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Readers Beware

Readers BewareMindy Nierenberg, senior programs manager at Tisch College, shares her concerns for the future of the world's public libraries through her art.


Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.06.08] What is plastic, fits in your wallet and can take you anywhere in the world? No, it is not your American Express-it's your library card.

Forgot it was there? Mindy Nierenberg fears you may not be the only one.

Nierenberg, senior programs manager for Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service and longtime Medford resident, is the artist behind Bibliotheca Publica: An Endangered Species, currently on display at the Tufts University Art Gallery in the Aidekman Arts Center. Part of 5x5, the gallery's fifth annual juried summer exhibition of local artists, Nierenberg's work is one of five site-specific pieces by individual artists from Medford and Somerville.

Nierenberg's art looks at the historical importance of libraries and addresses the ongoing threats they face from budget cuts. The concept evolved over the past year following a visit to her in-laws in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

"There was a newspaper article saying that their library was in danger of being closed, and I was shocked, because that was really the first time I had ever been made aware that a library could actually close," Says/said Nierenberg.

The shock sent Nierenberg on a research hunt. She discovered that libraries all over the country are in danger of drastic budget cuts and possible closures. This realization generated the idea for her exhibit, and she found support through the Medford Public Library.

On display through Aug. 10, Nierenberg's exhibit is broken down into multiple components. One is something she calls the "a memorial to books." She purchased books from "friends of the library" groups in various communities, covered them in plaster and aligned them on a patch of grass. The resulting "cemetery" gives the viewer the opportunity to mourn the decline in reading.

"I had heard a statistic that less than 40 percent of Americans over the age of 18 had read a book in the past two years, and that was astonishing to me," Nierenberg said. "I do not believe that researching information online, or even being able to read entire books on the internet can replace the actual book.,the feel of a book in your hands, the paper, the ink, the physical experience of reading."

Nierenberg said active participation from the public was a top priority in crafting the exhibit. Two of the pieces are viewer-driven. One piece is a computer slideshow of scanned quotes hand written by 100 individual library-goers, describing why they love the library. The other component enables people to write postcards to local officials explaining why library funding is important. Nierenberg plans to mail the cards after the exhibit ends.

A graduate of Brandies University, majoring in both sociology and visual arts, Nierenberg says her position at Tufts enables her to blend social issues and the arts.

"It was really coming to work here at Tisch College, with an emphasis so much on being a truly active citizen, that made me think that I am really going to start being intentionally directed with with my own art," Nierenberg says. "I had been teaching the work of other artists and facilitating student work that focused on active citizenship for many years. I realized that this was the time for me develop my own art focused on issues that I am passionate about and take action.

"My ultimate goal with this exhibit is to make more people aware of the fact that libraries are an endangered species, as the exhibit is called, and to simply make them remember that there is a library. It is also about understanding the history behind it, understanding that it's not just this place that is in your neighborhood or community, it is something that has a rich historical background and is important to maintaining the democracy of our society."



Profile and slideshow by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications. Photos by Alonso Nichols, University Photography.

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