Museums, as well as libraries and other community institutions get a disproportionate share of our attention on this blog. When we see a random variation like the following, we cannot help but follow the trail (thanks to Jordan Kisner):
One recent Wednesday afternoon, a man wandered into a library on North Third Street in Brooklyn and asked how he could sign up for a library card. The young woman behind the counter smiled and explained that at this particular library there were no cards—or even traditional books. The Brooklyn Art Library, housed in a Williamsburg storefront with unfinished floors and exposed piping, is, instead, home to the Sketchbook Project, a collection of crowdsourced sketchbooks that is, according to its staff, the largest in the world. The project was founded in 2006, when Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker, two art students living in Atlanta, began mailing blank Moleskines to anyone who wanted one for a small fee, and then archiving whatever came back. Now anyone can pay twenty-eight dollars for a sketchbook, or sixty-three dollars for a digital membership, which means that their books will be scanned in full and archived online in a digital library.
Zucker and Peterman started the Sketchbook Project out of frustration with a gallery culture that seemed exploitative and exclusive. “We wanted to create a community anti-gallery space that was inclusive of everyone that wanted to be a part of it,” Peterman told me. They were working on a few crowdsourced art projects at the time (they also tried soliciting photos, and mailing out canvases for people to paint on), but the sketchbook collection attracted a surprising amount of enthusiasm and quickly took over their business: now roughly thirty-four thousand sketchbooks line the walls of the Brooklyn Art Library, and about half of those are scanned in the online archive. In the project’s busiest years, the number of people requesting blank books has neared fourteen thousand.
To “check out” a sketchbook at the library, you first need to open an account on the Sketchbook Project’s Web site (it’s free). Then you can make requests, either with an iPhone or with one of the iPads mounted along the library’s bookshelves, between wooden benches and rolling carts stacked with pens and paper for sale. The database is searchable by keyword. We entered “blue” and “tin” into the search fields, then surveyed the results together: scanned pages of a sketchbook inscribed by a young woman named Salome in Hong Kong; murky cobalt cyanotypes with white etchings that resembled a band of firefly squid.
The artists whose sketches are featured in the collection come from all over the world: so far, a hundred and thirty-five countries are represented in the archive. While browsing a few of the books that had been laid out by staff members on the library’s long, communal table, I overheard one staffer complain to another about the trouble they’d been having shipping notebooks to Dubai…
See all the sample images and read the whole post here.