When it rains, it pours- thoughts on architectural publishing and academic library collection development / Barbara Opar, Architecture Librarian, Syracuse University Libraries

  • Ever notice that when it rains, it pours? I sometimes think that when doing collection development for architecture. It seems that when a title comes out on a new topic or up and coming architect/firm, more titles quickly follow creating a dilemma for the librarian with limited funds. For the most part, the addition of new materials on current architects is welcome. The Dean here recently asked me to locate as much information as I could on Snohetta AS. While the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals identifies articles back to 1996, the first actual monograph was just published in August of 2015, making it a necessary addition to our collection even without the specific request. Big, Hot to Cold: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation was another 2015 publication, with a different focus than the few other publications on BIG. Bjarke Ingels has lectured here at Syracuse several times so again this was a welcome publication. As well, 2015 saw a limited number of important new works on Louis I. Kahn– one dealing his teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, another capturing interviews with Heinrich Klotz over a few years and another detailing Kahn’s use of concrete. Each of the books adds new insight into the legacy of this iconic architect, whose work is still studied here today. Though the 2015 book on Kahn’s use of concrete appeared after another book on the same topic had just been published in 2014.

So perhaps it is not that difficult for the architecture librarian to determine what is needed for

his/her collection in terms of the work of important architects, past and present. When faced with determining which if any new titles on new or key architects should be added to holdings, basic collection development protocols can be employed[1]. Questions to ask oneself include usage statistics on existing content on the architect/firm, range of work covered, graphic quality and content, and/or the addition of a critical essay or analysis. Is the firm’s work likely to be used for precedent research which might be asked of freshman students and result in heavy use over a short period of time? Will thesis students be drawn to the work and need to make longer term use of the title? Will faculty want to show the work in class? For instance Lewis.Tsurumaki. Lewis; Opportunisitic Architecture is frequently used by faculty to show graphic layout rather than actual projects by LTL.

Selecting new architectural history or theory books presents other challenges. Both of these types of books often appear on reading lists, if not reserve lists. Many become course textbooks. Here selection issues include the format. Should one consider electronic versions or print? E-books here have not gained much ground as certain vendors limit printing and many students and faculty like to go back and forth between chapters. The prestige of the author and/or editor is an important consideration. What is different about the book versus another one on post-modernism? Are the images used in the history titles different than those in other similar works? With respect to theory, is the book the writings of one theorist or compilation/excerpts of well- known texts? Is there a strong introductory chapter? Does it provide value added?

Selection of titles for the field of architectural technology involves some of the same decisions/analysis noted elsewhere. Here though the level/language of the text and currency are the major considerations. All architecture students are not able to deal with high-level engineering terminology. Is the information dated? Solar energy titles from the late 1970s remain relevant. Is there new information not contained in other works?

This brings me back to my original comment about the number and redundancy of architecture books sometimes coming out in the same year/time frame on a topic. The area most problematic from my point of view is a subfield of architectural technology—that of sustainable architecture. The term is broad – means a lot, means nothing- and every year hundreds of titles are published with this keyword. While certain titles focus on a specific building type such as residential design, others are not as easily defined. One must then use some of the standard collection development criteria to place limits. But since the librarian is often selecting new materials sight unseen, deciding on books for this arena can prove to be time consuming to say the least. Publisher descriptions and Amazon blurbs do help.

However, when it rains it does pour in this field. Someday this could all change. The number of titles coming out year after year may decrease. But for now I am grateful that for some other aspects of architecture, collection development it is more straightforward and needs determined more quickly and with less effort.

[1] Opar, Barbara. “Collection Development in Architecture: A View from the Field.” Library Collection Development for Professional Programs: Trends and Best Practices. By Sara Holder. Hershey, PA: IGI Global/ Information Science Reference, 2012. 390-422. Print. (Book Chapter)


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