Libraries do more than just build collections of resources, they build communities. The physical space of an inclusive art and design library allows a space for artists and readers to congregate and exchange ideas. MAL builds bridges between art school and independent studio spaces and residencies, creating a network of peer-support.
For those interested in the arts, specialised resources are often some of the most expensive and are unlikely to be collected at non-specialist libraries. The current best resource for art and design publications in Melbourne are the libraries associated with universities and the National Gallery of Victoria's Shaw Research Library. This group of libraries is important, however their defined internal user groups limit general accessibility. Further, these academic and special libraries are attached to larger parent institutions, which shape their collection development policies and define their target users. Collections are developed to aid the explicit group they are servicing, including internal staff, curators and curriculum developers. The inaccessibility of specialised collections and publications particularly limits the resources that are accessible to artists, especially emerging artists.
Melbourne Art Library began in April 2020, to fill this recognised gap in services. MAL provides an accessible and specialised collection for all interested in the arts, including emerging practitioners, the art-curious, and established researchers and arts professionals. MAL increases access to focussed publications that individuals could not otherwise access or afford. MAL also collects locally-produced and hard-to-find resources that are missing from other public institutions and narratives of arts practice in Australia.
From this initial idea, MAL quickly gained momentum. MAL delivered a contactless delivery service during Naarm-Melbourne’s 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, and opened a bricks-and-mortar reading room within six months of concept. MAL is a Registered Charity, and is recognised as a Public Library with Deductible Gift Recipient status. MAL has grown to a team of over 25 volunteers, and has a strong user group and following.
Unique in Australia, MAL models creative collaboration and is a new place of exchange. MAL bolsters the work of Artist Run Initiatives and other exhibition spaces, and increase artists’ and designers’ ability to make meaningful contributions to the community, no matter their educational or social backgrounds or the economic environment. Beyond Naarm-Melbourne, MAL has developed relationships with other small scale, independent arts libraries globally, and intends to expand this network, connecting art libraries and other independent like-minded libraries to share best practice, knowledge and ideas.