Illustration at University of Northampton – exploring the meaning of libraries

The staff team and students on the BA Illustration course at the University of Northampton seek out opportunities for collaboration; whether that be internally with other subject areas such as fashion or creative writing, collaboration with an author’s text or collaborating with a client, ‘live’ project and the community.

This ethos has led to many exciting, diverse and interesting projects, says Programme leader for the BA Illustration course, Louise Bird. Recently students have been working with the town library – a community hub and resource that is under constant threat from budget cuts. Our students were asked to ‘explore the meaning of libraries’.

Tom Bamford

‘For many people, their first encounter with a library is as a child – a place to discover stories and pictures. For others, the library is a depository of literature and knowledge. But the library is also a community hub and has become a symbol. What do libraries mean to society, culture, a community or an individual?’

This is the question that Northamptonshire Central Library posed to Year 2 students. They installed their responses in the public library this April. The question had particular resonance in Northamptonshire where the council was recently taken to court for unlawfully planning to close a number of local libraries after declaring bankruptcy.

Hollie Louise Pugh

Students were encouraged to think expansively about what libraries are or might be in the future but the project also encouraged the exploration of spatial approaches to illustration. As they developed their ideas, students selected a space within the library that they felt was most suitable for their work and sent a proposal outlining what they planned to install there. Students valued this experience of working with an external ‘client’ and making work that would have a direct audience.

Emma Sadova

Their responses were diverse; from Robert Dickson who interviewed library visitors and employees to develop his work to Hollie Louise Pugh who fully embraced the spatial aspect of the brief making a series of papier-mâché sculptures, which she displayed above the bookshelves.  Re-imagining nursery rhyme characters with a dark twist, the sculpted scenes highlighted the library’s small folklore section and invited browsing and discovery. Many students worked with their own childhood memories of libraries and around the idea of being immersed in reading, as Danielle Matuzeviciute said of her installation, ‘my artwork, which shows a hole in the wall that leads to a fantasy land, is a metaphor for the library, which is a place you can escape to, use your imagination in and be inspired.’

Hollie Louise Pugh

Coinciding with the exhibition, year 2 students also showed work in progress in the institution’s Carnegie Hall. This included their responses to a range of texts from short stories, films, urban legend, poetry and topical articles in the form of books, sculptures, animation and drawing.

More images from this project and others can be found on our course Instagram @northamptonillustration

Emma Sadova


16th May 2019

World Illustration Awards 2023 – Longlist Announced!
Be part of #WIA2023 - a global celebration of great illustration. The Longlist will now be announced by category from 16th - 25th May 2023.
Issue 42 and Back issues available!
Contacts (across 3 sectors) for 350+ UK Commissioners... BUY NOW!
Get seen by commissioners with a 20 image Folio.


Join our mailing list to get the latest news.