Academic Engagement: Time—It’s on My Side

The Moonlight Book Crawl, held during the Ann Arbor Book Festival.

Editor’s Note: We were delighted when two librarians from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor asked us if they could write a regular column sharing their experiences with programming for academic libraries. In their first blog post, they introduced themselves; now read about they partnered with their community to tie-in programming to the annual Ann Arbor Book Festival.

I’m among friends, so I’ll confess: there is nothing like stepping back from the activity of a program and watching what you planned months ago taking place, moving along with its own organic rhythm and pace. The combination of connecting with a group of people with the temporality of events still gets me, eight years in. I love and dread the excitement and anxiety leading up to an event, the thrilling moment when it’s going to happen whether you’re ready or not, and then, when things go well, the part where I can pull back and let things happen. That’s why I love programming.

A few nights ago, I was standing on the patio at Dominick’s, a legendary Ann Arbor happy hour spot, doing just that. An hour earlier, a student and I gathered brightly colored sharpies (80s Glam!), giant 3M post-its, and duct tape, and walked from my office to the bar. A colleague with connections had helped me negotiate arrangements at Dominick’s, and so they were expecting us, and were not at all alarmed as we began to cover a swath of fence with paper trimmed with duct tape. June was a busy month, and so I had come directly from another program elsewhere on campus, and had missed the formal sessions that led up to the Drink & Draw, the brainchild of my friends and event collaborators, Jerzy and Anne Drozd.

Bit by bit, cartoonists, librarians, and teachers trickled into the enclosed patio space. They drank sangria and snacked on pizza, and made a few tentative scribbles on the canvas. I stepped out to handle the bill for the pizza, which the Library provided, and when I returned, the event was suddenly in full swing. A row of cartoonists stood in front of the fence, busily drawing away. Another cartoonist gathered the markers that I had scattered across picnic tables and placed them all in a central location so that they would better be able to see the palette at hand.

The event was part of this year’s Ann Arbor Book Festival, and was held in partnership with an incredibly successful annual event at the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), Kids Read Comics. Cartoonists and librarians in town for Kids Read Comics were invited to participate in a day-long workshop along with local K–12 educators. Comics, Collections and the Common Core was held in our Library Gallery and included panels on incorporating comics into teaching, bringing comics into the library, and how cartoonists can form successful partnerships with educators and librarians.

It was a new collaboration for us, and was a valuable opportunity for us to engage with AADL and Kids Read Comics while continuing our support of the Ann Arbor Book Festival. The festival is ten years old, and the dramatic changes in the book and newspaper industry have played a big part in its recent history. Three of its original supporters—two local bookstores and the local newspaper—no longer exist. Recently, it has been growing again, in part through new types of programming, including an evening book crawl at local bars and bookstores, and the workshop in partnership with Kids Read Comics.

Some of the traditional programming, however, is flagging. Our annual keynote address was not as well attended as we would have liked, and it meant that a smaller crowd got to see the excellent speakers we brought in as well as the presentation of an award we give out for leadership in the literary arts.

This is again what makes programming exciting to me. Just like the cycle of event programming, there is a temporality to annual events. They can’t be exactly the same every year, as comforting as that may sound. To be alive, they have to change with the times, and the exciting part is figuring out how to continue to achieve your goals through repurposing and reorganizing bits and pieces and starting new things and watching them grow. It’s an ongoing experiment in real life, and I love it!