Reviewed August 2014
Esther Roth-Katz, Reference Librarian
Iwasaki Library, Emerson College
Scholars studying design and applied arts have long had to rely on information resources focused on other disciplines. The UK-based Design Research Publications has endeavored to make materials relevant to such scholars more accessible, first with the Design and Applied Arts Index (purchased by CSA/ProQuest in 2003) and now with the launch of Arts:Search.
Arts:Search is a subscription database with the mission “to digitize most of the important art journals and serial publications produced in Europe and the United States between the 1830s and early 1920s.” The resource focuses on the fields of design and applied arts, covering predominantly English-language titles. It includes three complementary components:
- Design Abstracts Retrospective (DAR), formerly known as Designinform, a traditional abstracting and indexing database that covers the 1920s through 1970s. At the time of this review’s publication, twenty-nine out of seventy journals have been indexed; this work is set to be completed by 2015.
- Arts+Architecture ProFiles (AAP), provides over 30,000 encyclopedic entries on designers and design terminology, from the well-known to the obscure.
- ReView consists of digitized nineteenth and early twentieth century (1830s-1920s) decorative and fine arts journals “selected not only for their significance, but also for their rarity and fragility,” as well as transcripts of the scanned pages;thirty-one titles have been digitized and indexed with more on the way.
The strength of Arts:Search lies in the combined power of and ease of navigation between the three resources. For example, a user who happens upon an unfamiliar term or name while accessing a journal in DAR or ReView can look up the term in AAP. Often the link to a profile or entry in AAP appears in a DAR search. Each of the three databases may be searched individually or all can be searched simultaneously. Beyond the standard search parameters (journal title, date, article title, author etc.) each of the databases has unique advanced search options.
While the interface is functional and relatively simple, it lacks some of the bells and whistles found in today’s more user-friendly databases. For example, there are no options to filter or refine search results (which are presumably ranked by relevance). Advanced researchers may not mind the simplicity of the interface, however in today’s world of discovery layers and endless means to sort data, some users may be underwhelmed.
Unlike many subscription databases, Arts:Search does not shy away from including URLs to informative free web pages related to the content it presents; these appear in AAP. For example, a biographical entry on the artist Anni Albers provides links to the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian, the State Archives of North Carolina, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, and the digital image collection of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation available through ARTstor. While this type of cross-referencing can undoubtedly enrich the user’s research experience, the problem lies in keeping up with external websites as their URLs change or disappear. This reviewer encountered an issue when attempting to open the webpage of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation from AAP.
In addition to the material covered within the three databases, Arts:Search includes descriptions of the publications it covers as well as two research guides, which point to relevant online resources. The first focuses on “Biographical Information on Artists, Designers, Architects and Craftspeople,” while the second lists “Free-access, digitized art, architecture, design and craft journals on the Internet.” The breadth of information provided in Arts:Search (including these extra features) provides users with an easy means to contextualize information they may find while searching any one resource. One can imagine a user accessing many of the needed resources from this single interface, especially if their institution has full-text access to the publications in DAR and utilizes a link resolver.
Arts:Search is unique in its dedicated focus on providing access to and promoting discovery of primary sources in design and applied arts from this time period. Previously, researchers have had to rely on knowledge of historical publications in this subject matter or else were limited to their inclusion in traditional art historical databases. Arts:Search is recommended for institutions with collections in these areas, design programs, and/or faculty with research interests in design history.