LAWRENCE — In an effort to bring books and art from walled-in institutions to sidewalks, the University of Kansas is working with the local community to build a community network of libraries that are about the size of birdhouses.
Tapping into two national trends to make reading and art accessible known as the Little Free Library Movement and the Makers Space Movement, the university has opened its woodshop to more than 30 members of the community. Leading the effort are Matt Burke, a professor of visual arts, and Mark Jakubauskas, a research associate professor with the Kansas Biological Survey.
The pocket libraries, which will one day offer books on front lawns across Kansas, are being constructed with lumber from trees that once surrounded the Lawrence Public Library. The trees were removed when the library underwent an extensive renovation. Through an initiative dubbed Logs to Literature, the library was looking for ways to keep the logs in the public realm and use them to advocate reading.
For Burke, the project was a chance to reconnect community members to the art of creating. The community group mixes novices with longtime craftsmen and some participants who haven’t picked up tools in more than 30 years.
The project ties into the national movement Makerspace, which forms community centers where artists can share tools, everything from drill presses to 3D printers.
“This goes back to the idea of people wanting to build with their hands,” Burke said. “You can reap a lot of reward if you can build with your hands.”
For years, Burke said his practice was a solo one. Burke’s artwork largely incorporates wood and has been displayed in shows and museums throughout the country.
“When I’m working with the community, my passion as an artist has shifted,” Burke said. “I’m no longer a solo study. Others are working with me.”
The project also takes the viewing of art out of the realm of museums and galleries and onto street corners and public spaces. To Burke, the end product of these libraries will be no different than a painting hanging in a museum.
“It’s the same experience of coming upon an object and having a sense of wonder about it,” Burke said.
In a second phase of the project, Burke wants to examine the life of the library and track the circulation of the books.
“As the culture moves more toward electronic technology, these libraries keep reading from a book on a visible level,” Burke said.