By Doug Erickson,
UW-Madison senior Elise Schimke loves to read and often seeks solitude. Her go-to place is a library.
So when it came time to pick a subject for a project in an elective photo class, her choice was automatic. She then went on to do something few Badgers can lay claim to — visit each of the more than 40 libraries on campus.
“I set aside a week and didn’t do anything else,” said Schimke, a history and English literature major from Stevens Point, Wisconsin. “I was going to nine libraries or so a day between classes.”
The result is “Libraries of UW-Madison,” a quirky trip through the stacks of a top university. In 41 photos, Schimke captures what makes each library unique.
She also finds their commonalities. Each image was shot in a consistent manner, a photographic approach called typology.
Schimke placed a chair from each library between two rows of books. She felt each chair conveyed a lot about the library’s history and aesthetic, and she liked how the parallel lines of the shelves created a vanishing point.
On each chair, she placed items or artifacts that speak to the library’s specialty area: taxidermy ducklings at the Zoological Museum Research Library; a fluffy puppet at the MERIT Library for future teachers; a fishing net at the Limnology Library.
“She’s a really great photographer, but I’m even more impressed with her ability to envision what she needed to do and then follow through with it,” said Gregory Vershbow, Schimke’s instructor in Art 176: Introduction to Digital Photography for Non-Art Majors.
Schimke said she created an elaborate system of Post-It notes to keep herself on schedule. One day, she walked 16 miles.
Her initial plan was to photograph just the chairs and shelves. She added the artifacts for a practical reason.
After visiting a handful of libraries, Schimke said the sites were beginning to blur in her mind. She started placing an item in a frame as a visual reminder of where she’d been.
“I realized the approach provided an even deeper understanding of the design of each library and painted a more holistic picture of the academic diversity at UW-Madison,” she said.
The approach also underscores that information is communicated at libraries in many ways, not solely through books, she said.
Lyn Korenic, director of UW’s Kohler Art Library, said Schimke’s witty photos speak to the incredible variety of information resources on campus and to the welcoming nature of each library. The visual documentation is especially timely given that the university is in the midst of an effort to rethink the campus library system for the 21st century, Korenic said.
A campus working group has recommended several steps to re-envision library space and services, with the goal of enhancing the support that libraries provide to research, teaching and learning.
“Elise has captured a point in the history of our campus libraries when things may start to look different,” Korenic said.
Schimke, who will graduate this May, estimates she spent an average of 20 hours a week in libraries while at UW-Madison — she’s partial to College Library. The photos, she said, will remind her of those fond times.
A self-published book of Schimke’s library photos can be viewed at the Kohler Art Library, 800 University Ave. A copy of the book can be purchased for $25 at www.etsy.com.