Kaleidoscopic Shelf Displays Show Art Library’s CollectionPosted: July 13, 2016
Talented UofL graphic design student creates sense of place for Bridwell Art Library.
Bridwell Art Library has discovered an inventive way to display its books: a colorful, edgy new bookshelf design showing patrons what they’ll find in the stacks – art and more art.
The shelving graphics, called endcaps, highlight call numbers for Bridwell’s collection, displayed over multilayered, fragmented images from within the library’s art books. Not only is the design of high quality, rivaling that of any professional graphic firm’s work, it was surprisingly local, the product of talented UofL graphic design sophomore Jenna White.
Bridwell Director Sarah Carter was first introduced to White in Fall 2015, when UofL Graphic Design faculty member and Power Creative designer-in-residence Leslie Friesen approached Carter with the idea of allowing Friesen’s graphic design class to use the library as a blank canvas of sorts, for environmental graphics within the space. Carter would be under no obligation to implement a design, but if one emerged, the library had the option to see the project to completion. The class gave students real-world experience, but also allowed them to explore the limits of their creativity without feeling too constrained by the client-artist relationship.
Eager to upgrade the library’s interior, and loathe to turn down an opportunity to work with student designers, Carter agreed.
“I was happy to offer our space as their laboratory,” said Carter. “I knew we really needed something to display the call numbers at the end of the stacks shelves, something functional but with aesthetic parameters. So I agreed.”
The students first met with Carter to hash out details and learn about the library’s collection, color palette, furniture, lighting and environment. They then immersed themselves in the library’s interior space for several weeks, poring over stacks of art books, taking notes and pictures and “learning about us,” said Carter. After a design charrette where Carter offered a critique of students’ work, they refined their designs.
“It was really gratifying to see, as a client, how they listened and met my needs,” Carter said. “The trickiest part of the design was that the call numbers were variable, ranging from short to long, depending on how the books are catalogued, so the design had to be flexible for future updates and additions to the collection. Many of the students had innovative ideas, but they were not flexible or modifiable.”
Two designs emerged quickly as possibilities, though “one was a clear winner after the modification,” said Carter. “It was a very active design that accomplished the functional goals we had, enhanced wayfinding, but was aesthetically pleasing and visually exciting ̶ and most of all, it was flexible.”
“I felt so honored to have my design selected,” said White, a UPS-sponsored sophomore and graphic design intern with the Alumni Association. “It was just a class project; we had no idea it would be implemented, but when it was, it was such a great opportunity.”
“I feel so lucky, even though it was a lot of work,” she continued. “The class project took a semester, and then I worked with Sarah for the entire summer, pulling images from the books on the shelves. I spent a lot of time in the library and really got to know the place very well. The creative process was a bit faster than that. I knew how important it was to get it right for the librarians, because they have to look at these things all day. They had to like it.”
“This is the first time something of my own has been put out into the world. And I just thought, this is going to work,” White said. “I worked with this group of images and made a collage, played with filters and saturation until I found something that I thought looked great and showed it to Sarah and we worked on it.”
Finding the balance between aesthetically appealing graphic design and practicality was the main challenge, she said. “I was good at coming up with the creative side of things, but I had to work with Sarah quite a bit to make sure it fulfilled all the needs she had, like wayfinding. That was all new to me and more of a challenge.”
Carter says the process of working with a designer as a client helped her understand the patrons she serves much better. “It was really important to me, because I need to learn what they need so I can help them do their research,” she said.
“My favorite part about this whole process was working with Jenna and learning about the design process from a client perspective,” Carter continued. “As an art librarian, I am always trying to understand the way designers think so that I can help them in their research. It was extremely illuminating to hear her questions and watch her work to achieve the library’s goals. This process has helped me do my job better.
“I really wanted to invigorate the space and the endcaps really have done that. They help visitors conceptualize what we have on the shelves, and who we are.
“Our books are so much about visual information, but you can’t tell without opening them sometimes. They are like geodes, plain on the outside but sparkling inside. The primary content of our library is visual material.”
“I worked very hard to give Sarah exactly what she wanted,” Jenna said. “I really liked it, the way it evolved.”
Carter does, too: “It has become our identity,” she said.
White entered UofL as an art major and was involved in studio art, eager to grow as a painter. “But after I took my first graphic design course, I thought, ‘this is it.’ I just felt pure enjoyment and I was so successful, and then all these opportunities came my way.”
Carter was so impressed with White that she hired her as a student assistant for the library after the project was completed. White is also a graphic design intern with the Alumni Association. But beyond those two commitments and her full class load, White works the night shift at UPS from 6 p.m.-8 a.m. three days a week.
Even though she stays busy, she has welcomed new requests for design work. “I try to say yes as often as possible,” she said.
“I love UofL,” she continued. “It’s a wonderful place. I feel like I’m leaving a mark.”