I am thrilled to announce a new project from Shift-lab.
REF is an investigation into the erosion of the physical reference area of the library, and the fundamental shift taking place in the way we ask and answer questions. This project was produced by the members of Shift-lab: Katie Baldwin, Denise Bookwalter, Sarah Bryant, Macy Chadwick, and Tricia Treacy. Artists worked individually and collaboratively to produce elements inspired by the traditional components of a physical reference section: Almanac, Atlas, Bibliography, Biographical Dictionary, Chronology, Concordance, Dictionary, Directory, Encyclopedia, Gazetteer, Guidebook, Handbook, Index, Manual, and Yearbook. Printing methods include letterpress, risograph, screenprinting, laser printing, and digital printing. We owe many thanks to John Burgess and Sara Whitver at The University of Alabama, who helped us to understand the basic nature of the reference section and the complex context for its transformation. The project was produced in an edition of 40.
We’ve been working on this project for two years, but made a big leap forward last May when four of the five of us met at the University of Alabama Huntsville. We spent a week workshopping ideas, speaking to librarians, making mockups, and investigating the reference area of the library there, a labyrinth of warm and cool buckram.
This week of research and making culminated in a series of mockups that we used when we returned to our separate studios.
As we designed our responses to traditional elements of the reference section, we used several dates as loose organizational principles to tie our work together:
1963: The publication of Automation and the Library of Congress
1991: The Gore Bill, which led to the World Wide Web as we know it today
1993: the publication of Planning Second Generation Automated Library Systems and the release of Mosaic, the web browser that popularized the World Wide Web
2001: the arrival of Wikipedia
Reference sources evolved slowly to answer specific types of questions that emerged over time as people sought to engage with information. These types of questions, asked repeatedly for many hundreds of years, were the catalyst for the production of the 15 standard types of printed reference that we were responding to. We each worked as leads on between one and four components, sometimes individually, sometimes collaborating with other Shift-lab members. We kept a google doc of all of our sources, materials, sizes, and images. Our aim was to create a reference section that operated the same way a library reference section would operate: creating and highlighting linkages, and answering (or posing) multiple questions about related material.
Where possible, we used our selected dates and sources as material content for our components. Repeated language, names, materials, and images crop up in multiple places. The Bibliography, itself a traditional reference type, became a natural place to list our sources for the project.
REF components are housed together in a custom archival document flip top box with an ascending accordion folder structure. Pricing information to come. If you are interested in learning more about this project, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out to individual members. If you are coming to Codex next week, please stop by and say hello! You can find us at table 12. I’ll also have a copy of The Radiant Republic with me.