder if many of the “Centers for the Book” around the U.S. have exposed, public book art libraries?  If so, how does the place you live in and its community shape the collection? 


Sara White is a book artist based in New Orleans, LA. She works as a project assistant in Special Collections & Archives at Loyola University and is a cataloger and founding member of ABC@PM. Her artist’s book Riverine won the 2016 Holle Award for Book Arts. Sara earned an MFA at The University of Alabama in 2016. 

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