Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Boldly Going Where Not That Many People Have Gone Before

Over the past week or so, I have been researching at length digitized collections of artists' books available online. The upshot is that there aren't that many and, sadly, there are fewer that do it well ("well" meaning that the collections are easily navigable, the images are high-quality, the descriptions are consistent, etc.).

This morning, I sent a few representative samples to Caryn Radick, who was kind enough to invite me to her class yesterday on EAD. I'll share a bit about that later. But, for now, here are the examples I sent her:

  1. The Artist's Books Online site is a compendium of artists' books organized by title, artist, publication date (a misnomer, really it should be "creation date" in most cases), and by collection. What I like most about this collection is that in the individual records, users can see the metadata organized into nice chunks. Here's an example of a record: that shows what I mean. Data such as "reception history" is particularly interesting and unique. I haven't yet seen that elsewhere. Finally, probably the most useful for our project is the FAQs, where the site has all kinds of helpful info on the DTD, tags, etc.
  2. The University of Wisconsin Digital Collection Artists' Book Collection ( is a nice example of what can be done with the images to make them more accessible to users. However, the sizes of the images aren't listed. It's also inconsistent in terms of its metadata. But, it does give us interesting things to consider. Once you get into the collection, the navigation is somewhat improved, but I wouldn’t want to have folks stumble around so much right off the bat.
  3. One of the oldest and largest collections of artists' books in the United states is at the Otis College of Art and Design ( I really don’t like their nested scrolling, but I do like how they incorporated a way to manipulate the image to see it better or from different angles. They are the only place I’ve seen to do that for artists' books, but I have seen the interface used at other digital archives to achieve the same goals. They, on the other hand, implemented it correctly, hence no annoying nested scrolling.
  4. The State Library of Queensland, Australia provides the best intro page I've seen: While we wouldn’t need all of those links, this page is a great example of how to show users an easy way to find out more about the collection. This type of design will be especially helpful when the remaining artists books are added to our collection. Another page I really like is this one: It allows searchers to search by the type or theme of the work. It would also provide us a way to showcase N.J. artists. I’m not saying we would need a separate page for this, but we need to consider how people will search for these items. In individual records, I like that they include a "Conditions of Use" line. This feature makes it easy for users to find this important information for each item.
  5. The Victoria and Albert Museum ( has displayed a limited number of items in its artists' book collection. Their records are pretty elemental – simple, yet informative. The photo info is good as well because it tells users how to correctly caption photos should they obey the copyright and use an image, but (like most of the others) no image size is included. On individual record pages, at the bottom, it just says “Other Images of this Object” so it will excuse objects that only have one image.That will work well for us. One other thing I don't like is how the text flows around the image in some cases. It looks sloppy.

Overall, I was surprised to see how low the quality of the images were. I'm hoping that ours will surpass these. I have been opening them all to see their sizes and have found some to be quite satisfactory (although some will be unusable.

Regarding yesterday's EAD class, I wish I had thought to ask a few questions in advance, but I didn't. Chalk it up to a learning experience. Questions I wish I had asked:
  1. What is the name of this course?
  2. Can I please have a list of the links to the reading materials provided online?
  3. Who are the other students in the course (there were only 8 students in the class last night)?
  4. Where does the lesson on EAD fit with the rest of the course materials? (I.e., may I have copy of the syllabus?)
  5. What is the full name of the other person teaching the course (he introduced himself as "Tom")?
Otherwise, I was surprised to find that after doing only the cursory reading I've done on the topic, I was able to follow along. I'm still a bit lost as to how it fits in with the rest of the software and programming for an online library, but I'm sure that will come with time.

Caryn mentioned that it's unusual for folks to take the course without first having taken the archives course, but it's only given in the spring at Rutgers, so I have to wait for it.

The class seemed to be focused on finding aids, so that fit in nicely with what Caryn, Michael, and I will discuss on Thursday. The most useful part of the class was when she walked us through the code of the finding aid alongside the end version (which she called the html version, although we didn't see the code, we just saw the browser output). She also showed a finding aid the library had done that included some images and was trying to learn how to produce something like it for our project.

I hope that some of the items I sent her (above) will help her.

Last but not least, I'm trying a new way of handling references online using Zotero. It's a work in progress, but getting closer.

Artists' books (State Library of Queensland). (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2009, from
Artists' Books Collection - Otis College of Art and Design. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2009, from
Artists' Books in the Collection - Victoria and Albert Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2009, from
Artists' Books Online. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2009, from
University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Artists' Book Collection. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2009, from

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Metadata and Consistency

Earlier today, Michael Joseph and I discussed cataloging and metadata for the collection of Suellen Glashausser artists' books. The discussion was inspired by my recent discovery of the online artist's book collection at the University of Wisconsin. I had performed a Google search on the keywords "digitizing artists books" and found some nice examples, but this collection appeared to be the best digital representation of the group. When I emailed Michael about it, I had suggested using it as a formatting template.

The way the books are displayed is very useful. The collection offers a variety of different views and image sizes, although the sizes aren't labeled. We started looking deeply at the metadata provided for a few of the books and found that the information provided was not consistent. Because this became immediately apparent after viewing the first three books in the collection, we began discussing exactly what we wanted to do about form and genre, as well as subjects within the metadata of our collection.

We wondered what the controlling agent was for the controlled vocabulary at the University of Wisconsin. Is there an "approved list" of metadata terms? Will we need to become indexers as well as catalogers in this process? I made a note to email the UW folks to ask them those questions directly.

Other topics we discussed at length included the following:

Form and genre: this would be one line in our system because there is such a blurring of the lines that takes place in artists' books that it would be best to just approach them both at the same time. Some examples of terms for that field would be "artists' books," "altered books," and "flexagon."

We also looked at one of the already-existing catalog records in IRIS for artists' books. To our dismay, however, many of the records were for books that we wouldn't classify as artists' books. Michael was able to find one for an artists' book in our collection that showed we need to include more information, particularly descriptive information rather than just what was included in IRIS. Additionally, I noted something helpful for another project I'm working on -- a proposed redesign of IRIS. We tried to follow a link to a cross reference named "cataloging of artists books" which did not reveal anything. Users also cannot search on either form or genre within IRIS.

I still have to sort out the images for our collection, because I discovered (via Michael's direction) that there is another folder of accompanying images that are superior in quality to the previous set of photos I had viewed.

It might be a good idea to start forming a project plan at this point.


University of Wisconsin Digital Collections. (2009). Artists' book collection. Retrieved from

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Deliverables Update

As I mentioned in my last post, while the overall shape of the project really hasn't changed, some of the deliverables will, if only slightly. This morning, I spoke with Stew about the project to check in and let him know how it's going. I mentioned that while there were many photographs of the artwork, some would be unusable for the ultimate goal of producing finding aids with photos of the works.

A limitation for me personally is that I am not a professional photographer with professional cameras, lights, etc. Otherwise, I would do my level best to replace some of the photos with ones that could be used in a professional archive. The rooms in the Special Collections area are not suitable for this type of work due to the fluorescent lighting. However, much of the Alexander Library is an atrium, with lovely natural lighting.

While we were chatting, I remembered that at the Zimmerli museum, a photographer was hired to come when new works were to be displayed or added to the collection. I wondered aloud to Stew if I ought to suggest teaming with the Zimmerli or obtaining the photographer's contact information to get a quote for photographing the artists' books collection in a professional environment. He thought it was a good suggestion. I will mention it to Michael Joseph later today.

If it turns out that there is no budget for the photographer, at Stew's suggestion, I'll document the photographs that need replacement for a time when funding does appear.

In the meantime, in the Suellen Glashausser artists' books' descriptions, I can note where new photos need to be provided.

With regard to some of the conservation challenges, I contacted a high school chum who works at the Metropolitan Museum to pick her brain. She was enormously helpful and suggested contacting a friend of hers who is a book conservator at the National Archives. I am enormously grateful to be able to gain new knowledge on the topic as well as professional contacts in the field. It seems that each challenge seems to come with its own gifts.

Last week, I also had the good fortune to meet with Caryn Radick, a processing archivist at Alexander Library's Special Collections. She is an EAD specialist, and spoke to Michael and me about how to use the digital archiving structure to produce finding aids. One of the things we will have to do is to plan where we can store the works because that cataloging information will be an important part of the finding aid. A typical way of doing that would be to label the boxes once we have had boxes made for the books by the conservation department.

Caryn asked me to provide her a sample of some of the entries I have already produced in order to best compose a structure for us to use. I emailed them to her on Friday, but have not yet heard back. I might stop into her office on Thursday, and ask if there is anything further I could provide to her.

Finally, one of the outstanding questions in my mind (especially due to my online courses this semester on digital libraries and such) is where we stand with copyrights. Do we have permissions to publish photos of the artists' works? Will our material be copyrighted? Do we need to provide usage notes or does Rutgers already have that covered? Does the library have its own policy? I posed these questions to Michael Joseph, and we will most likely discuss them further on Thursday.

Today, working from home due to big, costly car problems, I will be resizing and examining all the photos that Michael provided of a past Suellen Glashausser artists' books exhibit. I'm a novice Photoshop Elements user, but it's high time I learned how to use the program. I love technology and learning new things, so it should be fun. The object will be to match the images to the descriptions I have been working on during the past week.

Friday, September 11, 2009

First Day

Tuesday was my first day working with Michael Joseph at the Alexander Library. The Special Collections department is located in the basement, and his office is a long, interior room with no windows and lots of antique books. And artwork.

As we sat in his office discussing how the day would progress, I learned that Michael is putting together a journal about Suellen Glashausser's work. As a foray into my independent study work, Michael asked me to immerse myself in her artists' books (all 60 or so of them) in the Special Collections. Glashausser's books make up the lion's share of the artists' book collection, so it only made sense for me to spend some time with them.

Michael also asked me to reconcile the collection with the accompanying list and descriptions he has of Glasshauser's books. He is concerned that some may not be co-located with the rest of the easily accessible books he keeps in his office.

The other important factor was the need to work with the Libraries' conservators in order to conserve and preserve the books. Some have already been housed in acid-free boxes, but the vast majority are unprotected. Yesterday, during my visit with the books at a long wooden table in the Special Collections reading room, I also discovered that several works (the Garden series) were experiencing acrylic paint flaking from their glassine bodies. This worried me immensely, and I was glad to speak directly with the conservators about my concerns. Tim, the conservator who stepped up to handle my concerns, seemed like he would address them well, and I will see him again on Thursday to pick up some boxes to house the other works.

As I said to Michael, I'm very glad that my summer internship at the Zimmerli Museum gave me so many opportunities to learn about art handling and storage (and a small amount of preservation and conservation). It definitely prepared me for working with the artists' books in a sensitive way.

A few things that I also learned relate directly to the deliverables of this project. Michael let me know that descriptions and photographs of the artists' books already exist. However, after working with the descriptions to match them to the artists' books I viewed yesterday, I can see that in order to create adequate and consistent metadata, I will need to spend some time with each of the descriptions.

Speaking of metadata, tomorrow, Michael and I will meet with an expert on EAD, a markup language for archival materials. I'm very much looking forward to this meeting and will try to prepare by reading up on the topic.

Overall, I very much enjoyed my first day and am looking forward to the next for a handful of reasons:
1. Michael Joseph is an engaging teacher and a font of interesting information.
2. Many of Glashausser's books are lively, colorful, and exiting pieces that I feel honored to have the opportunity to experience in such a tactile way.
3. The Special Collections have a completely different feeling than the rest of the Alexander Library. Despite the fact that it's hidden in the basement, away from the atrium feel of most of the rest of the newer parts of the building, it is a welcoming place. In fact, I was warmly welcomed by Weatherly from my Art Librarianship course over the summer, who was working at the front desk.


EAD – Encoded Archival Description. (2009). In Metadata reference guide. Retrieved September 9, 2009, from

Education and the book arts in New Jersey, or, preaching what we practice (n.d). Retrieved September 9, 2009, from http://www.libraries.