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Check out the library in the art gallery

A library popped up in Southwestern Michigan College’s art gallery. Organized like a book fair, this exhibition, Fred L. Mathews Library Pop-Up, is a satellite library available through Nov. 2 featuring a curated selection of titles on visual arts and graphic design, artists’ books, monographs, critical writing, new acquisitions, graphic novels and survey volumes. Throughout its run, all exhibited titles are available for checkout directly from the gallery, room 108 in the Dale A. Lyons Building on SMC’s Dowagiac campus.

“I’m a huge geek for libraries and what librarians do,” Visual and Performing Arts Chairman Marc Dombrosky said Oct. 5. “I realized all the things I prepared paled when I showed up for drawing class last night and looked on the counter where everybody throws their bags. There were a number of books from the show they had checked out. That’s really what my hope for this would be.

“I’d love for this show to move to where I cannot keep up” until empty tables need to be replenished, Dombrosky said. “That makes libraries active spaces. Search and browsing are different activities. Browsing in a library is a tactile experience of touching something and an olfactory experience of smelling books. Whenever I take a book home, my dog smells it like she knows something I don’t.”

Dombrosky lived in Seattle when the public library system’s Central Library, an 11-story glass-and-steel structure downtown, opened May 23, 2004.

“What used to be a place to house books was a fraction of what people use it for. It’s a place for the homeless to stay during the day and be safe, database users and checking out DVDs. It’s a social space,” he said.

“We are a patron- or user-driven library. We’re whatever you want us to be,” Director of Library Services Colleen Welsch said. “There are super-easy ways to request something — stopping in and talking to us or using the online catalog. No matter what, we can get it in about a week through inter-library loan across the entire country. I don’t want anyone to have to wait long to get what they want.”

Each month and every summer, Welsch pores over a spread sheet of 20,000 items circulated during an academic year to see “what has been checked out and subject commonalities. If I see something older than five years has been checked out, I need to order another copy or something up to date to replace it.”

“We have video game art, Pixar art and Walt Disney art that you wouldn’t expect in an academic library collection because people check them out,” Welsch said.

Mathews Library “went through a cosmetic renovation in 2011” when she was about a year into the job.

For three months she visited libraries deciding what elements to incorporate into the redesign, which ultimately made it more interactive, not just technologically, but as a campus hub conducive to collaborative learning and socializing.

That the existing 1960s layout featuring traditional hushed space occupied by tall book stacks, with group study relegated to closed, windowless rooms, could be transformed into a vibrant, noisier space with usage still climbing two years later landed it in the September 2013 Planning for Higher Education Journal as a “case study for creating an active library.”

Not only was the vitality evident from a 22-percent increase in items loaned, but faculty and library staff work together so students learn to use online catalogs and databases for research.

The front gallery features a new acquisition for the SMC permanent collection, Jessika Clement’s “Untitled No. 2,” a 2017 oil on canvas.

Clement’s artwork will be featured in February in an upcoming solo exhibition in the SMC art gallery.

During the run of this exhibition a film series drawn from library holdings will be featured free of charge.

Films will be shown intermittently during open hours, Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

• Oct. 9-12, “Beyonce: Lemonade.”

• Oct. 16-19, “Maya Deren: Experimental Films,” including “Meshes of the Afternoon” (1943-59); “At Land” (1944); A Study in Choreography for Camera” (1945); “Ritual in Transfigured Time” (1945-46); “Meditation on Violence” (1948); and “The Very Eye of Night” (1952-59).

• Oct. 23-26, “The Films of Charles and Ray Eames, Vol. 2, 5.”

• Oct. 30-Nov. 2, “ART21: Art in the Twenty-First Century,” divided into four porous categories, investigation — Thomas Hirschhorn, Graciela Iturbide and Leonardo Drew; secrets — Elliott Hundley, Arlene Shechet and Trevor Paglen; legacy — Wolfgang Laib, Tania Bruguera and Abraham Cruzvillegas; and fiction — Katharina Grosse, Joan Jonas and Omer Fast.