Dear Nomadic Reading Room,
I once started to write this letter to you. Why did I never send it? Reading is a good place to start. I would like to share libraries, within a library with you.
For me, public libraries are one of the few places in the public sphere where it’s still possible to sit for free without freezing. I re-call a scene in the visual artist Ane Hjort Guttus movie Time Passes, one of the main characters, Bianca, is forced most of the time to sit outside in the cold wet streets of Bergen. She collects money to survive the day. Maybe she sends some away, to a kid or two. She keeps herself warm in Bergen’s Public libraries.
It is still possible to sit for free, but the toilets cost money to enter. I spend a lot of time in libraries. Not because of the room temperature. But because as a public space, it is silent. During recent years, it starts to fade away as a space for deep concentration. It is also impossible to lend books without identification papers, address, telephone numbers or an e-mail address. Often there is a deposit connected to the plastic card. In a Swedish context, this information requires a personal number which the Tax Service Office provide you with, which means that you need to be legally written in the country.
Let’s salute the librarians! I know you know, how space continues to matter and shape our lives. This is why I value what you do, make and propose. Did I tell you the story of the legendary librarian Valfrid Palmgren?
In 1911, Palmgren wrote a government report entitled Proposals for State Actions in the Promotion of the Public Library System. Her report radically changed the physical structure of all Swedish libraries. How? By letting the previous locked bookcases become an open shelves system, so the citizens could be in direct contact with the physical materiality of books - thoughts, stories and words without asking for permission. You no longer needed to know beforehand what you were looking for. Could you please hand this over to me? No way, just grab it! Soft and straight backs are calling for us! We can touch them and let some of their words slip into our pockets.
How can visual artists embody qualities of librarians? Kajsa Dahlberg’s work entitled A Room of One’s Own / A Thousand Libraries is like a library within a library. It is a collection of all the Swedish library copies marginal notes made in Virgina Woolf legendary essay A Room of ones own. Kajsa transferred all the notes, marks and traces by hand via a light-table. Re-printed the book and published them together with the original text. Everything all at once on the same page. Certain passages are almost impossible to read because of how a collective readership finds sentences so significant, emotional and important. Her piece makes almost the whole book underlined.
On her website Kajsa writes that the most underlined sentence is for masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice. This made me, as a reader establish a relationship with previous, present and future anonymous readers as a collective activity. It was an intimate act of reading in solidarity, how private became public through these traces. It was a very beautiful moment.
I hope to hear from you soon,
With kind regards,