Student Research Inspired Art Gallery

Research Inspired Art

This fall, The Unquiet Library has hosted a unique art installation inspired by student research this past spring.  Some of you may remember Teagan from this past winter and her unique approach to creating mindmaps.  Teagan and her partner Kristiena (whom you may remember as one of my co-authors from this fall for a Knowledge Quest article) created a digital multigenre research composition on veterans and PTSD.  Both Teagan and Kristiena were part of a group of students who generously shared their insights and reflections on being immersed in a participatory culture of learning.   In their words, they set out to explore “…PTSD, the effects it has on veterans, and how veterans can receive help from this mental illness. It is very important to understand the severity of this undermined illness because without knowing about the organizations that help these veterans, the specific treatments these organizations use, and what we can do as a community to help, we are letting our country’s veterans down.”  Their inquiry was inspired by their readings of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac, and Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson.


Teagan, who is a gifted photographer, decided to create her own original images to depict some of the key ideas and findings from their research and integrate them into the multigenre digital text.  I was so struck by the artistry of her work that this fall, I asked her if she would consider letting the library create prints of her work and have a research inspired art gallery.  She graciously gave me permission and used excerpts of her research to create informational placards for each print.  After we mounted the prints and placards on art easels, we arranged Teagan’s artwork in the sequence she outlined for us so that viewers could follow the narrative of her artistic creations.  Students and teachers alike have been impressed not only with her moving and striking photography, but they have also been pleasantly surprised to learn that it was sparked by the information she discovered in her research and that the gallery is an alternative representation of those findings.  Not only did Teagan photograph and process the photographs, but she and her father both served as models for the prints.


The research inspired art gallery has not only helped others learn about PTSD and its impact on veterans, but it has also nudged people to see research as something more than an assignment and that it is a mode of learning that can far beyond a class assignment.  I am hopeful that future galleries featuring inquiry inspired creative works will be commonplace and can incorporate additional participatory mediums for interacting with the gallery with a feature like panels coated in IdeaPaint where people can respond to the art and ideas. On behalf of the library and our learning community, I would like to thank Teagan for generously sharing her talent and wisdom with us.

Participatory Learning and Librarianship, NYLA-SLMS Spring Conference 2011

Saturday Luncheon Keynote, Photo by Kate Elstad

I had the pleasure of joining the amazing school librarians of New York at the New York Library Association-SLMS Spring Conference 2011 this past weekend in Buffalo, New York.  Words can’t thank the conference organizers and attendees enough for their incredible hospitality and warm words of encouragement!  My luncheon keynote slidedeck is featured at the top of this post;  you can also view the slidedeck and resources for my morning concurrent session on “Inviting Student Participation in Your School Library Media Program.”    I’m looking forward to returning to New York this August to participate in the 2011 Carol A. Kearney Leadership Retreat: Think, Create, Share and Grow: Transforming Your School Library Leadership.

Buffy and Sue, Niagara Falls Visit May 2011

I’d also like to extend a special thank you to Sue Kretzer for taking time to drive me over to Niagara Falls-–I was absolutely thrilled to see this magnificent and awe-inspiring force of nature.  Getting to see such a beautiful natural wonder was the perfect finishing touch to a special weekend—thank you, Sue!

2011: The Year of Artists and Art

In Linchpin:  Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin shares his working definitions of art and artists and why art and artists matter more than ever in today’s world.

Who/What Are Artists?

I’m going to quote liberally from the book and share a compilation of Godin’s descriptors for artist:

“Artists are people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done…An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally..The artists in your life are gift-focused, and their tenacity has nothing at all to do with income or job security. Instead, it’s about finding a way to change you in a positive way, and to do it with a gift. There’s a strong streak of intellectual integrity involved in being a passionate artist. You don’t sell out, because selling out involves destroying the best of what you are.”

What Is Art?

In Linchpin, Godin describes art as:

“…a personal gift that changes the recipient…I think art is the ability to change people with your work, to see things as they are and then create stories, images, and interactions that change the marketplace..Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people..Art is unique, new, and challenging to the status quo. It’s not decoration, it’s something that causes change…Most of all, art involves labor. Not the labor of lifting a brush or typing a sentence, but the emotional labor of doing something difficult, taking a risk and extending yourself. It’s entirely possible that you’re an artist.  I call the process of doing your art “the work.” It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin.  The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin.”

In his blog post “Making Art“, Godin asserts “By my definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble. Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work.”  He identifies three key qualities of art:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

Why Art and Artists Matter to Librarians

So what do art and artists have to do with librarianship?  To be a linchpin, the person who can “bring it together and make a difference”,  Godin says we must:

Stop settling for what’s good enough and start creating art that matters. Stop asking what’s in it for you and start giving gifts that change people. Then, and only then, will you have achieved your potential.”

Not only does framing our work as art and seeing ourselves as artists re-envision us as library professionals, but treating our patrons as artists and providing them learning experiences to help them see themselves as artists cultivates their participation literacy.  If our mission is to help others learn and for the library to be a place and experience of creating art and sharing that gift, then “..the ones you freed to be artists, will rise to a level you can’t even imagine.”

As I reflected last month on my what I learned and how that was reflected in my work and the learning of my students and teachers, I posed these questions:

1.  What did they (your patrons or those you serve) learn through your library program and the conversations for learning you facilitated?  What do you hope they will learn in 2011?
2.  How do we know what they learned?  What tools did you use for assessment?  Did the patrons engage in metacognition and self-reflection on what they learned?
3.  How are you privileging and honoring what they learned?   Where are their stories of learning shared in your physical and virtual library spaces?

I think those questions dovetail perfectly with these essential questions:

  • How will you create art in 2011?  What are the gifts you have to share as an artist?
  • How will you help those you serve, whatever setting you are in, create art and nurture their growth as artists?  How are you and those you serve purposefully cultivating and reflecting on your art?
  • How are you spreading your gifts and your art?  How are your empowering those you serve to share their gifts and privileging their art?

Not only will I continue to try and share the answers I’m discovering along with my students and teachers to these questions here in this space and through my library’s virtual spaces, but I also hope that you will use social media and cloud computing in 2011 to share how you and those you serve in your library are creating and sharing your gifts of art.

How will you invite participation for art and artists through your library in 2011, and how will you participate as an artist in your learning community?

Inviting Participation with Illegal Art

Many thanks to colleague and fellow librarian Brian Mathews for pointing me to a super cool project, To Do, at his library, the University of California at Santa Barbara Library.  This project, a creation as a result of the collaboration between library staff, students, and Illegal Art, will be on display from September 20 until October 31.  What is the To Do project about?  The UCSB Library blog describes To Do :

Come see an interactive art installation that invites you to write down your own “to-do” lists and add to the collective consciousness of personal promises, social commitments and the yet to be done. The mural made entirely out of post-it notes will be on display on the first floor of the Davidson Library at UC Santa Barbara, across from the main elevators.

Illegal Art ( is a New York City based public art collective, whose goal is to create interactive public art to inspire self reflection, thought and human connection. Each piece is then presented or distributed in a manner in which participation is simple and
encouraged. For more information, on Illegal Art, visit,

I think this is an original and unique way to invite patron participation and to create content that captures an aspect or snapshot of patron life and culture.  Kudos to librarian Lisa Koch who organized the installation of this project.  After viewing the photos from this library project as well as other projects facilitated by Illegal Art, I’m contemplating the possibilities for creating this type of participatory, cultural, and artistic project with my students at The Unquiet Library!  See other projects from Illegal Art by clicking here.