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Library News Release

Release Date: 09/12/2005

New data-driven artwork installed at Central Library; Screens display titles checked out in past hour

News Release Feature

An electronic installation that visually maps the circulation of The Seattle Public Library's Central Library gives viewers a glimpse of what patrons are reading.

Artist George Legrady, who is a professor of interactive media at the University of California, Santa Barbara, created the artwork, called "Making Visible the Invisible." The installation is located on Level 5 of the Central Library behind the librarians' reference desk in the Charles Simonyi Mixing Chamber.

Four visualizations that float across six liquid crystal display screens interpret live data regarding material that patrons have checked out from the Central Library within the past hour. The data are fed directly from the Library's Information Technology department to the artwork, which is powered by three computers.

The first visualization, called "Statistics," shows the number of books and other material such as DVDs, CDs and videos that patrons have checked out both within the past hour and for the day. The background color of the visualization changes throughout the day to visually note the passage of time.

The second visualization, called "Floating Titles," consists of the titles of books and other materials that patrons have checked out in the past hour.

The third visualization, called "Dewey Dot Matrix," shows the titles divided into Dewey classifications from 000 to 999. The titles of non-Dewey items such as fiction books float from the top to the bottom of the screen.
The fourth visualization, called "Keyword Map," captures and displays keywords for items patrons have checked out.

"The concept is to try to show what the community is thinking based on the flow of books leaving the library," Legrady explained. "The visualizations try to show what people are reading."

Since the books are numbered in the Library's catalog, Legrady can use them in mathematical calculations.

"The end goal is to work with the technological and mathematical set of processes and come out with an aesthetic and poetic experience," he said.

Each visualization lasts between 1 and 6 minutes. The data flow either horizontally or vertically and are color-coded. In "Floating Titles," for example, book titles are in red and titles of other media such as DVDs and CDs are in green.

The Seattle Public Library board of trustees selected Legrady in July 2004 to create the permanent artwork as part of the "Library Unbound" series of artworks, which also includes work by Seattle textile artist Mandy Greer and mixed-media artist Lynne Yamamoto of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The budget for Legrady's "Making Visible the Invisible" is $100,000, which includes $50,000 from the Committee of 33, a local non-profit group of women who fund good works in public art, landscaping and streetscape improvements. The larger budget allowed Legrady to realize the work at the scale and in the location desired by the Library.

"Library Unbound" is part of an overall art plan developed by art planners Jessica Cusick and Rick Lowe for the Central Library, which also includes site-integrated artwork by Ann Hamilton, Tony Oursler and Gary Hill. The Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, the city agency that promotes the value of arts and culture in and of communities throughout Seattle, manages the Library's public art program.

Legrady and Rama Hoetzlein, a graduate student in Legrady's program at UC Santa Barbara, have been installing and testing their electronic installation for several days.

"People tend to gaze at it for minutes at a time," Hoetzlein said. "They seem to be mesmerized. Some people are really excited that it's real data."

The artwork will operate during the open hours of the Central Library.

The widely acclaimed Central Library opened May 23, 2004. The new building is part of the $196.4 million "Libraries for All" bond measure that Seattle voters passed in 1998. The bond money, which can be used only for construction of libraries, is funding new and improved branches, in addition to the new Central Library.

To date, the Library has completed the new Central Library and 15 branch projects. Many other branches are in the planning, design or construction phase.

The Seattle Public Library Foundation continues to raise funds from private sources to enhance the public bond commitment and keep pace with the demands of patrons for a high level of library service. Every dollar raised will ensure a level of excellence in the Library's facilities, collections, and programs that would not be possible through its tax-based support alone.

For more information about "Libraries for All" or the Foundation, visit the Library's Web site at

For more information contact:

Caroline Young Ullmann, assistant communications director

Andra Addison, communications director

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