Working Library
C3:project incubator 2017-2018

Working Library was co-founded in 2016 in Portland, Oregon by Rory Sparks and Laura O'Quin. We took a leap with the generous support of c3:initiative’s project incubator, and launched a project that would become a bigger part of our lives than we ever could have imagined. We set out to highlight the experience of the library through a site of production and program for participation.

We asked questions:

What is the role of the library in an evolving contemporary art scene?

How does publishing manifest as an art practice?

How can a library and its books function as a generous space and collection that hosts and feeds inclusive dialogue and generates and supports collective action?

How can one engage and reposition a library’s systems and networks?

What lives in a library other than books?

How can research, ephemera, and experience manifest as material?

Working Library was activated by conversations with the surrounding communities and visiting artists. The books the library housed and the activities we ran were self-referential–always examining what a library might be. Because of that, Working Library became a discursive space where its very definition was fluid, ever-becoming in response to those who accessed it. The objects it housed became catalysts for conversation and meaning-making. The labor that went into it became acts of community building, and a sense of repeated use reflected the identity of these folks as active co-creators of our space.

Working Library became an archive of the commons, a site of resistance, a social condenser, and location for fieldwork; a school, a forum to debate our values, a laboratory, and a venue for public programming. We did not do this alone–we brought forward the cumulative sum of our collaborations, which somehow proposed something that each part could not accomplish alone.

In its first iteration, it was a keeper of books and collections, and a platform for exchange. The library was built around an in-house press and bindery which gave us a way to offer classes, produce publications, and provide resources to our resident artists. The WORKING LIBRARY RESIDENCY supports creative projects dealing in themes of publication, archive, and collection. It fostered creatively driven projects exploring the notion of the library as a site of production, collection, social engagement, and scholarship.

Check out the residency archive here.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Libraries are vital community spaces that often mirror the neighborhood around them. Working Library was similar— a commons where conversations became its content.

The Working Library’s St. Johns, Portland branch closed its doors in October, 2018, and its ownership was transferred to c3:initiative in April, 2018. The project is no longer ours–we have gifted the idea to our funding organization. Generosity was a guiding principle in this project.

Anyone can ‘check out’ Working Library to reactivate it in a new form. It can see many iterations now, and will be re-envisioned by a multiplicity of voices. We included a set of documents for its new owner and activators, explaining the ideology and outlining the stipulations set forth by its founders.

To check out Working Library, please contact c3:initiative at

Visit our program archive