The far walls of the second and third floors of the children’s section of the Evanston Public Library are filled with framed children’s book covers whose stories have not yet been written. Each of the 75 original paintings, drawings and sketches is accompanied by a description of what the illustrator envisioned for the story – but the story itself is left up to the imagination of the viewer.
These book covers comprise a new exhibit co-sponsored by the EPL and the Northwestern University Library called “An Imaginary Library,” open since October 9 for a three-month stay. The exhibit – visibly international, visually striking, and varied in style and content, presents children’s books in an exciting and open-ended way and is the first of its kind in the Evanston library.
The exhibit’s presence in Evanston is largely due to the efforts of Jeff Garrett, an Associate Librarian for Special Libraries at Northwestern. Garrett convinced the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany (the creator of the project) to send the exhibit to Northwestern and Evanston after it appeared in a four-day conference of the United States Board on Books for Young People in Saint Charles, IL. The exhibit has already appeared in Japan, Greece, and Iran, according to the EPL website.
The international character of the exhibit is apparent in the variety of styles and conceptions of “appropriateness” of the illustrators, said Jan Boyden, head of Children’s Services at the EPL.
On the third floor, some of the drawings are “pretty wild,” according to Brian Wilson, a librarian in the children’s section. The illustrations even created some confusion on the first day of the exhibit, when the Library did not yet have English translations for the explanations of the drawings.
“In some cases we had no idea what was going on,” Wilson said. “Some of the pictures on the third floor are pretty intense.”
The striking visuals and the variety of styles and content are at the heart of the exhibit and have attracted viewers both young and old, Wilson said.
Many children ‘take’ their parents to certain spots in the children’s area right away, he said.
Evanston resident Heather Wade took an opporunity to examine the exhibit while her sons Erick, 3, and Gavin, 1, played beneath it.
“I noticed it was up,” she said, but said that because she is usually chasing kids, she hadn’t had a chance to really look at it.
Wilson said that this is the first long-term, travelling exhibit that the EPL has hosted, but it is not the first collaboration between Northwestern and EPL, or Northwestern’s first large exhibit.
In 2000, Garrett brought an exhibit from the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to the University Library — it filled an entire floor of the library with over 450 works of art.
“That was national news,” Garrett said. “What we’ve done this time is not nearly as big as that.”
The Bologna exhibit is still at the University Library. It, along with “An Imaginary Library” was meant to be accessible in conjunction with the conference in St. Charles.
It is very cutting edge, provocative, some people have called it obscene, said Garrett. “If you’re over 18 you’re welcome to come see it.”
After “An Imaginary Library” ends its stay at the Evanston Library, there are no immediate plans to fill the spaces. The exhibit itself will travel to the University of San Francisco, Garrett said.