Moderator: Amanda Bowen, Collection Management Librarian, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University
Contributors: Amanda Bowen, Collection Management Librarian, Fine Arts
Library, Harvard University
Julie Melby, Assistant Curator, The Houghton Library, Harvard University
Lee Sorenson, Art Librarian & Bibliographer, Duke University
Amanda Bowen introduced the session by stressing that all art libraries include special materials, defined either by age or rarity. Our collections also have other books which need special care. The purpose of this session is to discuss ways that these items are handled in terms of preservation, access and security.
Art libraries are especially vulnerable to theft and vandalism for a
Julie Mellby discussed the presence of original works of art in books, including prints, photographs, maps, loose plates, etc. Tipped-in or inserted plates are very easy to remove. How to safeguard them? Locking material up is the easy answer, because it is the safest way. But it deprives patrons of the ability to browse, or to access material quickly and easily. Some librarians have resorted to separating parts of books so they can safeguard the plates and other inserted material. This flies in the face of the integrity of the book as object. Perhaps a better solution would be to educate staff and patrons on the care and treatment of library materials.
Amanda Bowen noted that several common formats present problems. Folios
and portfolios don't fit onto ordinary shelves, tiny books get lost and
are theft-prone. Books in odd shapes need to be boxed just to sit
Books with loose plates and extra pieces are vulnerable but can't always be locked up. Items with accompanying microfiche or CDs could be locked up; an alternative is to shelve the pieces separately. A monitored reading
area can be a solution but few of our libraries have such spaces. Artists' books include all of these categories of "problems". Part of the librarian's duties should include review of out-of-print dealers catalogues since the prices listed will be a clue that a book has become rare or collectible.
Lee Sorenson discussed some issues which have arisen at Duke.
Duke, an academic library, offers local citizens access for $10 a year.
Until recently, the library administration allowed anyone to browse the
locked stacks without supervision. In 1995, Lee started locking up
the stacks; call slip retrieval only is the rule. Lee did a study of the
condition of the photographic material in open stacks to determine what
types of damage had occurred. The pattern of mutilation, mainly sexually
motivated, broke down as follows:
Adult nude female 60%
Adult nude male 20%
Lee asked a criminal psychologist what motivation patrons might have, risking expulsion, when the images would be so easy to scan/xerox? The psychologist felt this is a crime of immediate gratification: I see I want I take. As titillating images become more available on the Internet, people feel entitled to have them ever more easily. Sometimes the destruction
implies anger on the part of the vandal (s/he destroys to remove temptation). Interestingly, the damaged material is almost never circulating material; most is reference only. So the library now has liberalized its circulation policy, but it places a slip in the book noting that the book was intact when checked out and that any damage that it suffers before coming back will be charged to the borrower. This has a salutary effect (RISD does something similar with oversize books, offering
a three-day circulation; borrowers have to sign a slip that they understand the book is valuable and that they are responsible for any damages.) Lee was asked to share a sample of the notice placed in these books via
A lively discussion among the speakers and the audience followed.
-Artists' ephemera, which turn up in artist vertical files, are very vulnerable. Artist-designed announcements, invitations, three-dimensional objects, etc. often turn up in dealer catalogues for considerable sums. Normally artist files are not indexed at the piece level, so there is no way to collate the contents of a given folder.
-Sometimes loose or vandalized plates appear in student art work, but it is often difficult to establish ownership or responsibility for the theft. One commentator noted that some patrons come armed with exacto blades, knowing exactly what they are looking for. Preservation and user awareness training will not reach these patrons.
-Books which are library bound are less likely to disappear (because they lose value not being in their original state). This may render them hideous and be inappropriate for some libraries; but it works for others.
-Some libraries offer reprints or microfilm as a substitute for material in fragile condition; MOMA staff sometimes photocopy valuable ephemera for artists' files and place the original in locked stacks. Other collections (Vancouver Public Library, for example) duplicate items of special interest and place one copy in special collections.
-Sometimes when responsibility for a collection is transferred, staff lose sight of the reason to protect a collection. Older periodical runs can be a prime target. Periodicals are primary source material for investigators; how do you preserve them intact? Things to consider: at what point do you decide a serial run is worth locking up? When do you try to go out and buy a full set of the serial in order to have a full run, an unbound copy, a copy with all covers and ads intact? When will a digital version do?
-Julie noted that, at Houghton, which has closed stacks, special handling notes which appear in the OPAC records are printed out on the call slips, so shelvers can check the book before it goes back into the stacks.
-We must also consider whether all of our libraries must preserve copies of the same thing; perhaps some collections can serve as the holder of record.
-Some libraries have picture files and some have free bins of loose images, mostly removed from magazines, which can cut down on theft. Automated picture files, such as the AP Photo Archive and, eventually, digital collections such as AMICO, will provide some of the images sought by our users.
-In all collections, what is locked up is not browseable and will be used less. For some of us, funding is tied to use statistics; when we make collections hard to use, numbers and funds are reduced. Certain patrons, art students for example, will not be willing to page individual books. RISD contemplates a rare book room which is staffed but browseable.
-Education in how to handle books and how to respect the rights of books and other users is needed. Bibliographic instruction should include this and be provided for staff and student workers. Faculty may bring students into the library to show them rare materials; library staff then can show them how to find more. Collaborations like this are important; they help to secure allies outside the library (faculty, students, etc.), and perpetuate a user base. Exhibitions are also a good way to showcase library material. So is cataloguing; cataloguing on the item level, or a liberal use of genre terms when cataloguing collections, draws patron attention to material that might be passed over even if they had access to the stacks.
Elizabeth O'Keefe/Amanda Bowen