Up on the Roof-With Poets: An Academic Librarian Unleashes Her Muse to Lure Local Literati to the Library

By Forrest, Lisa | American Libraries, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Up on the Roof-With Poets: An Academic Librarian Unleashes Her Muse to Lure Local Literati to the Library


Forrest, Lisa, American Libraries


"Poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right."--Wallace Stevens 

As academic libraries struggle with the necessity of marketing the library as both a virtual and real place, it is more important than ever that librarians think creatively about promoting library resources. The E. H. Butler Library of Buffalo (N.Y.) State College (BSC) uses poetry to market the library and its literary resources. Through the "Rooftop Poetry Club" and poetry readings, open-mike events, workshops, and campuswide poetry projects, the library has attracted new patrons and proven itself an invaluable forum for the campus writing community and an asset to the entire college.

My combined love of libraries and poetry was sparked in fall 2002 as I began my MLS degree at the University of Buffalo. In Lorna Peterson's reference class, I learned of an art project at San Francisco Public Library using obsolete catalog cards. Over 200 people transcribed passages and quotes from books onto 50,000 corresponding catalog cards, which were then plastered onto a wall of the library (AL, June/July 1997, p. 62). I conceived the "Card Catalog Poetry Project" on the spot.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

WELL-VERSED VISION

I began to envision how catalog cards could be covered with original poetry and, perhaps, artwork inspired by the actual language on each card. Being active in the Buffalo writing community, I knew plenty of poets who would be eager to contribute. The big question was where to find old catalog cards.

After only a few phone calls, it was clear that getting a substantial amount of catalog cards would not be so easy. Most of the librarians I spoke with could not understand why on earth someone would want to write poetry on used library catalog cards (art can be so ... tricky). Their cards had been used for scrap paper or--worse yet--"donated" to the Dumpster.

Feeling a bit discouraged, I placed one last call to a small private school where a very kind nun who worked in the library said she could spare a box or two of her "scrap paper," although she was a bit confused as to why I would want it. Shortly thereafter, I had another stroke of luck. The curator of the University of Buffalo's Poetry and Rare Book Library also had a box of cards to share--as well as the willingness to contribute a poem. Before long, I found myself sitting on my living room floor, enthusiastically flipping through stacks of yellowed cards--some tapped out on typewriters, some printed by word processors. Soon, the poems that would go with them started coming in.

A year later, with original contributions from both emerging and established poets from around the United States, I decided to compile the cards into handmade books. The LIS department had given me a small grant for printing costs to replicate the poetry cards, but there was little left for binding. The cards needed a package that spoke to the archiving of the bibliographic past. I thought, why not create new books using old book materials?

I gathered ideas by wandering the bookmaking aisle of a craft store and browsing book-making manuals. From there, I was able to construct small binders using discarded book materials--portions of warped hard covers, bits of book binding, scraps of leather, and campy illustrations found in local thrift-shop copies of Reader's Digest. In each binder I constructed an envelope made from a discarded flyleaf that would contain the packet of poems.

Months later, I had 30 handmade books, each as unique as the poems located within its recycled covers. A "launch party" in spring 2004 packed the Just Buffalo Literary Center with librarians, friends, and poets. After the reading of the card catalog poems, the handmade books were displayed and then given or sold to friends, fellow poets, and colleagues. I found myself a bit sad to let the books go and realized that I had become attached to the project. …

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