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Librarian creates, displays interactive books

April 16, 2015

Anna Cranor has discovered a new way to tell a story—one that requires readers to discover, participate and self-reflect.

Cranor has created an interactive handmade fabric book collection, “Philographica,” as part of her M.F.A. in Textiles requirements at the University of Missouri. The book exhibit is now on display at Hugh Stephens Library, where Cranor works as an evening and weekend reference librarian. On Wednesday, April 22, she will discuss the project during a public presentation at 4:30 p.m. in the library’s Penthouse.

The three-pronged display takes viewers on a symbolic and literal journey.

The first set of small books, created from delicate fabrics and stamped with elaborate ink prints, portray fragility. The soft textiles are yielding and risk physically falling apart if over handled.

In contrast stands another collection of discarded library books that Cranor has painted black, symbolically and literally blocking out information and communication.

Both serve as visual representations of the concepts and media used to create the hallmark of the exhibit—a four-chapter tale that requires the reader to experience story in new ways.

Cranor wrote a short allegorical fairy tale about two feminine characters represented by a fish and a bird, and two masculine figures represented by a stag and a hare. The story was then chopped into key phrases to be hidden in the books. Other than saying it’s about the complications of human relationships, Cranor won’t reveal the plot—that’s for readers to discover.

Each chapter is a series of four fabric-bound books; smaller books fit inside larger counterparts. Each is covered with elaborate fabrics with cloth pages that have been stamped, painted or otherwise decorated. Every page is a pouch that includes a card with the story text. All 60 cards must be found and pieced together in order for the story to be revealed. But Cranor cautions there’s no “one” story; rearranging the cards can alter the plot.

And if that doesn’t sound complex enough? The words are written backwards, requiring the reader to hold cards in front of a mirror. That’s where the self-reflection comes in.

Cranor, a librarian trained in book-binding, said she wanted to find a different way to experience storytelling. She’s intrigued by the idea that, just as writers have to rely on readers to interpret their words; people have to rely on another person’s projections and perspectives when in a relationship.

“Even if you take the time to know someone, you always have to fill in the blanks based on your own experiences and expectations,” she said. Likewise, “stories change based on the way you tell them.”

The books are on display through April 24. Cranor invites people to come to the library and interact with the collection. There’s a story chart to guide readers, and a mirror nearby to help decipher the story.

It’s up to each person to decide how deep to go into the book—the more time one interacts with it, the more he or she will get out of it. For Cranor, it was a time-intensive labor of love.

“I learned a lot about myself through the project,” she said. “Through the process of making this, I created a lot of images—and now have an archive with background material that I can draw on for the rest of my career.”

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