The Making of “Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship”

Joan BenedettiThe following is a “behind the scenes” account by ARLIS/SC member Joan Benedetti of the editing of the book, Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship, a co-publication of ARLIS/NA (Occasional Paper No. 16) and Scarecrow Press and the first book on the subject. Benedetti worked for 21 years as a solo librarian at the Craft and Folk Art Museum and then for five years at the L.A. County Museum of Art asa cataloger until her retirement at the end of 2002. She has written and presented several papers on the subject of small art museum libraries.

Three years ago, in the spring of 2004, I responded to an ARLIS-L posting from Paul Glassman, then Editor of the ARLIS/NA Occasional Papers, concerning possible publishing projects. On his list was the item, “Art Museum Library Handbook.” A couple of years previously, I had conducted a survey of small art museum libraries in the U.S. and Canada and reported on it at the 2002 ARLIS/NA conference in St. Louis.

The hunger for information about other art museum libraries that was evident when I conducted the survey, and the enthusiasm with which the idea of a book on art museum libraries was greeted when I presented it at the Museum Libraries Division meeting in New York City in 2004, made me sure I could put together a collection of essays contributed by members of the division that would be welcomed by librarians from all types and sizes of museum libraries. Before I went home from that conference, I had 15 art museum librarians lined up as authors and another 10 who volunteered to be readers or to contribute sample documents. I knew that Ann Abid, who had just retired as Head Librarian at the Cleveland Museum of Art, had written an article on “Art Museum Librarians” for the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science published in 2003. I asked her if she would write an introduction for our book and she agreed. That summer I wrote a proposal to the ARLIS/NA Publications Committee and it was approved in early August 2004.

Over the following year, the Publications Committee negotiated with Scarecrow Press to form a co-publication relationship with ARLIS/NA. ARLIS will provide Scarecrow with manuscripts; Scarecrow will publish, market, and distribute them. Scarecrow Press has been in business for over 50 years as a publisher of academic subjects, including librarianship. Scarecrow was purchased in 1995 by University Press of America and moved from its Metuchen, New Jersey, headquarters to Lanham, Maryland, where it is now a member of the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. My experience with the Scarecrow and the Rowman & Littlefield staff has been terrific. It is expected that Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship will be the first of a mutually beneficial co-publication series.

As art librarians, we face similar issues no matter what our work venue, but librarians that work in art museums also face situations unique to those institutions, such as dealing with curators, museum educators, and docents; working around exhibition schedules; and being in close proximity everyday to beautiful and fascinating art objects. Collection development in art museum libraries is, in fact, very object-oriented. Art museum librarians, especially those working in small and medium-sized museums are also more likely to have to deal with institutional archives and visual resources. I chose 16 chapter topics (leadership, reader services, automation, security, cataloging, space planning, collection development, visual resources, ephemera, special collections, institutional archives, fundraising, public relations, volunteers and interns, professional development, and solo librarianship) and set about soliciting art museum librarians to write relatively short essays on these topics based on their own experiences. I asked them to think about how working in an art museum transformed these tasks and impacted them both negatively and positively. By the time the table of contents was set 18 months later, I was dealing with 44 authors of 61 essays, 15 contributors of thumbnail sketches, 11 donors of sample documents, and 13 readers. The final author roster includes art museum librarians from all parts of North America and Australia. I tried throughout the process to include writers on each topic from both small and large libraries. For the most part, that happened. Some of the essays are written from a general point of view, but most are the experiences of the writers and they are inspiring and practical, poignant and humorous. Most of the art museums represented are encyclopedic in scope, but some are very specialized. There are between three and six essays on each topic.

From the beginning, I had hoped to find an art museum director to write a foreword for our book—a director who had actually used art museum libraries and appreciated their value. When in the summer of 2005, Suzanne Freeman, librarian at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts sent me some statements that the VMFA director, Michael Brand, had made about their library, I sensed that I had found the writer of our foreword. For some reason I put off asking him until one morning in August of that year when I read the announcement in the New York Times of his appointment as the new director of the J. Paul Getty Museum! Afraid that I was already too late, I immediately called his secretary, and between she and Suzanne and I, somehow we convinced him that he could write a short foreword for our book even though he was about to take on one of the most challenging directorships in the museum world and move his family 3,000 miles across the country. He wrote the foreword, and what he has to say is delightful.

To give the readers of the book an opportunity to compare some art museum libraries statistically, as well as to include some more diverse types of libraries, a section of what we are calling “thumbnails” is included—short profiles of 15 art museum libraries, including three from Europe. Among the 15 are two art school libraries that support art museums within the schools, as well as an architecture center, a garden and sculpture park, a glass museum, a folk art museum, and an African American museum.

One of three appendices is made up of sample art museum library documents including archives policies, an artists’ books cataloging procedure, several circulation policies, a collection policy and mission statement, exhibition catalog exchange program policy, new user authorization form, an outreach plan, and a reference query report form. Other appendices describe dual degree (art history and library/information science) programs and 21 relevant professional organizations, including museum and archival groups as well as library organizations of various types. An extensive bibliography is divided by chapter topic.

As a former cataloger with a special interest in subject cataloging, I was looking forward to making the index. I knew that with the number of different essays in the book, the index would be very important. However, the index can’t be made up until the page proofs are ready and at that point, there is never much time before it has to be given up and sent to the printer. The short time frame I was given—two weeks—for both making the index and proof reading the book made this chore one of the most difficult. My Scarecrow editors allowed me to make a lot of last-minute changes, but finally, I had to stop tweaking and send it off—with a great deal of apprehension, but also, of course, a great deal of relief.

Cognizant of our members’ aesthetic sensibilities, I wanted the book to look as much like an art book as possible. I wanted the pages to be large and I knew that I wanted lots of pictures. Due to the generosity of the many contributors—and their museums—over 90 illustrations are included, mostly photographs of art museums and their libraries, but also pictures of objects from some of the museum and library collections. The full color cover design is a real eye dazzler, with the front cover an amazing photograph of the east room of the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. The back cover includes images of Alexis Curry at the front desk of the LACMA Research Library in Los Angeles alongside the reading room of the Uffizi in Florence. An image on the spine is from the Art Institute of Chicago. This striking cover is by Jen Huppert Design (an independent design firm hired by Scarecrow) and although I provided them with the photographs, the decisions about which to use and their placement was entirely theirs.

Because of the number of people involved and the number of different parts to the manuscript, it often seemed as much like a management project (herding cats comes to mind) as an editing project. Although in a former life I had worked for three years as an editor at the Indiana University Press, keeping track of the many stylistic issues that came up within the 61 essays was an enormous challenge. As with most ARLIS/NA projects, however, it was also extremely satisfying because of everyone’s desire to make it the best it could be. As eager as I am to get on with my more personal retirement projects, I am going to miss the daily e-mail and telephone contacts with everyone involved. Thanks, ARLIS members, for your tremendous support and enthusiasm over the past three years!

Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship, ed. Joan M. Benedetti. Foreword by Michael Brand. Introduction by Ann Abid. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2007. 336 pages. 8 ½ x 11”. Hardbound, $75. Paperbound, $45. If you order online, you will get 15% off.

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