An insight to the Paul D. Fleck Library & Archives’ unique social media project:
Every Item in the Artists’ Books Collection
It is no surprise that the promotion of special collections in libraries is important (even vital) given the dependence on financial and political support within the larger organization of a library. Showcasing special collections helps expand the library’s presence to local and global communities who can can cherish, learn from, and be inspired these items. So how can libraries do this via social media outlets? For this post, I wanted to share what I loved most about working as a library clerk at the Banff Centre in the winter and summer of 2014: their coupling of Tumblr and Artists’ Books!
Artists’ books are works of art that have been utilized in the form of the book. Often, they are published in small editions, though they are sometimes produced as one-of-a-kind objects. What makes these books unique is that the artist transforms a book into both an aesthetic and cerebral experience – a journey that can be physical, linguistic, and visual from a spectrum of cultural, political, and social views and/or messages. The New York City based, non-profit, grant-supported bookstore, Printed Matter, Inc. explains it best:
“Unlike an art book, catalog or monograph that tend to showcase artworks created in another medium, the term ‘artists’ books’ refers to publications that have been conceived as artworks in their own right. These ‘projects for the page’ are generally inexpensive, often produced in large or open editions, and are democratically available. The book is a medium that allows an artist’s work to be accessible to a multitude of people in different locations at any given time. The more copies produced the more widely the work can be distributed; it is this potential to reach a larger audience that lends the book its social qualities and increases its political possibilities. In this way, the artists’ book can be an incredibly powerful communicative force.” (Printed Matter, Inc.)
Also, you can click here for an introductory video on the history of how artists’ books came to be in the 1950s and 1960s.
I got into artists’ books mostly because of my time at the Banff Centre. Both my supervisor (an amazing librarian and mentor) and my duties as a library clerk introduced me to the world of artists’ books, and how social media plays a vital role in promoting an enhancing access to these unique works.
Below: the Paul D. Fleck Library & Archives: storage and displays of their Artists’ Books Collection
As you can see from the few photos above, it can be quite difficult to access artists’ books. It isn’t just the Banff Centre that has them stored this way. Most institutions want to protect and preserve artists’ books (understandably) because they are treated as more than just books but also as physical art objects. Yet there is also a polarity of professional opinions out there: to promote or to preserve? seems to be the question…
Artists’ Books & Social Media: Why It Matters!
Interestingly, an article published in Art Documentation 16 years ago (Chemero 2000) emphasizes the importance of artists’ books being available in a visual platform online: “The argument for image-based access to artists’ books is supported by the fact that they are art objects as much as books, deserving more than just a catalog entry.” Below I’ve placed the catalogue record for this artist book (Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself). Because these books aren’t browsable for users, the strategic use of social media can add a lot of value for users to see a glimpse of the item itself in addition to just a textual record.
What makes the Banff Centre a “lucky” library so-to-speak is that they are able to hire on an annual basis a “Library Practicum” who is a recent MLIS grad and specifically someone interested in both art librarianship and particularly working with artists’ books. The funding for the practicum has not only helped create more descriptive records for these items, but is how the idea for this tumblr project came to fruition from a past practicum librarian, Jaye Fishel.
In an interview in 2014, Jaye s makes some very interesting comments about the project itself and how social media can break down barriers that closed stacks build between a user and the item:
“My feeling is that artists’ books receive little attention across the board because few people have the opportunity to interact with them since they are often stored in restricted shelving for their own protection. I am of the stance that it is folly to staunchly protect something that is meant to be held in hand and explored up close. I think we need to create more opportunities to liberate artists’ books for a wider range of people to discover and appreciate. After all, they might be the most portable, accessible art form.”