The Library of Approximate Locations

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by Kyly Clark, courtesy of Sierra Nevada College Eagle's Eye

Charlie Macquarie, a librarian, archivist, artist and writer, spoke about his “Library of Approximate Locations” at SNC’s Poetry Center (NV) in the Prim Library this spring. Macquarie’s project sheds light on the importance of libraries and books in a way that makes people want to keep turning the pages.

Macquarie grew up in Carson City and shares his connection to the region and landscape through his art installations at outdoor locations throughout the West and his accompanying talks, which usually take place in libraries.

His installations are comprised of books that share a historic connection to the land. He presents himself as the librarian that he is, curating a library that is specific to a chosen site. His own book collection always follows him in his grandfather’s old truck.

Macquarie was invited by Sarah Lillegard, fine arts gallery coordinator and Jared Stanley, English instructor and co-director of the Poetry Center, who share a common interest in Nevada history, landscape, and the way writers work together to talk about history.

“We brought Charlie here because he represents both innovative artistic practice, innovative writing practice, and different ways of thinking about books and libraries. He’s also very Nevada focused, and that was really important to us,” Stanley said.

Stanley said that Macquarie has “a novel way of telling stories through language, not just writing, but through presentation.”

In Macquarie’s artist talk at SNC, he shared books from the Foresta Institute for Ocean and Mountain Studies library in Carson City. The books included Aridity and Man, Scenic Guide to Nevada, and Forest Trees of the Pacific Slope.

Macquarie began looking at his library career with a creative lens and saw the opportunity to share his interest in Western landscape and history as well as its relation to contemporary issues like economies of extraction, our common resources and indigenous land rights.

“I’m interested in creative practices generally and how we can use them to think about alternate realities to the ones that we have,” Macquarie said. He explained that libraries give us the opportunity for perceptual expansion, especially in an era of increasing privatization and enclosure of common resources.

As an archivist, Macquarie is naturally inclined toward preserving documents and making them available for people to see and share. He said that many important documents and plans in U.S. history that at a time could have been dismissed as quite radical political or cultural ideas have been forgotten.

“Every time we want to change the world, we have to feel as if we are starting from scratch, but actually that is not true,” he said.

While he admits that some may be “boring and useless,” others may contain “ideas that could come back later and compel us.” He said the act of preserving documents is a way to acknowledge “the physicality of information.”

Macquarie is currently working on a conceptual library installation on SNC’s campus. For now the location is unknown, as well as what kind of life it will live after he leaves. The installation would consist of books and a wireless network that anyone can sign on to with their mobile device. Users could download files of books, maps, or other documents Macquarie has provided access to. It would also allow people to sign and store messages.

“Hopefully the students will download some cool documents, all of which have fascinating value,” Macquarie said. “In my wildest dreams, it might let people think a little bit more about what it means to share and utilize a lot of resources upon which we completely rely, but which belong to all of us, and reimagine that other worlds are possible.”

Lillegard said that Macquarie’s work is “a really nice crossover with SNC and what the student body and college are interested in.” She added that Macquarie provides us with “other ways of thinking of library, location, and how we are collecting and disseminating information.”

In his Poetry Center talk, Macquarie referred to the infamous but authorless quote: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.”  He said that a library goes against that idea because it’s “an institution which functions and exists in the world, but which is not driven by a profit motive.”

“The goal is to share things more widely,” Macquarie said. “That seems really powerful to me because it feels like a completely different way to think about success than we are bred to understand.”

With hope for the art of sharing as a practice, Macquarie said, “I hope students will think more about how this might relate to what we think of as our responsibility in the world.”