Special Collections Forever

  • Posted on May 23, 2014 by

I have been interning with the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives since August 2013 as part of the IMLS grant-funded M-LEAD-II Project; a collaborative project between Pratt Institute-SILS, the Brooklyn Museum, the Frick Art Reference Library and The New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC). Following a collection plan, I have been carefully reviewing and cataloging art auction catalogs from the library’s permanent collection. Since September 2013, I have catalogued over 340 individual auction catalogs, many more than I originally anticipated completing! The internship culminated in an end-of-semester presentation and project for LIS 698: Seminar and Practicum, taught by Pratt SILS Dean, Tula Giannini. I want to share my experience and my Tumblr project: Special Collections Forever, which developed during my time at the Brooklyn Museum.

M-LEAD II intern Kim Loconto, pictured with auction catalog cart of newly accessible material.

M-LEAD II intern Kim Loconto, pictured with auction catalog cart of newly accessible material.

Cataloging auction catalogs over two semesters forced me to think about the discoverability of these resources. The majority of these auction catalogs were invisible to the general public before the start of this project. They remained uncatalogued, tucked away in the stacks, and therefore inaccessible. Auction catalogs are very important primary source materials that provide essential information on works of art, artists, and provenance. They generally include detailed illustrations or photographs, descriptions of a work of art, and in many cases price and buyer annotations that yield valuable provenance information. They make it possible to track works of art sold, show who collected works and why, and reveal the tastes and trends of a particular time period.

Cover of a Kende Gallery auction catalog, Japanese color prints, roll paintings, books, with objects sold by my alma mater, Pratt!

Cover of a Kende Gallery auction catalog, Japanese color prints, roll paintings, books, with objects sold by my alma mater, Pratt!

I started thinking about the role these catalogs play in the art world and decided to focus my practicum research on exploring more general special collections in cultural heritage institutions; proving that these treasures hold valuable information about our cultural evolution and if they are available, users will access them—enriching the researcher with valuable, unique information. Special collections, like the auction catalogs are unique items that play an integral role in preserving cultural heritage in modern societies. They enhance our knowledge of the past by preserving contemporary items for future posterity through rigorous collection. Many institutions have found that in order to stay relevant and maintain funding they must promote the uniqueness of their special collections, make them as accessible as possible, and keep up with changing trends in technology. Whereas many books and images in the public domain have been digitized and made available via the internet, the distinctive qualities and value of many institutions now lie within their physical special collections. Therefore, art libraries like at the Brooklyn Museum work to promote their collections in creative ways, while efficiently cataloging their holdings so the public is aware of availability.

This semester 30 works from the Brooklyn Museum: Libraries and Archives have been on display at the Japan Society in Points of Departure: Treasures of Japan from the Brooklyn Museum; including rare books, artist’s books, and expedition reports. The show runs through June 8th 2014. I used this exhibit as an opportunity to explore how institutions promote their collections through public display and exhibitions. Many of these items have never been exhibited outside of the Brooklyn Museum, or at all.

View of the Points of Departure exhibition space.

View of the Points of Departure exhibition space.

Serendipity brought these two institutions together this spring as the space surrounding the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives has been under major renovation since last Summer and the Japan Society had an opening in their exhibition schedule. When the renovation is complete, the Library will have a space outside its entrance dedicated to exhibition, and meanwhile Library staff is working closely with curators and designers to bring the collections together in a cohesive way. Through outreach, education, and promotion, these collections will gain the visibility they deserve, confirming their uniqueness and importance to our collected cultural history. I was honored to work on such an important project over the past year and look forward to tracking its progress in the coming year.

Kim Loconto, M-LEAD II Intern, Brooklyn Museum

Banner image: Partial view of the auction catalogs in our library stacks.

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