Un(bound): An Altered Books Competition

While the book lover in me cringes at the thought of people actively defacing books, the creative person in me is intrigued by the idea of turning a book into a three dimensional piece of multimedia art.  So when I read a blurb on Library Stuff about the Un(bound) competition being hosted by Enoch Pratt Free Library, I had to look into it.  What could it mean to created an altered book?

The results are actually quite fascinating.  On their website, the Free Library explains the rules, defines the genre, and provides a selection of intriguing and creative examples.  Some simply appear to be hardcovers adorned with paint, buttons, and other crafty tools, while more ambitious works include three dimensional pop-up features rising from the pages of the book.  There is even an International Society of Altered Book Artists (ISABA).  See their website for more examples and additional explanations of the term.

Opinions regarding such work is mixed, as demonstrated by the conversation I had with my girlfriend about this competition.

Me:  Wow.  Check this out.  Un(bound): An Altered Books Competition.  They create works of art out of old books.

Her:  Why?

Me:  Well, because they can.  There’s a competition at this library.  See?  Here are some examples.

Her:  That’s stupid.  Books are to be read.

Me:  Okay, well yeah, but its a cool use for old or damaged books, right?

Her:  They should treat their books better.

Me:  Of course but this is like the ultimate in recycling.  Think about all of those books damaged in floods, like the 50,000 at the Louisville Main Library I was just telling you about ten minutes ago.

Her:  Still stupid.


Argh.  But I do understand the general nature of what she is saying.  Books are something to be cherished and taken care of, like creative children or prized possessions.  Looking around our little living room, I can see at least 200 cookbooks, magazines, library books, and our own collections, each vying for our attentions.  Would I ever take one of these and alter it?  How would I feel if a flood or fire or rogue child destroyed them all?  But I’m a library student not an artist, and if they were damaged by some outside force, wouldn’t I want them to live on and delight others in whatever way possible?  I don’t have the answers, but in general, I believe in the sanctity of the book as an embodiment of someones love, sweat, and tears worthy of being treated with respect and appreciation.  Even those that espouse opinions that shock, dismay and terrify me have a place in the world, though not my collection. 

Still, the pictures of these altered books illustrate lovingly created pieces of someones imagination and there is an inherent value in that as well.  Isn’t my job as a librarian in part to help fan the flames of passion regarding information and the open exchange of ideas?  As the world becomes more digitized, maybe altered books are a way for old-fashioned book-lovers like me to show our appreciation for the power of the book in whatever form.


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