part of the ongoing series
October 28 - April 13, 2023
Saturday, October 28, 2023
1-4 pm Eastern Standard Time
Join Robert online via Zoom if you can't come in person, 1-2:30pm.
Meeting ID: 811 8414 1364
NOTE that this exhibition is installed at both of our sites: Street Road's main building, and at The Little Free Library 19330 There is a 5-10 minute drive between the two sites.
See full details about the Summer Library project, including other Librarians' work, here.
100% are books.
Do the donated books in the Little Free Library and Street Road Artists Space have their own story to tell?
For his virtual residency (the first long-distance residency in the Summer Library series) Robert Good has used a mixture of Python programming and creative thinking to try and analyze the Street Road library catalogues and build up a profile of the books that have been donated. Might the books themselves be able to tell us something about both the Street Road project and the community which has donated those books?
For example, which is the most ‘average book’ in the collection (and what does that even mean?). Can we find how many books of the books are happy? Which subjects are well-represented and which are missing? (Hint: the word ‘murder’ features highly in book descriptions.) Are there more male or female authors?
Some of these are very open-ended questions, and Robert saw early the need to be creative in his approach to answering them. From the catalogues themselves he had only basic book details (author, title, description etc) to work with, so source material was limited, but he also co-opted resources such as Wikipedia, Roget’s Thesaurus, Project Gutenberg and the python Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK) to help him.
Spoiler alert: Robert expects his answers are likely to fall short of true scientific rigour, but by sharing both his methodology (how might you begin to decide if a book is happy or not?) and his results he hopes his librarianship will generate conversations and discussion around the ideas of ‘what makes a collection?’ and ‘what gives a collection its own identity?’.
Robert Good is an artist based in Cambridge UK whose work explores the problems of knowledge and the limitations of language. He uses texts found both in books and online as source material to critique and contrast the systems and structures of analogue and digital landscapes, and he writes Python programming code to manipulate images and texts in order to consider our relationship to technology.
Good's work has been shown across the UK and in the US, Australia and Spain. It has been hosted online from India and the Netherlands. His alternative dictionary, A New Dictionary of Art, comprises over 3,000 definitions of 'art' found online and has been described as 'both splendid and splendidly bonkers'.
Robert Good is also the host of the podcast Something To Do With Art in which he talks to artists about what they do and why. Previously, Good was founder and director of Art Language Location (ALL), a collective working with over 150 artists at the intersection of art, text and place.
Some findings: notes from Robert
The Library catalogue was a surprisingly rich source of information, and I was able to make a number of observations about the collection - some serious, some less so. Here are a few of my favourites:
There are 1984 entries in the library catalogue. 100% are books.
I like the serendipity of the reference to George Orwell's novel, and the seeming banality of the outcome that everything in the library catalogue is a book. But are there no CDs, DVDs, ephemera and other items?
There are 5 Doctors, 1 Lady, 1 Lord, 1 Professor, 1 Saint and 1 Sir. There is 1 Anonymous.
This has made me want to find the book by Anonymous.
The oldest book in the library is apparently 'Peter Paul Rubens' by Samuel Edwards, published in 1197.
This is strange, as Peter Paul Rubens, the famous Flemish artist and diplomat, was not born until 1577.
Based on the average publication date of all the books, the library's star sign is Cancer.
This makes the library decisive, charming and self-conscious.
The most average book (according to Author Name, Book Title and Page Length) is 'A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far' by Adrienne Rich.
This result seems very appropriate: the book title accurately describes the many hours I spent writing Python code to create the report.
The book with the most number of pages is 'Benedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary' by Maxwell Johnson with 2266 pages.
How many pages does a Long Breviary have?
Overall, this project made me think about our relationship to technology, and how number crunching can create unexpected results and new ways of looking at things - a complete contrast to the slow, tactile way in which we normally meander through a library, browsing the bookshelves and looking for our next book to read.
Read Robert's full report below (see The Catalogue).
Some further findings... from the Street Road librarians
Once Robert had generated his data and forwarded it to us at Street Road, the task of searching for his findings began. Our library and its catalog are informal projects, and we subscribe to the 'jumble' system of shelving - no particular order whatsoever (we are all for serendipity in libraries).
This meant that when it came to looking for Robert's selections, so that they could be displayed for his iteration of the Summer Library, we had to proceed in a very analog, very human, puzzle-solving way. Which was sometimes frustrating, mostly a joy.
We ended up being fairly but not wholly successful in finding everything in Robert's list. For the duration of his exhibition, we will invite visitors to help us continue the search.