My project for this course is based on work from my previous position at George Mason University Libraries in my role as the Art & Art History Librarian. While in this position, I created and managed the artists’ books collection in the library. I chose this focus for my class project because I am continuing to work with colleagues at Mason and because I am starting a similar project in my current position as Arts & Architecture Librarian at University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
ABOUT THE COLLECTION
Artist books have been at the forefront of avant-garde movements in both art and literature. In the past few years, there has been growing interest among academic libraries in collecting this style of book in response to student and faculty research and teaching needs. The artists’ books collection at George Mason University Libraries began as a response to a curriculum-based need six years ago. Subject librarians discovered that artists’ books were being taught in art, English, and interdisciplinary classes. This teaching collection now holds close to 500 books.
Collection Development Policy
Library InfoGuide on Artists’ Books
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Due to the delicate nature of artists’ books, preservation often demands that they are stored in special environments not readily accessible. The George Mason Libraries have increased the visibility and accessibility of these items via online resources, outreach programming, and class instruction.
In order to expand further access and visibility, the library is now embarking on a digitization project which will eventually include the entire collection. For the pilot project, the library is focusing on books created by artists who are local (Washington, DC metro area) and/or regional (state of Virginia). There are approximately eighty-five books in this category.
Class note: For the purposes of the course HIST 680: An Introduction to Digital Humanities, I have narrowed my focus to artists working and focusing on the DC Metro Area. I am also focusing on a small sampling of these books.
- Students studying/creating artists’ books who want to visit the collection
- Book artists interested in seeing examples of work
- Librarians/archivists and museum professionals focused on artists’ books
- I chose the Omeka platform for my project because it allows me to combine metadata with visual elements like images and videos.
- In order to make the project more manageable, I limited the scope to artists’ books with a connection to the DC Metro Area. This geographical focus makes “place” an important part of the project. The geolocation pluging helps to convey this information.
- Since the collection is highly visual in nature, I wanted to keep the aesthetic simple so the focus would be on the images and video. In order to accomplish this goal, I chose the Minimalist theme.
- I considered using the VRA Core metadata schema because artists’ books can be seen as cultural objects. However, I decided that I could best describe the books in the way I wanted by using Dublin Core in conjunction with Item Type metadata. I created a new item type called Artists’ Books. This approach allowed me to take advantage of Dublin Core’s usability while also meeting the unique needs of artists’ books.
- Item type metadata is used to describe the materials and techniques used for each book. In order to accomplish this, each book is broken down into three parts: folio, binding, and enclosure.
- I used the Element Type plugin to make metadata entry easier and more efficient. For example, the genre category was limited to the following three options: Artists’ Books, Unique Books, Miniature Books.
- Additional plugins intended to increase ease and efficiency include the CSV Import and the Bulk Metadata Editor.
- I used the Getty Suggest and LC Suggest plugins to create consistent metadata for searching. I supplement these with tags.
- The plugins Search by Metadata and Facet by Metadata make the search process easier and more productive.
- These books are part of a teaching collection so viewers should be able to search by characteristics like materials and techniques.
- These plugins also increase access to items previously only seen after requesting them from closed Special Collections stacks.
- The Exhibit Builder plugin was used to focus on specific themes like miniature books, one-of-a-kind books, and specific artists.
- Each book is entered as a separate item. Even a collaborative book like District Almanac is listed as one book because each artist’s contribution has been sewn together into one object. All metadata, images, and video are combined in one entry. In contrast, books like Moving Parts are 10 miniature artists’ books that make up a larger artist’s book. For examples like this one, I will enter each book as a separate item and represent the larger item as a collection.
- Finally, the Simple Pages plugin allowed me to explain the artists’ books collection held in the library and the intentions of the digitization project.
- This project continues to be a work in progress.
1. Choosing platform:
I decided Omeka would work well for this project because it allows metadata to be combined with images and videos. When I was first thinking about digitizing the library’s artists’ books, it was easy to get stuck in this part of the decision-making process.
Mapping is an important part of my project because I am focusing on a specific region (the D.C. Metro Area). Although I tested outside tools like Storymap, I decided that using the geolocation plugin made the most sense. I had some difficulty getting the plugin to work properly, and I had to reinstall it several times through Reclaim Hosting. I downloaded the Neatline plugin as well but ultimately chose not to use it since I’m not working with a historical collection.
Creating the metadata was a definite obstacle. In the beginning, I struggled with how to best describe these complicated works. It is one of the reasons I have been struggling with this digitization process. Eventually, it occurred me to talk to actually artists! This led to breaking down the metadata into multiple parts: binding (technique and materials), folio (technique and materials), and enclosure (technique and materials). Thankfully, this class project has re-inspired me.
Before entering this information in Omeka, I started an Excel spreadsheet. I then converted it into a CSV file to upload it into Omeka. Unfortunately, my data wasn’t as “tidy” as I thought. I had to reconfigure the spreadsheet several times in order to get the plugin to accept the document. The downside is that the plugin doesn’t tell you what the error is that needs to be corrected. It took several tries to get it to work.
Working in Omeka, I originally planned to use the VRA Core plugin to describe the books since they are at objects. However after delving further into Omeka, I decided the best approach was to start with Dublin Core but include the extra information using the Item Type feature. I created a new item type called Artists’ Books. It allowed for additional information like place of publication and descriptions of the bindings, materials, and enclosures.
I had to force myself to maintain a consistent set of tags. The tags are meant to compliment the more formal language of the Dublin Core/item type entries. However, I experienced some glitches with the tagging so I decided to limit the tags to one per book.
I included a rights statement that the artists hold the copyright to the images which were primarily taken my Mason students and myself. I also entered this rights statement for the individual images and videos. I have a release form created for the larger project which be adapted for the class focus. In the meantime, I have included rights statements throughout the site.
Getting high-quality, accurate images of the artists’books has proven challenging. The books are very tactile in nature, and multiple images area needed to better understand them in a digital environment. The number of images was an issue brought up on the peer feedback so I tried to include more images. I tried to cite the creators of these images and subsequent videos as well. Eventually, I would like to create online 3-d models of some of the more sculptural books. However, it wasn’t feasible for this class project.
7. Testing out other DH tools
There are several visualization tools that I thought could help represent these unique books. I eventually decided that I should test a few of the options and include the results on the Omeka site. I tried tools used in class and some from previous workshops.
8. Choosing a theme
I deliberated about which theme to use since I wanted the focus to be primarily on the images. I eventually settled in the Minimalist theme, and after reading the peer feedback it looks like I accomplished this goal.
Photograph of Anne Smith (MFA 2015) documenting artists’ books from the GMU collection