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UI Libraries To Exhibit Art Made From Old Catalog Cards

What can you do with one million old library cards?
How about make a crown out of them. Or a small Buddhist temple. Or weave them into a tie. Or string them together to make a mobile that will stretch across the ceiling of an entire exhibit hall.

These are a few of the ideas that artists came up with when the University of Iowa Libraries announced its cARTalog project last fall as part of its sesquicentennial celebration. Faced with stacks of obsolete catalog cards, the Libraries invited the community at large to participate in a giant public found-art project; and hundreds of thousands of cards were sent to anyone who asked for them.

Those artists have since returned hundreds of pieces of original art, artist books, collage, poetry and sculpture, all made from old library cards. Their work will be on display starting March 27 in the Main Library’s North Hall exhibit space. The exhibit will be open through June.

“Participants of all ages made this project what it is; their enthusiasm and love for libraries clearly shows in the innovative and remarkable pieces they created,” said Kristin Baum, curator of the exhibit. “It is truly a testament to how influential libraries are; how they fill our hearts and minds with ideas bigger than a 3 x 5 card. Each participant took these cards in and made their own heartfelt mark upon them, thereby paying homage to all of the things which those cards represent. It is amazing what one can create out of a humble library catalog card.”
Some of the projects are fairly simple, such as cards with little more than scribbles returned by pre-school children. But many are complex and elaborate, such as a three-dimensional puzzle, a knit pillow or a crown “jeweled” with small bells and baubles, made out of cards listing the publishing information of books about royalty.

Once a mainstay of libraries, card catalogs have become extinct because of advances in technology. The information once kept on a card for the library’s holdings of books, periodicals and other volumes is now maintained on a searchable computer database so the paper cards have been destroyed and the massive wooden catalogs that held them sold. The cards adopted by the cARTalog project represent the libraries’ last cards, Baum said.

The cARTalog exhibit will be open during regular Main Library hours. Online you can see a selection of submitted cARTalog projects.