ARLIS/NA Collection Development SIG Blog

For ARLIS/NA members interested in collection development issues.

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Why Didn’t I Buy That or Other Woes on Collection Building? / Barbara Opar

While working on another project, I found myself reading an article entitled: Why Did We Buy That? New Customers and Changing Directions in Collection Development.  Kay Downey’s article discusses how Kent State began directing its collection policies to better align with the University’s mission of student retention, higher graduation rates, increased international enrollment, and enhanced recruitment.[1]

My thoughts turned in another direction. Though a strong part of my concern does focus on globalization. Rather I started to think: Why didn’t I buy that? This concern relates to now seeking to purchase titles that were ‘missed’ for various reasons twenty or thirty years ago and if found now paying triple their initial cost. As well, I fret over past students missing out on key information.

Over the course of my long career I have certainly sighed a few times over purchases made. A then $75.00 book did not appear well written, had poor quality illustrations and did not meet library binding standards. Other times, I would read a review of a newly purchased title that indicated poor scholarship on the part of the author or found another new book on the same architect that would have been a better selection. I remember being excited about a book on factory towns to later find that it had a very different focus and did not concern company built communities or workers’ housing at all. The Libraries once bought a French romance writer on my recommendation instead of the critic we thought we were buying. That item went to our book sale! (Certainly mistakes like that are less common in the online environment.)

These examples stick out in my mind, but I am sure that faculty have wondered from time to time about specific acquisitions or students wondered why we bought such a specialized title in Japanese on ancient building techniques in that country.

Libraries themselves often now allow approval plans to include titles that a selector may not have wanted, determining that it is more expensive to make the exclusion.

Still I find myself more concerned over missed opportunities. We are now trying to buy materials on Demas Nwoko, a Nigerian architect. Two faculty members want the book(s)- one tenured and researching this architect specifically; another tenure track faculty looking more broadly for African material. We are also seeking to expand holdings about other regional architects such as Dimitris Pikionis. Again, when we do locate such books, the cost is very high—ca. $750.00 for what was probably a $35.00 title at the point of publication.

So how can we avoid such mistakes? We probably can’t in totality. But when a name pops on a book dealer’s list that I don’t know, I more actively try to access the value of having this title. Even when I can’t justify buying it now, I at least make note of it. The faculty member wishing to update and expand our holdings on regional modernism prepared a list of architects’ names for me. So when I see low cost titles about these architects, I can make purchases. I am signing  up for more mailings. Yes, all those catalogs we got and discarded were problematic. But lack of information can be as well. Emails do not take up that much storage.

What about ‘weeding? When I was first hired, the then dean of Architecture suggested we did not need Edifices de Rome Moderne. Several years later, his replacement has excited to handle this title, which luckily I had kept. We also kept books by Royal Barry Wills, certainly out of fashion in the mid- 1970s, but now being used by another new faculty member exploring mid- century house types.

No- we cannot buy or keep everything. I admit I error on the side of keeping rather than discarding titles. I try to do a little research when necessary and seek faculty advice. Most libraries now have off site storage facilities. We do not want to fill them with titles likely to never be used. But when making choices, I would keep a work by or about an architect rather than old directories- which I think less likely to be routinely used and sought by the researcher with a long term project.

Every library, institution and user group is different. But taking a little time to find out about an architect or topic or seeking advice about potential discards may help with collection building. We all want to build the best collections we can. Being a little more intentional will help.

[1] Kay Downey (2013) Why Did We Buy That? New Customers and Changing Directions in Collection Development, Collection Management, 38:2, 90-103, DOI: 10.1080/01462679.2013.763741


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Special Offer: The Drawings of Abraham Bloemaert: Supplement by Jaap Bolten

bloemaert — Master Drawings —
Volume 55, Number 1
March 2017
The Drawings of Abraham Bloemaert: Supplement
by Jaap Bolten

$35 with free shipping
Offer valid until 15 January 2017*


The issue is a supplement to the author’s 2007 catalogue raisonné of Bloemaert’s drawings.

Order at

*Thereafter $45 plus postage

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Focus on Rare Books at the PMA / Mary Wassermann

Librarians at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Library and Archives have had the pleasure of significantly enriching our rare holdings in recent years. These efforts dovetail with the museum’s larger goals to foster connections between its diverse collections and to encourage greater audience engagement with all of the museum’s offerings.

Here are some notable acquisitions for your enjoyment!wassermann-line-marble-2Books and archival materials related to the Philadelphia 1876 Centennial Exhibition are a strong collecting focus, as the Philadelphia Museum of Art has its origins with the Centennial. This small French work presents book bindings from around the world that were displayed at the exhibition. Of special interest are frank assessments, by Victor Wynants, of the bindings (i.e. “null”), and listings of materials, prices and techniques based on questionnaires.

Illustration from Délégation des ouvrièrs relieurs à l’Exposition universelle (1876: Philadelphie). Preface by V. Wynants. Paris: Se vend chez tons les libraires, 1879.

2 preliminary leaves, 245 pages, 2 plates; 18 cm.

Gift of Faith and Fine Arts in memory of Thomas J. Myer, Jr.


wassermann-line-marble-2This pamphlet, The Century Vase, by the Gorham Silversmiths Company, describes the famous commemorative “Century Vase” that was the centerpiece of Gorham’s exhibit at the Philadelphia 1876 Centennial Exposition. The vase was more than four feet tall, weighed 125 pounds, and was also displayed in later international exhibitions. Unfortunately it was melted down by Gorham in the 1930s.


Front cover of The Century Vase, sterling silver, by the Gorham Company. [Seattle, Wash.: Albert Hansen, 1909]. 1 volume (unpaged): illustrations; 16 cm

The Arcadia Library Endowment Fund.




Issues of Comoedia Illustré and other materials related to the Ballets Russes were recently acquired and supplement existing holdings. Given the museum’s strong focus on 20th-century modernism, of special interest is a 1923 program with cover design and illustrations throughout by Picasso.



Frontispiece illustration by Pablo Picasso of Saison de Ballets Classiques par la Troupe de Ballets Russes de Serge de Diaghilev du 25 Novembre au 31 Décembre 1923: Théâtre de Monte-Carlo.  Paris: M. de Brunoff, 1923.

In memory of Barbara H. Winner. She loved books.


wassermann-line-marble-2The Library has historically worked with curatorial departments to acquire rare titles and even more so lately. The following two works of Italian designs, one for majolica and the other for textile patterns, are two excellent examples of such collaborations.

The first is an 18th-century manuscript that includes watercolors with designs and illustrations of apothecary jars and other forms typical of majolica. One illustration in particular is very similar to a ceramic plate owned by the museum and made by the Levantino family of Albissola.

wassermann-design-for-ceramic-plate-from-album-of-designs-for-ligurian-majolicaDesign for ceramic plate from Album of designs for Ligurian majolica. [1790?].

39 leaves; watercolor drawings; 41.6 x 26.8 cm. Album of fine watercolor drawings depicting majolica pieces associated with the late 18th century ceramics industry based in Savona and Albissola, Liguria.

Purchased with the Margery P. and B. Herbert Lee Fund for Library Acquisitions, and proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned works of art, and other Museum funds, 2016

wassermann-this-ceramic-plate-is-an-early-museum-acquisition-and-shows-a-similar-figure-and-leaf-formsThis ceramic plate is an early museum acquisition and shows a similar figure and leaf forms as illustrated in the library’s newly acquired Album of designs for Ligurian Majolica.
Dish. Made by the Levantino family of Albissola, Savona, Italy
Mid-18th century / Tin-enameled earthenware (faience), 2.5 × 17.8 × 17.8 cm / Bequest of Mrs. Frederic Graff, 1897 /               1897-883

wassermann-line-marble-2This Italian 19th-century textile printer’s sample book has vibrant woodblock images. Each design has tags with a reference number and occasional notations. Some patterns were likely meant for shawls, and others happen to be quite contemporary looking. With further research, we hope to uncover more details about this intriguing work.



Pages showing patterns, from Scialli e vesti con fazzoletti. [1835?].
144 leaves: 147 woodblock-printed designs; 31 x 21 cm.
An Italian textile printer’s sample book of sophisticated designs for cloth printing, produced circa 1835.
Purchased with the Margery P. and B. Herbert Lee Fund for Library Acquisitions and proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned works of art, 2016


Mary Wassermann
Librarian for Collection Development and Management
Philadelphia Museum of Art
PO Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA 19101-7646

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Curated Donation from Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner increases Brooklyn Museum Libraries’ Holdings on Contemporary and Modern Art / Giana Ricci

This past summer the Brooklyn Museum Libraries received the latest installment of an ongoing major donation from renowned art collectors Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner. As the 2016-2018 NYARC Kress Fellow, I was given the exciting task of accessioning, cataloging, and documenting this fascinating collection that predominantly pertains to modern and contemporary art from around the world. Spending time with each book and assessing its research topics has allowed me to create rich and accurate catalog records that reflect the importance of each contribution to our collection. While assigning call numbers for each item, I am able to understand how this donation is enriching our collection and where each book belongs within the scope of our entire library. Additionally, each record includes a credit line “From the Library of Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner” to match the bookplate designed by the donors. Westreich and Wagner started to give part of their private library to the Brooklyn Museum in 2009 and since then over a thousand items have been cataloged ranging from artists books to exhibition catalogs to monographs. By adding specific information to our records listing Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner as former owners, we allow researchers to easily discover which books once belonged to the donors and are now part of the Brooklyn Museum Libraries.

Many of the books are brand new, such as Body of Art edited by Diane Fortenberry and Rebecca Morrill and published by Phaidon in 2015. Glossy clean pages filled with large color photographs make for a beautiful display piece that also provides a fresh outlook on a heavily researched subject. Other books are older and less common, such as Early Color Photography by Sylvain Roumette and Michael Frizot, the first American edition published by Pantheon Books in 1986, which is now the only copy available in all three NYARC libraries. The acceptance of the Westreich/Wagner donation will allow the Brooklyn Museum Library to support a wider range of research in the field of modern and contemporary art. It can often be hard to supplement a collection through purchases alone. To have a curated collection of books gathered by two extremely knowledgeable and trustworthy art collectors, drastically reduces the amount of resources needed for collection development in this area. The opportunity to interact with this diverse collection has provided me with a chance to not only develop cataloging skills but also to gain a better understanding of the intricacies involved with collection development.

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CONSERVATION ENCLOSURES WORKSHOP at the Center for Book Arts / Maria Pisano.

Center for Book Arts – May 21-22, 2016 – 10am-4pm

Protective enclosures are made to support and protect your books from environmental damages.  Additionally for the artist they can also serve as an extension of their book to enhance their presentation and provide an additional surface where one can customize the box to reflect the contents.

Learn to make three simple archival enclosures that enable you to store your books in a acid free protective environment. We will make the archival phase box enclosure used by the Library of Congress, as an alternative to the clamshell box and in addition a case wrapper with hard covers and a self-closing wrapper. If time permits, we will also create storage for a pamphlet. The class will cover do’s and don’ts in conservation enclosures and materials, show examples of damages from bad conservation practices along with learning to measure for custom fit, creating jigs, adhesives, and other helpful hints. For the book artist, librarian and collector. No experience necessary, just come with your books.

Most materials are included in the price; students will need a basic bookbinding kit. See CBA site for more details.

Ms. Pisano, who will teach this workshop is an adjunct professor, teaching papermaking, printing, bookbinding and conservation. Additionally she presents workshops at venues such as The Center for Book Arts in New York, Professione Libro in Italy, The Morgan Conservatory and at her studio. Please refer to the <> for more information on her teaching experience.

Pisano_3Boxes            Pisano_4Boxes(1)

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Artists Files – Collection Development Committee blog submission / Suzy Frechette, St. Louis Public Library

An important part of many art libraries is the local Artists File Collection. In my case, our St. Louis area artists clipping file collection was started soon after the 1912 Central Library building was completed. Today, it includes over 3000 artists and organizations– everything from a blurb in a City Directory to extensive multi-envelope files containing clippings, fliers, exhibition lists, personal correspondence, questionnaires, and more. This collection has been developed by many dedicated staff members for over a century, but it is possible to create a successful local artists file collection today, given the right inspiration, institutional support, and dedication.

My case in point is the Artists File Initiative (AFI) at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. The head librarian there, Marilyn Carbonell, was inspired to create a KC-area file in 2013 during an event at the museum attended by many local artists. She realized that here was a large source of information about art—information that would be valuable to future researchers and collectors—that was going untapped. She developed a plan to address this and received approval from her administration to proceed. She consulted museum staff, local galleries, and art organizations, identifying an initial core of artists to get started. Artists were contacted and asked to submit materials for their files, more contacts were made, and the project took off. Marilyn and other library staffers offer information programs and visit galleries and shows, distributing a specially designed AFI calling card with their contact information. By this winter, over 80 of the 250 originally identified artists had donated materials and information. The individual files are stored in folders or boxes and cataloged at a hybrid manuscript-level in WorldCat, and can be searched in the library’s catalog, accessible through the Nelson’s website.

This project has been a big hit in the Kansas City arts community. One gallery owner says it is “an overdue miracle that will have positive effects on the artist community for decades to come” [KC Studio, March/April 2016].

Marilyn is preparing an extensive paper for Art Documentation about the AFI that should be published in 2017. I’m sure she would be glad to answer any questions before that, however, at

I see the challenges to this project as being, “How to maintain physical files in an increasingly digital world?” and “What if people start asking about historical, non-living artists?”  But those are questions for another post!