There is something strangely familiar about the string of numbers and letters on the wall at Neon Deli in Middletown. A similar string is posted in O’Rourke’s Diner. And at the Destinta Theater. And all over the Wesleyan campus. Secret code? A new Homeland Security initiative? International phone numbers? No, the answer is library books.
The new numbers are part of an intriguing art installation created by Jeffrey Schiff, a professor of art. Each number—there are more than 500 of them—corresponds to a specific book in one of Wesleyan’s four libraries. The books, in turn, relate to something about the physical location where the call numbers were placed.
For example, the number placed above the meat slicer at Neon Deli, GT2860 R36 2003, is the call number for How We Eat: Appetite, Culture, and the Psychology of Food, by Leon Rappoport. At O’Rourke’s, NA7855.G87 2000, is for American Diner: Then and Now, by Richard J.S. Gutman. A number on a tree by a local parking lot, QK477.2.6 T73 1999, refers to Tree-ring Analysis: Biological, Methodological, and Environmental Aspects, edited by R. Wimmer and R.E. Vetter.
Schiff says the installation came out of his desire to do a project that would “explore the institution of the library as an index to the larger world.” It also has roots in a project he did in the mid-1990s that used art to explore the foundations and presuppositions of Diderot’s Encyclopedia.
The idea is to challenge people to see the profound influence of the library on their daily lives and draw them into the library.
“The basic strategy has been to mark the world in terms of the library,” Schiff says. “This project aims to reverse the customary view that the library is an index to the world, and instead to see the world as an index to the expanding universe of the library.”
It also offers a clear element of fun.
More than two years in the making, the installation was created by Schiff and three of his students: James Jacobus ’03, Myra Rasmussen ’04, and Aki Sasamoto ’04. It is just one component of an eight-part installation called the Library Project, which was on display at Olin Library this fall. All are supported by The Christian Johnson Foundation, Wesleyan’s Office of Academic Affairs, and Olin Memorial Library.