Re-purposing books


Highland District Library would like to give you a book so you can go home and cut it up and do whatever you want to it — really!

It’s all part of the library’s inaugural Altered Book Art Contest, which seeks to repurpose worn and discarded books no longer in circulation.

Library representatives said that while they try to get rid of these no longer wanted titles through book sales and other events, many unwanted books remain, which resulted in the idea for the altered book contest spearheaded by Avery Applegate of the Highland County District Library, who is also a former art teacher.

Applegate said that people interested in entering the contest have until closing time at 5 p.m. April 21 to submit their finished altered book for the contest.

The contest submissions will be displayed in the library and voted on by the patrons of the library. Voting will begin April 24 and end April 29, when the winner will be announced.

The winner does not have to be present at that time, Applegate said.

They can ask a librarian for a discarded book, which they can transform into a work of art in whatever way they want.

Applegate said that while those entering the contest do not have to live in Highland County, they do need a current library card from Highland County District Library. But, the library can help prospective contest participants get a library card if necessary. Applegate said that only a single entry per person is permitted.

The winning entry will be eligible for a $30 gift card from Hobby Lobby.

While it’s the first year for the contest at the library, Applegate said she hopes it will become an annual event. Altered books as a mixed media art form has captured the imaginations of many as a way to create something new out of something that has outlived its original purpose.

Artist Lisa Vollrath, who counts altered books among many types of art in which she’s interested, said, “Altered books take books that have outlived their usefulness,” and can turn them into decorative objects to be appreciated all over again instead of being abandoned.

“My favorite books have been old dictionaries, encyclopedias and medical books,” she said. “The world has moved on from the contents of these books, but structurally, they’re built to last.” Vollrath said that she derives inspiration from that.

She said that preserving books, while also transforming them, is a gratifying pursuit. “I wonder how I can make the contents useful and relevant again,” she said. “I turn a book that is no longer wanted or valued into something to be admired again.”

Vollrath said that part of the appeal of altered books as an art form is their accessibility and familiarity.

“I discovered something in an art form that was completely accessible,” she said. “Everybody knows what a book is.”

She said that the versatility that is afforded is another noteworthy aspect of the art form.

She said that in altering books, the books themselves offer so many alternatives for alteration and adornment. “Want to draw or paint? You can do that in a book. Want to create a sculpture or assemblage? You can do that with a book,” she said.

True to that sentiment, the Highland County District Library has encouraged interested participants to explore this theme of artistic experimentation. “You can paint it, carve it, burn it, rip it, cook it, sculpt it, electrify it, submerge it, whatever you want to do with it to make it a work of art!” advised an advertisement for the contest.

The latest contest is one of many opportunities the library staff has come up with to help facilitate patrons’ artistic endeavors.

“We love offering a variety of programs for our patrons, and art is something that is consistently popular.”, noted Highland District Library Circulation Manager, Sarah Davidson. “Whether it’s through our Paint Nights, or our Summer Reading programs.”.

Davidson explained, “People of all ages love being able to get creative.”.

The library also has sponsored coloring contests, crafting events for kids and adults, knitting and crocheting activities, an Anime Club, art demonstrations by working artists, like Greenfield Elementary School teacher, William Roller, and has integrated art activities into other themed events it has hosted at the library.

She said that facilitating events in a social environment is something that enhances the importance of the scheduled art activities.

“These aspects-creative expressions and camaraderie-really facilitate a wonderful sense of community.”, Davidson said, “Which is what the library is all about.”.

For more information about Highland District Library, visit their website at

Juliane Cartaino is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.

No posts to display