Nestled among a “Southern” brunch spot and storefronts displaying overpriced homeware lies the Brooklyn Art Library, an authentic Southern transplant in the heart of Williamsburg. The library is the permanent home of the bulk of the Sketchbook Project, a crowd-sourced art book collection founded in Atlanta in 2006 and transported north in 2009.
Contributors pay $25 for each journal they submit, or $60 to also have it digitized. Up until now, the easiest way to access the Sketchbook Project’s database of journals of writing, drawing, photography, and collage has been by stopping in to the Brooklyn Art Library or catching its touring Mobile Library, where a free library card and a keyword search gives you access to the materials. Search categories include profession, mood, local, location, material, theme, and random. “Random” seems to be a Sketchbook Project favorite.
Steven Peterman, one of the project’s cofounders, sat across from me at one of the library’s long wooden tables, visual reminders of the space’s purpose in what otherwise looks like a commercial bookstore. Amid the floor to ceiling shelves packed with the slim silhouettes of hundreds of sketchbooks collected from a growing international audience, he discussed the newest frontier for the traveling library: the Web.
The new online library features over 17,000 copies of sketchbooks (digitized at the authors’ expense). The project should help refine the search terms, which currently make it difficult to find specific artists in the collection.
A book coming out next year, will document their growing international presence by sampling the collection by continent, which Peterman told me was “the most exciting way to show the global scope of the collection.”
However, I couldn’t shake the draw to Georgia as I picked up my own library card and headed for the glowing computer screen that becomes a portal into the overwhelming collection. And in typical Sketchbook Project fashion, I came out with some exciting surprises.
Alix Taylor is an Atlanta native and student at Brown University. She was a BURNAWAY editorial intern in summer 2013 and is currently interning at Hyperallergic in New York.