By Sarita Dan

Many a New York City neighborhood is dominated by one ethnicity. But for those who want to experience a wealth of global culture, it’s not necessary to traipse from one enclave to the next.

Nestled on a quintessential Williamsburg street is the Brooklyn Art Library, which houses books detailing the lives of people from cultures around the world. The library is not what one would expect of a scholarly institution. None of the books are published, or duplicated. Each is an original edition handcrafted by the author. Home to the Sketchbook Project, the library’s collection represents 135 countries and over 75,000 participants worldwide.


Image courtesy of Sarita Dan

Each sketchbook in the assembly starts with a five- by seven- inch saddle bound volume made of 100% recycled paper. Since the authors are granted complete creative control, no book is the same, inside or out. The result is a compilation of books filled with pictures, scraps, poems and random words. These sketchbooks are unique expressions of the various places from whence their creators hail.

Perusing the library’s shelves, one can dive into a student from Singapore’s deepest thoughts, then marvel at the restrained creativity of a soccer mom from Kansas City. A 21-year-old New Yorker’s sketchbook dominated by social media tidbits might rest alongside a sketchbook detailing an African citizen’s daily struggle to survive. Some books are comprised only of pictures representing the owner’s country, city or home. Others highlight contemporary social issues that are relevant across the globe. Each book is an ode to its creator, filled with what he or she chooses to share. And much like their human architects—who start life fundamentally the same, but take on wildly different personalities reflecting varied experiences—the books are a patchwork of diversity.

On a recent trip to the library, I purchased a sketchbook of my own. The plan is to fill it with remnants from my journeys over this year and pieces of my life in New York. Who knows what will actually end up in the book by the time the submission deadline of November 1st rolls around. It’s my hope that the sketchbook lets people see life as I see it—as a New Yorker, and a global citizen.

Featured image courtesy of Sarita Dan

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