an art thing i would like to see libraries do

Yesterday the husband and I were at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston because we had a babysitter (!) and they had a whole exhibit full of shiny things, which was fantastic and you should go if you can (and FYI if you’re coming to ALA Midwinter in Boston in 2016 the ICA is about a 10-minute walk away, though this exhibit will be gone by then). But this post is not about the shiny things (even if go see the shiny things).

This post is about the hilariously passive-aggressive bench.

(No, I did not take any photos of the bench because there were signs about no photography. Of course all the tattooed rainbow-clad twentysomething hipsters, for whom apparently free Thursday evenings at the ICA are the best dating scene ever, were taking lots of pictures and none of the staff were stopping them, so maybe I should have. Oh well. Use your imaginations.)

The bench was a precisely crafted, shining white bench — the sort of clean rectilinear marble you see in civic institutions that want to impress you. It was carved in one of those impressive-civic-institutions all-caps marble fonts, the sort of font expect to be saying SENATVS POPVLVSQVE ROMANVS, and what it said was:


What, exactly, does a bench want, other than for people to sit on it? Things want their affordances, right?[1] So — although this was clearly Art and not The Sort Of Bench Museums Have For People To Sit On — it seemed like a hilariously passive-aggressive way to say, “don’t sit on the bench”.

And then, as I was enjoying the spectacular fourth-floor wall-of-glass view out over Boston harbor, slate-grey and lazy sailboats, I made the obvious mental segue: library signage.

SO YOU GUYS. Here is this thing you should do. I can’t, because I don’t work in a library, but lots of you do and you should. Have an art competition. Have your local artists design library signage.

Most important part: don’t tell them what it should say. Because half the point is “art to hang in the library” but the other half is the meta-art-project of “what is the public’s view of what library signs do, or ought to, say”. And I bet reading what they come up with would be fascinating.

And I suppose if you really wanted to you could then hang the art in all sorts of unexpected nooks and crannies, make it a scavenger hunt, an invitation to explore, a Foursquare game, a tour of the library. Whatever. That’d be fun too.

And then, unlike me, post pictures.

[1] There’s a digression here about copyright and its reception in an age of digital media, of course, but you can fill that in for yourself. ↩

3 thoughts on “an art thing i would like to see libraries do

    1. Oh hey cool! Yes, it was exactly that bench 🙂 I had checked out the ICA’s site to see if they had an online catalog but not looked more broadly. Yay librarians!


  1. Awesome idea. Thanks. As an artist and a librarian my entry will be a sign for the toilet – the quintessential reference question.


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