concertina motif Artists' books in libraries


The following libraries were selected based on the significance of their artists' book collections. Each of these collections has a dedicated Web site with striking and abundant visuals. The sites are themselves rich repositories of information such as bibliographies, pathfinders, essays, Web links, image databases, online exhibits and more. And though certainly no match for "being there," they also can be used as virtual reference by individuals geographically far from a good collection.

The institutions represented also give virtual visitors access to their online public access catalogs (OPACs). Librarians less familiar with artists' books can benefit from examining records--viewable in MARC format--that reflect highly specialized cataloging; students can glean ideas from descriptive details such as materials, bindings and printing. Try searching for LCSH Artists' books in several of the OPACs below.

Finally, although this guide focuses on collections in the United States, researchers should know that there are collections of substance worldwide. Locations include Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Barcelona, Spain; Budapest, Hungary; Firenze, Italy; Ontario, Canada; and Reykjavik, Iceland.

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Carnegie Mellon University, Fine Arts and Special Collections Department, Hunt Library
This site is important viewing because it shows a collection that is developing proactively as a teaching resource for both librarian and faculty, and with a sharp focus on the university curriculum. It offers students advice about how to find a variety of inspiring materials, and encourages them to uncover hidden treasures in the collection beyond the standard "Artists' books" classification. Web links and bibliographic citations for standard texts, surveys, catalogs and periodicals round out the information. Quoting from the text, "You can get a fairly comprehensive list of the collection by typing in the phrase - 704.655 or (artists adj books) - using the 'Words or Phrase' search in [the library's OPAC] Cameo."

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The Cleveland Institute of Art, Gund Library Artists' Books Collection
Gund Library maintains a sizeable (over 950) artists' book collection, supported by an online pathfinder that is well matched to the Institute's art-student population. Titled Making a Book, the pathfinder is primarily an annotated bibliography divided into sections such as "Finding inspiration," "Looking at artists' books" and "Constructing a book." It concludes with a list of related subject words and phrases to get students started searching the library catalog.

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Museum of Modern Art/Franklin Furnace Artist Book Collection
MoMA Library has one of the world's most exceptional collections, due in part to its acquisition in 1994 of the Franklin Furnace Archive, an independent repository of artists' book and related material going back to 1976. "The portion of the archive at the Library comprises artists' books, bookworks, book objects, artists' magazines, soundworks, and mail art (all cataloged in DADABASE)." An FAQs document explains in detail how to search for them. An advanced search in DADABASE, MoMA's online catalog, for the phrase artists books in the field Form/Genre (the recommended method) returns nearly 9,500 records.

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Otis College of Art and Design, Millard Sheets Library, Artists' Book Image Database
Artists' books present librarians with numerous professional challenges, not the least of which is keeping these special collections simultaneously preserved and accessible, especially in teaching situations. Millard Sheets Library addresses this dilemma with a visually striking and well-documented Artists' Book Image Database that illustrates every page/surface of the 45 books included in the project's pilot phase. According to the library, "our goal is to create an image database of artists' books which will assist those with interest in researching our collection and the medium in general." The collection has about 3,000 works.

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School of the Art Institute of Chicago, John M. Flaxman Library, Joan Flasch Artists' Book Collection
SAIC's collection of over 3,000 holdings--self-described as broad both geographically and historically--is supported on site by its own study room, related archives and reference materials, and work by the school's students and faculty. It is supported virtually by a Web site that includes a visual sampling of the collection and online exhibition, and by a "separate online catalog...which can be searched by terminology specific to artists' books."

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Virginia Commonwealth University, James Branch Cabell Library, Special Collections and Archives, Book Art Collection
VCU's sizeable collection (over 3,000 items) is notable for its dedicated focus: "women, minority, and Virginia artists." Resources on the collection's Web site include a clear explanation of book art and a comprehensive list of links.

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Yale University, Yale University Library Arts of the Book Collection
Artists' books are part of the broader Arts of the Book Collection at Yale representing many related topics such as fine binding, printing, typography, illustration, decorative papers, and bookplates. Online research content at this site includes links and exhibition summaries, a discussion of the term "Artists' books," and a brief history of the genre. The collection's Book Arts Ephemera Database, a searchable "digital library," gives remote visitors access to examples of the primary source documentation associated with the medium. Ephemera offer insight into artists' book practitioners, exhibitors, and collectors through correspondence, greeting cards, price lists, announcements, etc.

Artists' Books in Libraries

2004 Louise Kulp, MA, MLIS
Department of Art and Art History
Franklin & Marshall College