The “read” sculpture is a simple, yet powerful installation that has transformed the image and identity of a small town’s public library. Consisting of four, wood letters in a 20’x100’ garden, the installation has become a widely identifiable landmark in the community. It helps citizens to identify the library on a busy intersection; contributes to the burgeoning art scene in downtown; creates a playful backdrop for the children’s reading room; and most importantly, expresses the importance of literacy for children and the community.
The project was conceived, designed, budgeted, and promoted as part of a service/learning initiative by an undergraduate landscape architecture student. Construction was supported by five other landscape architecture students, who helped to bring the project to reality. In all, over 200 hours were donated by students to the installation, which is hoped to be part of the community for many years to come.
Goals and Objectives
The installation attempts to focus the attention of the community on literacy in a fun and creative way. This idea can best be represented by a passage from a poem by Roald Dahl:
“So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray,
go throw your TV
set away, And in its place you can install,
a lovely bookshelf on the wall.”
The goals of the project were simple and straightforward:
The idea for the “read” sculpture was developed as part of a service-learning scholarship program on campus. Limited to a small budget, the sculpture was a way to have a significant impact with limited funds and in a limited time frame. The project started with an observation that many people in the community didn’t know where the library was located. The most visible corner of the library is a blank wall with no indication of its use. Letters in the landscape evolved from precedent study of similar installations, notably in Amsterdam.
Community Involvement The library director was engaged early in the process to give feedback. After a concept was developed, the proposal was presented to the Library Board of Trustees and the City’s Board of Alderman to gain approval and support. Both groups overwhelmingly supported the effort and its installation.
Design Process With a limited budget, the design needed to maximize the use of available materials. This led to the letters being 4’ wide, the width of a 4’x8’ sheet of plywood. The two-tone color scheme was devised to complement the 50’s architecture of the library, contrast with the brick wall behind, and accent the depth of the letters. A construction set was developed in order to refine the budget and create a material list. A plan was also developed for the garden surrounding the letters, which utilized native/adapted species to accent the letters, blend into the existing landscape and minimize maintenance. Finally, a lighting plan was developed to light the letters at night with low-voltage, LED fixtures.
Implementation A group of five, landscape architecture students helped with the construction and implementation of the letters. The letters were constructed in the department’s wood shop and transported to the site in early spring. This process was accomplished over a 3-week period.
Management The museum has a management contract with a local landscape company, which will maintain the improved garden.
Funding The project was funded through a national, non-profit organization which promotes service-learning efforts; the state extension service; and the library. The total project cost was only $1,750.00, which illustrates how a small amount of money can be stretched into a significant community service project.
Hardy Simmons, Forrest Merrill, Xin Lin, Fan Yang, Xhengfei Lu
The Dawn Brancheau Foundation
Starkville-Oktibbeha County Public Library
Mississippi State University, Center for the Advancement of Service-Learning Excellence
Mississippi State University, Extension Service
Starkville-Oktibbeha County Public Library Board of Trustees
City of Starkville Board of Aldermen
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors
Bell Building Supply
Lowe’s (plant material)
Boardtown Gardens (plant material)