Bringing Student Art into the RPS Libraries

Inter-departmental collaborations are rare at large universities like Indiana University Bloomington, where this project took place. There is a large need to create programs that draw attention to the unique collections that Indiana University departments contain.  The Residential Programs and Services Libraries, located in thirteen of the resident halls at Indiana University, are an example of a very unique department that Indiana University Bloomington houses.

This study will help to bridge the area between studies done at large academic libraries and those done through smaller auxiliary libraries of universities.  The case study is be unique in the sense that Indiana University is one of two universities in the country to have residential hall libraries. The undergraduate population that will be surveyed and examined will help to understand how to answer Loanne Snavely's question, "How do students get engaged?"[2]

 
 
 3D model of the IU Art Museum and 2D art created in the Introduction to Computer Art.

3D model of the IU Art Museum and 2D art created in the Introduction to Computer Art.

Inspiraiton

This project was the result of a brainstorm discussion that I had with a sculptor colleague of mine, Erin Tucker.  She and I came together to create this project for two reasons:

  1. To expose underclassmen to art classes available to them through the Fundamental Art Department and convey the general education credits that the classes made up for
  2. To exhibit student art throughout the RPS Libraries in a trial to bring more patrons into the RPS Libraries, thus introducing Indiana University students to what the RPS Libraries had to offer.
The mission of the Residential Programs and Services Libraries is to provide RPS (dorm) residents with library collections, programs, and services that support their academic, cultural, and recreational needs
— RPS Library Handbook

RPS Libraries

Residential hall libraries at Indiana University Bloomington have a long and unique history on campus.  The libraries were established in 1940 by the visionary Herman B Wells, who was an instrumental pioneer in creating a truly unique circuit of libraries that to this day remain one of the most successful library systems in the country.  The residential libraries can be found in every neighborhood of Indiana University's campus, as there are eight libraries and five Movies, Music and More (MMM) centers (media libraries). All Indiana University students may check out materials from any of these thirteen locations.

Students can use the library collections to help with homework or research papers, find a good books for leisure reading, locate a style manuals to help complete a paper, check out CDs or pick up a movie for a night of entertainment.  The reference collection contains encyclopedias and career related materials and resume writing guides.

Willkie Library located in Willkie Hall - Bloomington, IN


Read Movies Music and More media library - Indiana University, Bloomington

Programming and Outreach

During the first iteration of the "Art in RPS Libraries" exhibition, I was the supervisor of Read Music Movies and More (MMM), a small media library in the RPS system. Read was very small and didn't allow for large programs to be held in the center.  Because of its size, I had to be diligent to reach out to many cultural associations and academic departments to inform them about the workings of RPS Libraries and offer my support in collection development, outreach, and programming.

The only other residential hall library program in the United States is the one at the University of Illinois Urbana – Champaign. The existence of these libraries on IU's campus provides a unique opportunity to connect residents and other students with campus resources. 

No matter how brilliant our collections or how perfect our services, if we are not engaging our students with those collections and services and with the scholarly information arena, we have failed as librarians and failed our institutions of higher education.
— Loanne Snavely, "Engaging Undergraduates with the Academic Library" in Student Engagement and the Academic Library, ed. Loanne Snavely (Santa Barbra, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2012, p. 10

Student Engagement

Loanne Snavely makes a fabulous point about the role of the librarian in educating and exposing the students of their campuses in saying, "No matter how brilliant our collections or how perfect our services, if we are not engaging our students with those collections and services and with the scholarly information arena, we have failed as librarians and failed our institutions of higher education."[2]

This is why I am doing the project on outreach; it is my duty as a librarian to expose undergraduates to the resources at their school.

 [2] Loanne Snavely, "Engaging Undergraduates with the Academic Library" in Student Engagement and the Academic Library, ed. Loanne Snavely (Santa Barbra, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2012): 10.

Art Fundamentals courses represented in the exhibition


The Study

 A description of the Fundamentals Sculpture course and a sculpture made in the class

A description of the Fundamentals Sculpture course and a sculpture made in the class

The selection of the libraries that would house the art for the exhibition was ultimately decided based upon available space and location. The study included three RPS libraries: Teter Library, Willkie Library, and Read Movies Music and More because of the range of art mediums that could be displayed.  All three of these libraries had a strong patron base and were located within walking distance of each other, yet are far enough apart to appeal to residents on different edges of campus.

 

  • Willkie Library held much of the three-dimensional art because of the ample amounts of open space that it boasts.
  • Teter Library held two-dimensional art because of the ample wall space and natural light provided.
  • The Read MMM contained both three-dimensional and two-dimensional art, as the center has a great amount of wall space and wide three-foot high bookshelves that work well for displaying sculpture.

The Survey

  1. Have you ever been into this RPS Library before?  Yes / No
  2. Have you ever been into any of the RPS Libraries on campus?  Yes / No
  3. Have you ever seen works of art done by the fundamental classes at IU before?  Yes / No
  4. Are you interested in taking one of the fundamental art classes after seeing these pieces of art?  Yes / No
  5. Are you a(n): Undergraduate, Graduate, or Non-IU Student
  6. Do you like the concept of having student art in the library? Yes / No
  7. Would you like to see more student art in the libraries on campus?  Yes / No
  8. Do you like having art in the libraries?  How does it make the space feel to you?
It feels like the students are more involved - It makes it seem as if the libraries hold student involvement very highly.
— survey respondent

Results

The overall patron count at the three libraries didn't go up because of the art exhibition, but I did find some very interesting numbers from the surveys. 

  • All but one of the thirty-three respondents were undergraduates, who were somewhat familiar with RPS libraries. 
  • Only six out of the thirty-three respondents had seen student art before and of those, about half (16 yes, 17 no) were interested in taking an art class because of the art displayed in the library. 
  • Four respondents took the liberty to explain why they couldn't take an art class; the responses ranged from the fact that they were graduating to the class wouldn't fit into their schedule. 
  • All but one of those who took the survey liked the idea of having art in the library and wanted to see more student art in libraries across campus.

The majority of respondents enjoyed having the art in the library and this was the first time that many of them saw art from the art department.  One respondent explained:

I think it’s a rightful place. Libraries include fiction, which is art, and they include entertainment films. It’s a rightful place for visual art - It makes the place less stressful and calm because you’re not just staring at bookshelves and homework - abstract pieces catch your eye and give you a mental break

Another student explained that the exhibition made the libraries a more involving space:

"It feels like the students are more involved - It makes it seem as if the libraries hold student involvement very highly."

While the art was exhibited in the library, I asked my staff at Read, Willkie, and Teter to make observations about how patrons interacted with the art while in the library. These observations were shared via the two nightly shift reports that the students create at the end of a shift.  There were many observations that patrons liked the art in the library, they gravitated towards the art, and many responded that they liked the inclusive and new feeling of the library.  

Jennifer Mayer, an outreach librarian at the University of Wyoming Library explained in a phone interview, that many of her staff saw students migrating towards the art when studying. Howard Raskin and Taylor Fitchett, who I also interviewed, also mentioned that students tended to study in areas with more art. 

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Testimonials from surveys

Q. How does the art in the library make you feel:

"… it made the library look trendier - it's a nice way to incorporate IU students into the library"

"It makes me feel like the students are more involved"

"I think it goes well [in the library] and makes sense.  I liked what I saw and it's a good way to let students know about classes."

"Yes, it adds to the creative ambience.  Helps motivate me to come to the library more often."

"I do enjoy the student art that is posted in the library.  I believe that it adds character and dimensions to the library, making the space new.

I like having the 2D art and prints … but I don’t understand the 3D art. It’s really cool to see things that other IU students have made; I appreciate the work they put into their projects and think it makes the library more fun.
— survey respondent

Forward thinking

In the future, I hope to do a project like this, but will make sure that a few things are different.

  1. I want to meet with an assessment librarian to help with the question and collection of data - I have often found that assessment librarians bring new and interesting ideas to the table.
  2. I will work more to ensure that students are present at the opening of the exhibition - in this project, few students who created works came out to see their work.
  3. Have more involvement with the art administration and library administration to ensure that the project, or projects like it in the future continue. Since leaving the RPS Libraries, no one has picked up this project or contacted the art department to do something like it.
  4. Work with artists to bring their classes into the library and see the art that is exhibited there.

Art in RPS Libraries