Monday, October 03, 2005

Book Festival Journal Project

This is from today's Capital Times (and no, it was NOT written by me). If you haven't visited the 1000Journals website, I urge you to do so. It's a neat site to browse, as well as quite inspiring.

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60 books, 60 libraries
By Heather Lee Schroeder
Special to The Capital Times
October 3, 2005

What if you could check out a book from the library and do anything you wanted to its pages? Feel like writing a story? Painting a picture? Telling a secret? Making a comment on what's already in the book's pages? No problem. Get out that pen or those paints and get to work.

This might sound like the crazy dream of the worst library patron in the world, but this month, real library users in the South Central Library System will be able to do exactly that as part of the Sixty Books project. The event will kick off with a reception and slide show at 1 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Madison Public Library during the Wisconsin Book Festival.

Created by the Bone Folders' Guild, a local artists' group that specializes in making books and has created other displays of book art in conjunction with the book festival, the project has introduced 60 blank journals, meant to be filled by patrons, into the South Central Library System.

The idea was inspired by the 1,000 Journals Project (, explained Bone Folders member Kathy Malkasian. Described by its creators as "an independent, privately funded social experiment," that project released 1,000 blank journals into the world and invited people to fill them.

The members of the Bone Folders' Guild thought 1,000 Journals was wonderful, but they wanted to scale it down to a more manageable size. What they didn't want to do, Malkasian said, was to just leave the journals in coffee shops around town. They wanted a little more control, and they wanted to collaborate with the library.

What, someone asked, if they made one book for each of the 60 libraries in the South Central Library System? And what if patrons were invited to check the books out and fill them up? From those two ideas, Sixty Books was born.

Guild members met with Wisconsin Book Festival director Alison Jones Chaim, a former Bone Folders member herself, who became the liaison between the group and the library. She also wrote the Madison Arts Commission grant that has helped underwrite the project.

Even though the idea might seem like the antithesis of how a librarian wants a book treated, librarian Mary Knapp said there was no debate over the merits of the project. Indeed, the South Central Library System has become an enthusiastic partner in the process of getting the books into library collections.

Knapp said the books have been added to the computerized library catalog and given a bar code. The checkout period for the journals will be two weeks, and patrons will be able to reserve them and return them to any library branch in the South Central system. That means patrons will get the next available book rather than the one from their specific library, so someone in Madison might end up decorating Spring Green's journal.

Twelve of the guild's artists each made five books with five different binding styles, explained Karen Timm, a longtime guild member. Everyone worked with the same interior paper -- of a heavier weight and quality that can stand up to ink, paint, collage or whatever else the users might try -- but the covers are unique, reflecting the aesthetic of each artist.

For example, Timm's covers are mostly a combination of paper and fabric, while member Carol Chase Bjerke used materials she found in the Philippines. Still other members created handmade paste papers or used silk to cover them; others added more architectural features, like a knob or a handle. That means that no two will look alike on the outside. And, of course, each book is signed by the artist who created it.

The participating artists include Nancee Wipperfurth Killoran, Laura Komai, Karen Timm, Carey Weiler, Susie Carlson, Nancy Schoenherr, Kathy Malkasian, Suzanne Berland, Marilyn Wedberg, Carol Chase Bjerke, Alexis Turner and Kristin Yates.

Guild members agree that what makes this project particularly gratifying is that the blank journals they create will actually get used. Bjerke recalled helping her mother move a few years ago. Every journal Bjerke had created and given to her was blank.

"I often find that people who buy blank books are afraid to use them because they're too nice," she said. "We want people to play with them and experiment with them."

For Bjerke, the exciting part is that Sixty Books will be a collaborative project with people she doesn't know yet.

"I love the community aspect of it," she said.

Patrons are invited to use whatever medium and expression feels comfortable when working on the blank pages, but guild members hope users will keep in mind that other people want to add their work to the books too.

"We are concerned that someone might check out a book and do 10 to 20 pages," Timm said. "We hope people will only do up to two or three pages."

The goal, ultimately, is to get the books filled with original work and display them at next year's Wisconsin Book Festival.

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