The Graffiti Experiment

Sometimes, it pays to experiment.

Several years ago, a colleague, Keith, and I decided to try to find an art student to do a mural in our exceedingly unappealing basement stairwells.  The spaces in our main library’s basement were never intended for public use, but 20-odd years ago we expanded our stacks into those spaces regardless of intent.  The upside was more space for use, but the downside is that the stairs leading to the basement are ugly and forbidding to users.  They look like you’re not supposed to be there, because… users were never expected to be there.  So Keith and I thought it would be cool if we could get an art student to paint a mural in the stairwell to brighten it up, make it more inviting.  For one reason followed by another, the project fell through, and we never pursued it again.

Until now.

Every semester’s end for the past several years, Keith and I have set up Stressbusters — games, toys, decorations, candy — in our lobby to give students a way to blow off steam during the cram of finals week.

This year, we added a call to help us graffiti the stairwells to the basement.  Keith suggested it, and I figured, why not?  Worst case scenario is that they don’t show up, or paint ugly things we don’t like, and so… we paint the whole thing white and it’s STILL nicer than when we started.  And who knows what we’d get?  It might be cool.

It’s cool.

This is a project that could have failed spectacularly.  I could be regretting my decision right now.  I debated internally for a while before saying yes.  But a few hundred dollars for paint isn’t much to gamble… and I could see the potential for both success and failure… and I’d rather take the gamble.

Experiment with your library.  You never know where you’ll end up.


  1. In the late 1960s, the Mount Holyoke College Library underwent an expansion which required there to be a large plasterboard wall along one side of the main reading room. Anne Edmonds, the librarian at the time, created a “happening” by supplying paint and dropcloths.The whole wall was painted with pictures and slogans–all of which remained throughout the entire construction.


  2. I really like seeing trust like this. I think patrons (especially students) will surprise you with what they can do. And you can never find out what they’re capable of if you don’t give them your trust. Sometimes things do fail, but if you assume at the start that they are going to fail, then you’ll never try anything new, and you’ll never grow. I always try to operate from a a perspective of trust. I love this Jenica. I think that a lot of people and libraries could learn from this.


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