Modeator: Amanda Bowen, Collection Management Librarian in the Fine Arts Library at Harvard University
Art and Design School Library Division
Collection Development Committee
Amanda Bowen, Collection Management Librarian in the Fine Arts Library at Harvard University, noted that this session came about in thinking about the selection criteria for artistí books at a variety of institutions. She was intrigued to find a group of librarians in art and design schools who make active use of these materials in presentations to art students about the form and its variations.
Dorothee Boehme, Curator of the Joan Flasch Artistsí Book Collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, then gave an overview of the Collectionsí holdings and services. The collection has been in existence since the sixties as part of the school library; in 1989, a separate room was created as a space devoted to the collection. The collection of 3,000 items are all listed in a special database, though books are now also being cataloged in OCLC. 300 related exhibition catalogs and 100 reference books are also part of the collection. Various archives are also useful, including, most recently, the archives of the dealer Tony Zwicker. The collection is open to the public and used by students and visitors from all over the area, in addition to School faculty and students. The Room averages ten class groups per week in addition to regular walk-in traffic. Doro also brought a selection of books from her collection which the audience was able to pour over before and after the session.
Mo Dawley, Art and Drama Librarian at Carnegie-Mellon University, focused on how the artistsí books classes she teaches for the School of Art coincides with the art curriculum. Mo first developed her teaching initiative in the early 90s to introduce Concept Studio freshman to art research using artistsí books as a stimulus. Concept Studios is a 4-year required core of classes where students are encouraged to 'develop transferrable conceptual skills by investigating a non-medium specific, personal approach to artmaking.' Through a succession of slides designed to show the individual openings of particular books, Mo demonstrated how artists' books can provide inspiration for the Concept Studio themes: Self and the Human Being, Space and Time, Systems, Process, Art in Context and a final Senior Project as well as within the major areas of media concentration: Painting, Drawing and Printmaking; Sculpture, Installation and Site-Specific Work; and Time-Based Work. She also showed how rare books in the Fine and Rare Book collection can be used in conjunction with contemporary artistsí books to illustrate alternative structures. Other topics include how to write a proposal, design or construction fundamentals, documentation, and the merging of image and text. Illustrated books and exhibition catalogs of artistsí books also prove quite helpful to students in getting an idea of the plethora of formats, materials and techniques available. Students are also motivated by seeing works by other student artists which are included in the Carnegie Mellon collection.
A few favorite teaching methods include: first, creating an installation of books in the Fine and Rare Book Room that facilitates a feeling of intimacy, reflection and exploration; second, presenting a short introductory talk focused on the class subject, letting the students look, and then calling them back to articulate which books they liked and why. This is an important skill for art students who must be able to articulate their own work. Thirdly, a brief verbal brainstorming session and/or have students write free-text about their ideas to be used later as keywords for research and library catalog and database searching. Fourth, giving a brief history of contemporary artists books, being sure to mention how artists were searching for alternatives to the gallery/museum scene (they love this) and bringing in details of local interest such as the fact that Carnegie Mellon alumnus George Maciunus was a leading figure in the Fluxus movement.
Laurie Whitehill Chong, Readersí Services Librarian at the Rhode Island School of Design Library, then spoke about her experience using artistsí books for instruction. The collection at RISD numbers over 900 titles. Although there is no formal Book Arts program at RISD, book arts are taught in a variety of programs in the school. The collection of artistsí books, books on their history and an ephemera file are all used by students in many disciplines and Laurie conducts instruction sessions for groups as well as individuals on a regular basis, and teaches book arts in the summer session. Laurie reviewed her criteria for selecting books for the collection which include contribution to the collection, usefulness as a teaching tool, overall concept, craftsmanship, uniqueness and relation of text and image. She also took the time to go through a single book carefully and slowly to demonstrate how she would present it in a teaching context.
Questions from participants were wide ranging. One related to preservation issues, or the tension between encouraging use and preserving unique materials. Panelists admitted that they support use of these collections and realize that some of the ones which fall apart will not be replaceable. Jo Anne Paschal, publisher at Nexus Press, commented on the need for more interchange between publishers and libraries that collect these materials. Two volunteers (Moira Steven and Robert Ferrari) offered to compile a list of libraries that have such collections. A member of the audience asked about questions of 'taste' when acquiring artistsí books. The panelists agreed that any work that facilitated the teaching process is fair game.
Amanda Bowen, recorder