Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
How can graphic design be used to advocate for public libraries?
Aim and Objective
Public libraries support our communities in a variety of ways, improving our social, educational, economic, and cultural wellbeing. They provide free and open access to all kinds of information to all people and are one of the very few indoor spaces where everyone is welcome and there is no entrance fee. You can go in and use the resources, you can go in and better yourself or you can simply go in and just be you.
Over the last decade however, our statutory right to a comprehensive and efficient public library service has become increasingly vague in its application as almost one thousand public libraries have been closed. Spending and the number of trained staff are in decline and further cuts and closures are expected in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Predicated on the belief that public libraries are indeed worth advocating for, the aim of this project is to use graphic design to inform and enhance the perception of public libraries in the UK in a bid to counter further closures and reductions in funding.
Central to this aim was the objective of highlighting the role public libraries play as a piece of social and cultural infrastructure. Collaborating with public library users, staff, advocates and activists, a range of methods were utilised to arrive at a meaningful outcome that can instigate real change.
Whilst research suggested that the Covid-19 Pandemic has exacerbated the obstacles public libraries face when it comes to advocacy, it is evident that these have been long-standing issues and are likely to continue as technology, culture and society evolve. As such the challenge was to design an outcome that will adapt alongside public libraries, advocating for them in a proactive, sustainable manner reflecting both the diversity of services and experiences. To that end I have designed The Story They Tell, a crowdsourced visual library that speaks to the power of public libraries.
The Story They Tell instils the importance of bringing about social change through a community with shared goals rather than as an individual. It serves as an ongoing record of why public libraries matter, highlights what is lost when libraries close, provides valuable resources for those working in them, and underlines how important the physical and digital space of public libraries is.
The gallery features a variety of visuals including protest posters, service announcements and written stories. Clicking on each poster reveals more information contributing to the wider story that public libraries tell. The posters can be freely shared and downloaded so that people can show their support either online or in person. People working in libraries may wish to use them, maybe people protesting, maybe book lovers or perhaps people will simply visit for inspiration.
The Story They Tell features a project created by the organisation Libraries Hacked who create applications using open data about public libraries. I was conscious that people visiting the site may be encouraged to visit their local library, so it was deemed worthwhile to be able to direct them to this information.
On the ‘Submit your design’ page, people are encouraged to participate in the project and submit their own visuals. A recurrent theme throughout my research was that it is challenging to convey how a public library can mean anything to anyone, yet The Story They Tell embraces this unique quality, welcoming contributions from everyone which will reflect the multiplicity of roles public libraries have. A template is provided for people as a starting point for a poster or if they would prefer not to ‘design’ a poster people can use the template to write about their experiences instead.
Overall, the project has been well received to date yet as it does mark a departure from typical public library advocacy, it will take time to develop. What I have created over the course of the module is simply the start of The Story They Tell, an infrastructure to house a repository of posters reflecting both the past and present and crucially, helping to support the future of public libraries.
How has your practice developed while studying the MA in Graphic Design with a global cohort?
Over the last two years, my skills and confidence as a designer have strengthened considerably. Studying with a global cohort has meant that I have been introduced to different perspectives, learning new ways of working and developing my practice in response to this. The importance of collaboration and being able to write about your work have been notable lessons from the course whilst the idea of graphic design authorship has given me many ideas for my next steps after this MA.
Please follow this external platform link, to view the Final MA Project in full and/or portfolio documentation.