Libraries of place

There are such things as little free libraries scattered around neighborhoods across the country where people place and borrow books. But, what about a library in the middle of a desert landscape?

Installations from Charlie Macquarie feature curated books in unexpected locations. | Courtesy Charlie Macquarie

That is precisely what Carson City, Nev., native Charlie Macquarie is doing with his Library of Approximate Location, which acts as a temporary art installation for book lovers — or is it a library installation for art lovers?

After receiving a Master of Science in Library and Information Science from the Pratt Institute in New York, Macquarie came back to the West. He is currently working at the University of California, San Francisco, as a librarian. Although his profession has always kept Macquarie in big cities, he retained the desert landscapes from his hometown in Northern Nevada in the back of his mind.

“They are small art installations that I take out into the landscape. These library installations give me an excuse to go out in these locations and explore the area.”
–Charlie Macquarie

As he was building up his personal book collection, Macquarie found “Bravo 20: The Bombing of the American West” by photographer Richard Misrach, about a bombing range outside of Fallon, Nev. The book inspired Macquarie to create The Library of Approximate Location, a collection of books related to a specific landscape, in this case, the desert.

“They are small art installations that I take out into the landscape,” says Macquarie. “These library installations give me an excuse to go out in these locations and explore the area. Placing a library in the Bravo 20 landscape was a reason to travel that dirt road. People think of Nevada as a no-man’s land, but it offers a lot of resources.”

Sierra Nevada College gallery coordinator Sarah Lillegard met Macquarie through mutual friends and connections. She went to Macquarie’s Library of Approximate Location when it was installed at the Bravo 20 site.

“I liked how he brought people together and showcased the landscape through his organization of the event,” says Lillegard. “I made it a priority to go out there. I wanted to connect with local artists and learn more about The Library.”

In March 2017, she invited Macquarie to install The Library of Approximate Location at the college. He gave a speech explaining the meaning behind his installation to an audience of 20 to 25 people.

“He’s been acquiring his own personal library. It’s a mobile unit that he pulls from his personal collection and installs books that are specific to that particular place,” she says.

At The Library of Approximate Location at SNC’s Prim Library, one can find books on the Sierra Nevada, the Tahoe Basin, the Great Basin, as well as information directly related to issues about climate change and the local environment. Once the weather cooperated, the installation was moved outside.

“They can’t all be read in a day, but does reading a whole book while you’re there make a difference or does just seeing pictures or finding exactly what you’re looking for suffice? I want to play with that concept,” says Macquarie.

Although he currently doesn’t have a tracking mechanism for how people engage with his installation, he has seen people sit down and read the books, share books with others, flip through them and look at the photos and take pictures of the installation and share it on social media.

“I have a lot of books about specific places and thought it would be interesting to put them out in these landscapes as guides to help people interpret what they’re looking at. It’s visually appealing to people. I want these things to be in places that people wouldn’t go otherwise. You would have to make a significant effort to see it,” he says.

He travels with the books in the back of his truck. Macquarie’s installations can have anywhere from 15 to 250 books depending on the size of the space and the shelves he has to work with. “We’re excited to be a part of Charlie’s projects and having conversations about important issues that his installations create,” says Lillegard.

“I’m interested in creative practices that subvert monetary exchange. I like the idea of sharing art and having it publicly accessible over its commodification,” Macquarie says. “This exists to consider landscapes in a new way.”

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