Libraries in a Year – Virtual Art Exhibition Reflects On A Year Of Library Life

Suffolk Libraries and local artist Sandy Horsley have launched an online art exhibition which provides a unique insight into library life before and during COVID-19.

Sandy Horsley is an illustrator and printmaker who was asked to spend a year making regular visits to 13 Suffolk libraries to capture unseen moments featuring library customers and staff. The project is part of Suffolk Libraries’ Arts Programme funded by Arts Council England.

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The project began in 2019 and after having to pause for the first lockdown, Sandy was able to visit libraries when they reopened last summer. Her work has therefore turned into a unique snapshot of how library staff and customers – and the people of Suffolk – have coped and adapted during COVID-19. 

Sandy Horsley said:

“In month six of the project we had to pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic but, after the first lockdown, restrictions were relaxed and libraries were able to open again. So, there I was in the library sketching in my mask and visor. What I observed was very moving – customers were obviously really pleased to be back in the library and speak to someone and get some support.

“It really brought home the importance of libraries and the additional services they offer. Throughout the lockdown, libraries were invaluable in being that fourth emergency service.  They are extraordinary places, run by and visited by extraordinary people.” 

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Melissa Matthews, Creative Programmes Manager for Suffolk Libraries, said: 

“It has been a challenging year and we couldn’t be prouder of the kindness and generosity of our library colleagues. Sandy has created a love letter to libraries and all they do for their communities. I hope people will enjoy viewing the fantastic work she has created and that it will continue to help change people’s perceptions of what we do.”

Sandy’s sketches have been used to create a set of original individual prints and a concertina book to document and reflect the year she has spent visiting libraries.

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Incorporating traditional library imagery, such as date stamps and hand-made index card pockets, Sandy has embraced the established essence of libraries in her artworks and at the same time captured the spirit of libraries in modern times – their energy, vibrancy and diversity. 

The exhibition is in place at Ipswich County Library but as people are currently unable to view it in person, everyone is welcome to view the artwork via an interactive virtual exhibition

The virtual exhibition has been built and created by digital artist Emily Godden. 

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