or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Graffiti: Art, Vandalism or Information?

   July 16th, 2009

graffiti removalThe recent article about graffiti at the University of Chicago Library has finally given me a chance to clear out links in my "to blog" folder.

So, graffiti - when does it cross the line? Graffiti commonly seen in academic libraries can be ugly, but it can also be part of the culture and community of the campus. It's a way for students to communicate with their peers - even those that come years later. That's unique, and interesting.

In the public library world, I more often see graffiti (a.k.a. "annotations") in books. On first blush, it's annoying, but is it really that bad? And in fact, is it a good thing?

These things are not too distant from Web 2.0 tools allowing comments and reviews, really. Same rules apply: leave your opinion for others, don't be offensive, can be removed at any time, etc. The marginalia of life can add a great deal of value to life (just ask a genealogist).

It might not all qualify as "art," and any open forum will attract spam, but that doesn't mean graffiti doesn't offer some unexpected value - it can bring a smile, answer a question, provide experience-based assistance, or just make a connection with an unknown predecessor.

I know this is a never-ending debate, so in the meantime, here are some graffiti- and anti-graffiti-related links I've been collecting:


Laser Graffiti

Combating Graffiti

Spam ("Inbox Graffiti")

via LISNews

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4 Responses to “Graffiti: Art, Vandalism or Information?”

  1. lesbrarian Says:

    Graffiti and handwritten book annotations can be charming, but not always. In college I purchased a used copy of the Riverside Shakespeare. The person before me had a loopy, bubbly script, and she left all these horribly obvious comments, misspelled, all throughout the book, i.e., “Hamlette is depressed.” I am not making this up. She really wrote that. It’s a shame, I’d have liked to have held on to my Riverside.

  2. Lauren F. Says:

    On my way to work on the commuter train, there is some graffiti on a wall by one of the stations; much to my surprise, at some point last year I think, someone added “read more books!” and a few “read”s to the usual graffiti coverage. I’m hoping the graffiti police don’t scrub those out. : ) And I wonder, does a graffiti artist promoting reading count as a double rebel?

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    That reminds me of this reading-related graffiti story: http://www.boingboing.net/2007/07/12/sidewalk-stencil-cho.html – I would love to do this somewhere.

  4. James Says:

    Just thought I’d toss in this link about moss graffiti: