Introduction and background
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The Library of Lost Books is a collection of altered and artists’ books inspired by the ephemera of the library; labels, archive boxes, index cards, music scores and books salvaged from stock discarded at the old Central Library, Birmingham.
In 2011 artist and curator Susan Kruse approached managers at Central Library with the idea of documenting the closure of the Library through an art project. In the process of exploring the library store-rooms, or ‘stacks,’ she found a quantity of discarded books and received permission to salvage them to use in a project highlighting the medium of altered and artists’ books.
The artists involved in the project were selected for the quality of their work and/or their multiplicity of practice in responding to books and printed materials. The project was curated expressly to inform and inspire a diverse audience perhaps unacquainted with the medium of altered books.
“MUCH OF MY PERSONAL ART PRACTICE IS CONCERNED WITH THE MATERIALITY OF THINGS AND MANY OF THE BOOKS I SALVAGED WERE MADE OF GOOD THICK RAG PAPER, OR HAD BEEN PRINTED USING LETTERPRESS WHICH LEAVES A TACTILE IMPRINT ON THE PAGE. THEREFORE MY SELECTION WAS INEVITABLY ABOUT THE BOOK AS OBJECT RATHER THAN AS REPOSITORY FOR TEXT.” Susan Kruse
This book, which has been generously sponsored by Sheaffer, has been published to coincide with the exhibition of the Library of Lost Books at the new Library of Birmingham, England, in November 2013.
It serves as a record of the books altered and created by the 42 artists selected to make work for the Library of Lost Books, an artistic response to discarded books donated by Central Library in Birmingham which asks questions about the use of paper books in our digital age, the history and future of public libraries and which aims to challenge the viewer’s understanding of what a book can be.
Libraries constantly discard books; older items become supplanted by newly published volumes, paper degrades and becomes too costly to repair and books become subject to wear and tear from being loaned to readers. A decision may be taken to preserve the text digitally, meaning that the paper version becomes obsolete. Books that are recognised as having national and international significance will be worth the effort and expense of preserving and storing and the Library of Birmingham has some outstanding books in its collections including Audubon’s Birds of America and a fine bindings collection which include work by Sir Edmund Sullivan.