Difficulties of Cataloging Artists’ Books

I’m doing a few of my LIS projects on artists’ books, and I’m currently doing one on contemporary poetic objects by women, incorporating works from Hex Press, Dusie, recombinant dna press, Big Game Books, dos press, ellectrique press, and a few others.  I came to the world-famous poetry library today to do some research and try to find some materials that I know are in here.

Libraries like this one raise the question of whether it is more important to catalog things excessively well or to have very good librarians who know the collection.  Ideally, you’d have both.  The curator of the collection isn’t here today, so I can’t get him to bring me the uncataloged materials that I know are here.  There is, for instance, a certain box of tissue paper, feathers and sequins (no words) by Amelia Etlinger that I can’t get because it’s not cataloged.  I need the curator to be able to find this strange thing.  But I also need it to be cataloged so I can ask someone else to find it (in the closed stacks) if the curator isn’t here.

Other problems include: where do you put art objects when a library is designed for books that fit on shelves in neat square-like ways? How do you catalog objects that don’t have copyright pages or colophons?  Part of the responsibility lies with the publisher/artist– I have materials from my personal collection that I only know the publication data of because I know the artist personally and either know how the object came about or know how to contact the artist for the publication data.  How do you catalog asemic/post-literate objects (that is, books without words)?

It’s a little infuriating as a researcher and as a poet, because I can’t find what I need and that experience makes me realize that if researchers can’t find these works, they can’t do research on them.  That’s basically an entire subgenre that relies on relationships/viral marketing/etc. to “be known” (the same is true of little magazines, but these are easier to catalog/store most of the time).  This “oral tradition” underlying the textual is certainly interesting, but it also makes things unnecessarily difficult.

To wit: if you donate objects/materials to a library or if the library buys your work, please include as much data about the object as possible on a separate sheet of paper so that future researchers know what’s going on and can write about your work. Please put your name on your paper before you hand it in.


About Jessica Smith

This entry was posted in Contemporary Poetry, Librarianship, small press publishing, visual poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Difficulties of Cataloging Artists’ Books

  1. Tawrin bought inexpensive frames in which to hang books on his wall. The frames are such that the open easily so the book remains readable. In fact, he reads the hanging books more now that they’re on display in his consciousness.

    I’m copying him.

  2. Pingback: Creating a Thesaurus for Artists’ Books « subclass z

  3. Ellen Marie Bissert says:

    Last year I donated 80 plus poems by Amelia Etlinger to the Special Poetry Collection at University at Buffalo. UB already had several pieces. You might want to contact them about how to catalogue this art form. I spent a year or so developing notes around my collection. Amelia’s work is better known in Italy.

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