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Art Library uses book-jacket buttons to reach students

by UofL Today last modified Sep 23, 2010 11:05 AM

Call it adaptive reuse of materials.

Call it a creative activity. Or call it smart marketing — which it is.

The University of Louisville Art Library is making buttons — that's right — 1.5-inch, plastic-fronted metal discs — as fast as it can. And art students are snatching them up.

"We give the buttons away," said Gail Gilbert, director of the library. "It's a way to get kids into the library, to get them to understand that the library is a cool place to be and still relevant to their needs. And, because the buttons are cool, perhaps challenge some of the stereotypes of librarians."

Gilbert decided to try the technique after hearing about it at an art library conference. The librarian at the Columbus College of Art & Design told her that about the success that library had using buttons to draw students to the library.

"I bought a button machine in the summer. Our raw material is the wonderful book jackets we get by the hundreds each year. We often gave the book jackets to faculty for their classes and also put them in cases in the lobby to alert people to the new books we've received. We'll still do both of those things," Gilbert said.

The jackets that have visual interest are being repurposed as buttons.

Student workers have created most of the buttons. They cut strips from the book jacket and identify a visually interesting section. Then they center the image and figure out what's going to work, said Laura Howard, a graphic design student working on her second degree, and one of the button makers.

After the design is selected, the process is simply a mechanical one that requires punching a circle from the paper and assembling the button using the button machine.

Art faculty are helping to promote the buttons — and the library — to students.

"The faculty have encouraged students to stop in and get them (the studios are in the same building as the library)," Gilbert said. "Many of the faculty have been taking buttons and wearing them."

The effort has been so successful that the initial button supply of 200 disappeared in two weeks, she said.

Shortly after the buttons became available, one student was heard on campus saying, "See my buttons. I got them at the art library."

"That's exactly what we want," Gilbert said.

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