Conviviality cards for a living library

The Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers library is a living archive of the centre’s operational history and the projects it has supported throughout the years. It also constitutes a potentially rich and varied resource for artists, researchers and visitors to the space, both in terms of the materials it provides and the common space of study and exchange it promises.

In the spirit of contanimation that is an important element of our residency project, common infra/ctions, we would like to propose a means for further activating this space and fostering relations of conviviality among its users. 

Considering how public libraries function by distributing individual cards to their members which permit them to borrow books - volumes that are registered in the library’s files by means of separate index cards - we could say that the main terms of such a system are individualisation, separation and control, and that they are applied to both readers and books alike.

In contrast to this modality, we would like to suggest another mode of lending through a different card system, that of conviviality cards. Borrowing the term from Ivan Illich's seminal study Tools for Conviviality and inspired by an experience of alternative mediation of an exhibition proposed by Casco in which we participated, the idea of conviviality cards is to bring together a community of readers in a spirit of co-research and co-production of knowledge (and non-knowledge), one which would foster a responsive sharing, not only of books but also of the experiences they inform. 

The conviviality card is conversational, partial, experiential, it takes us beyond the artificial separation between lender and borrower on the one hand and between individual readers and books on the other.

The idea is that each book in the library would acquire a card when someone asks to borrow it. At the same time, the borrower of the book would be requested to write something about their experience of reading it on the card, which would stay in the book and eventually pass on to the following user. So as to accommodate multiple entries, while remaining compact, each card would be folded as a set of concertinaed pages.

The commentaries would preferably not be of the nature of an (objective) summary or (subjective) review or evaluation. They would lean more towards the idea of sharing some aspect of the experience of reading the book as well as the thoughts and reflections it engenders in terms of the reader’s broader life context.

This way the volumes in the library, in addition to their official contents, would come to contain some small trace of their readers’ lives and thoughts, and of the imprint of reading itself. From time to time people could be invited to gather around a meal, a dj set, musicking activity or something of the like, providing a backdrop for them to read the conviviality cards aloud and share them with others.

The entries would hopefully stimulate interest in a given book and generate other readings, responses and commentaries. People would be invited to traverse the mysterious and usually solitary experience of reading, accompanied by the voices of other readers and readings and becoming themselves part of the books they borrow as textual agents of a living library.

Silvia Maglioni et Graeme Thomson, January 2016             
common infra/ctions