This Philly artist collaborated to bring a cross-country library project to life.


A sampling of books from Quarantine Public Library. Photography courtesy of Quarantine Public Library
A sampling of books from Quarantine Public Library. Photography courtesy of Quarantine Public Library

Although the Free Library of Philadelphia is currently closed amidst COVID-19, one unconventional library is open to the public this summer: the Quarantine Public Library.

In May of this year, Katie Garth, an artist based in Philadelphia, and Tracy Honn, a printing history educator based in Madison Wisconsin, began to brainstorm their idea for a publicly accessible website full of one-sheet books that can be printed out and customized. At first, Honn wasn’t sure how the project would come together. The Quarantine Public Library was created to give people access to entertainment and art via the internet.

“For me, it was a daydream,” Honn says. She credits Garth for kickstarting their project by creating the website for the Quarantine Public Library in mid-May.

Garth and Honn began by reaching out to fellow artists across the United States and requesting their contributions to the project. The artists who created one-sheet books for the Quarantine Public Library had to work quickly to submit their books before the website launched on July 15th. Garth thinks this short turnaround helped spark creativity.

“Just because of the circumstances of isolation being overwhelming, everyone may [have been] suffering from a creative block. The deadline creating a false sense of urgency was a fun way to get people to do this project,” Garth says.

image of drawing with "print fold read" and drawings for each
The artist-created works in Quarantine Public Library are free for anyone to download, print and assemble.

The one-sheet book concept also allowed artists to work in a medium they had never tried before. All of the books in the Quarantine Public Library can be printed out on one piece of paper and folded to create turnable pages. A folding tutorial is included on the Quarantine Public Library website.

“It’s a pretty small format,” Honn says. “Not all the people who were involved in this were book artists necessarily.”

Contributors to the Quarantine Public Library were given free rein to create whatever they pleased. This freedom resulted in a diverse collection of books that Garth describes as a “vending machine,” with options for everyone. Some of the genres represented in the project include humor, narrative, nonfiction, and image-based books.

In total, the library contains 43 original books.

“Especially in the one sheet format, the page itself can just be an image, or it can be a more straightforward presentation of a traditional book,” Garth says.

open page with image of sandwich on paper plate and a fish
A detail of Philadelphia-based artist Amira Pualwan’s book, Souvenirs du Liban, which offers impressions of her childhood visit to Lebanon.

“O” by Pati Scobey is one example of a book in the Quarantine Public Library that functions as both an image and a book. “O” is an intricate abstract drawing of black circles, coils, and swirls. The book looks much different when it is folded versus when it is kept as a single page. It can also be colored in by readers or printed out on colored paper. Honn and Garth encourage readers to interact with books like “O” by choosing how they consume them. Readers can treat the way they fold or read the books as like “a kind of a choose your own adventure,” Garth says.

Honn and Garth also hope that people are inspired to create their own one-sheet books and send pictures of their creations to the Quarantine Public Library instagram or twitter accounts by including #quarantinepubliclibrary.

Fans of the project can express their support by buying a print-your-own library card or giving a donation through the Quarantine Public Library website. All proceeds generated by the project will be donated to EveryoneOn, a nonprofit that provides low-cost computers, internet service, and technology skills training to low-income families. Garth and Honn decided to support EveryoneOn because they felt that the mission of the nonprofit was directly connected to the mission of the Quarantine Public Library.

Unfortunately, online access, which Quarantine Public Library users depend on, is not available to everyone. The closing of public libraries during COVID-19 has prevented many Philadelphians from getting online and in turn blocked them from gaining vital information and connecting with others.

“It seems like this point in time where we’re being asked to make a choice between information equity and public health,” Garth says. The donations raised by the Quarantine Public Library will help to strike a balance between the two, giving families the ability to interact with the outside world while staying at home.

Now that the website has launched, Garth and Honn will be watching social media to see how people react to the Quarantine Public Library.

“We hope we get some good feedback,” Honn says. According to Honn, different artists and creators have already reached out to express their interest in creating other projects similar to the Quarantine Public Library. For now though, Honn and Garth are proud to have collaborated with so many artists to create their one-sheet book collection, especially during a time that has felt, as Honn says, “both overtaxed and scattered.”

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