Librarians are becoming increasingly interested in ethnographic studies of people’s habits. While a key part of running a library is providing the material that people want for reading, studying, researching, or taking care of the everyday business of life, libraries also fill an important role as a community space, whether the library is public or academic.
Libraries that receive outside budget resources (oh wait, that’s all of them) have to prove why they deserve the funding. Circulation of materials, database access, downloads and door counts figure heavily into those determinations. That’s where ethnographic studies come into play. Where do people read? Why do they read there? How can we emulate these qualities in our own spaces? Basically, how do we engage people so they want to come to the library?
This photographic series by Moroccan photographer and artist Ourit Ben-Haïm depicts one of the most common reading places in major cities, the subway. Don’t want to inappropriately stare at someone (I was just spacing out. Really – I wasn’t even seeing you)? Don’t want to see someone staring at you? Open a book and immerse yourself in another world for a short while.
Her series The Underground New York Public Library aims to show how people exist within their natural environments:
I’m an artist and a storyteller. The NYC subway provides a constant metaphorical suggestion of the relationship between our stories and our journey… I’m fascinated by how we apply ourselves to stories and discourse. This library freely lends out a reminder that we’re capable of traveling to great depths within ourselves and as a whole.
In her brief interview she also explains how the subjects react when she photographs them. I find this particularly interesting since I always feel uncomfortable taking photographs of strangers. Given her landscape, she has little time to get permission and frame a shot:
Reactions tend to be curious or puzzled when I shoot, and in general very accepting and encouraging once I explain why I’m taking the photographs. I love the process of making these photographs in part because of the amazingly pleasant engagement with people.
Unfortunately, this is one study of a reading location that libraries cannot emulate, unless planning to open a subway library. Her website adds an additional detail missing from the source article. She identifies the book the person is reading in each shot, further enriching the story.
- via Co.Design