BY SALLY DESKINS, EXHIBITS & PROGRAM COORDINATOR, WVU LIBRARIES
Since coming on board the West Virginia University Libraries as Exhibits Coordinator, a new position for
WVU Libraries and a truly rare one for libraries in general, I have had a growing interest in the
significance of art programs in libraries, and, further, collaborations between organizations like libraries
and other GLAM institutions (galleries-libraries- archives-museums) to advance the field in general, thus
benefiting us all!
I had the great opportunity to take my research on libraries as strategic art venues to the College Art
Association Conference in Los Angeles in February. This is the largest conference of art professionals in
the world, over four thousand people attend, network and present on topics mostly around the fields of
visual art and art history. I was able to attend partly because of the funding from a Professional
Development grant from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, and I was the only person
currently from West Virginia University (and perhaps the state) that attended, according to the
Also, perhaps, the only curator from a library—people don’t firstly think of libraries as venues for
art—but in fact they are ripe for this very role. As books and journals become increasingly digital, the
library becomes a new space—still one for study and resources with expert librarians—but also seeing
its place as an incubator for knowledge and ideas expanded into the visual, into the space itself. Not
only is a library a prime location for art in this way but it also offers an accessible and unintimidating
places for people from all walks of life to come across art, when they may not have gone into a museum
or gallery otherwise (though they should because museums and galleries are awesome!)—in this way,
libraries, as transmitters of knowledge, can also be seen as transmitters of creation—an encouraging
gateway to more art and culture.
That is my research on seeing libraries as strategic art venues in a nutshell—and to be sure—many
libraries do! Many states with the Percent for Art program (which West Virginia, unfortunately, does not
have), dedicate a percentage of construction costs for public buildings to commissioned art—and
libraries fall in this category. So, Ohio State University Library has amazing permanent installations by
international artists such as Ann Hamilton; and Los Angeles Public Library by Therman Statom, further
exciting people about the space and art, while also being a destination for art connoisseurs. Other
libraries have artist-in-residence programs, like Madison Public Library, or dedicated arts programs, like
several including WVU, and many lucky enough to have their own art library. Some even boast their
own special gallery space inside the Library, for rotating exhibits.
As the art crowd traditionally sees most value in exhibiting work in museums and galleries, it was
curious from many perspectives.
Beyond the Library, collaborating amongst GLAM organizations is another layer to advancing the field
and getting more people to experience and appreciate art and other cultural effects. I also had the
opportunity to present in collaboration with Eliza Newland, Collections Manager of the Royce and Carol
B. Watts Museum in Morgantown, about collaborating, at the West Virginia Association of Museums
conference last month in Charleston, thanks in part from a scholarship from the WVAM.
Eliza and I discussed the challenges, hesitancies, and benefits to collaborating, including giving examples
and ideas for projects and types of currencies and other fun stuff. We had a great conversation with
those in attendance and hope people got even one idea to take back with them.
My favorite question asked by the audience was “do you ever do projects collaborating with the
public?” Yes indeed, isn’t this the biggest point? To collaborate with organizations, to have art in the
libraries, all of it is to engage the public. Some projects and exhibitions more evident than others; next
month the WVU Libraries opens “Looking at Morgantown,” an exhibit juried by the Art in the Libraries
committee from over 350 submissions from regional professional and amateur photographers, inspired
by Roger Mays’ “Looking at Appalachia” crowd-sourced project currently on view in the Downtown
Campus Library. On display, April 20 thru August 15, 2018, ”Looking at Morgantown” in Downtown
Campus Library will include 24 photographs by 18 area residents giving their impressions of
Morgantown. This exhibit literally involved inviting the public to submit, but it is our hope that the
public is interested and engaged with any and all of our exhibits and programs. Collaborating with GLAM
organizations can encourage this across the board.
That is the point– -the reason we all work for these organizations, to spread the good news of the arts
and culture, right? So why not spread the goodness-whether its small cross-supporting of social media
posts, or larger, substantial support like educational programming, campaigns or volunteer training.
Even just having informal meetings regularly between organizations with shared ideals is a good thing! If
we advance the field, that means we make a difference.