Special Libraries come in all shapes, disciplines and sizes, and can be driven by whatever is required to support the host institution. This especially hearkens true at the Reed Collection Study Center in the Henry Art Gallery. I have a background in art but it had never occurred to me to collect based solely on the objects a museum owns, and yet it makes so much sense.
I was given a tour and discussed the collection with Rachael Faust who is the Assistant Curator of Collections and Academic Programs at the Henry and in charge of the Reed Collection Study Center. It is primarily a study center, not a library, since the collection of books and files exists only to support the objects owned by the Henry. Over the years the Henry has acquired more than 25,000 objects with a wide range of textiles, photographs paintings, sculptures and more. They support that collection with 5,000 books pertaining to those objects.
When I entered the Study Center there were several photos displayed from a previous appointment. One of which was a Cindy Sherman photograph which Rachael had pulled three books about. It was wonderful to see how experiencing artwork could be enhanced with the ability to also read about it. This, I am sure, is especially helpful for researchers. In addition to the books they have the center also has computers and databases for research and files about all the artists in their collection. The files contain a variety of flat objects about the artist that are collected through donation and research. If an item is donated with the printed invitation to the opening where it was purchased that document is filed in the Study Center.
One of the things that really stuck me about the collection was how time consuming it must be. Rachael seemed to truly love her job; I can’t imagine how wonderful it would be for an art aficionado to interact with all those objects on a daily basis. But, each item must be handled specially. Perhaps photography will be easy to store and share and digitize, but what about a tie that has been turned into a book? She must be present when any item is taken out for users to view. She does all outreach and manages the Study Center’s online collection. When she began the Henry it was toward the end of a big digitization project which produced a wonderful catalog (linked below). One of the things I love about working in small library is that I can take pride in everything that goes on because I am directly responsible for all of it. Even when a task is executed well by the people I supervise I know it is in part because I have trained them well and provided them with the tools necessary to complete the tasks.
The Reed Study Center is an amazing example of the service a special library can provide. The take away I got from this that could apply to the Audubon is:
- An excellent way to highlight the library is to make displays with objects. The Audubon Center displays objects, branches, wings, birds, certain days. It would be very easy to add a book about that bird, or branch to the display.
- The goals of a special library is not necessarily numbers, you don’t need high circulation or visit counts as long as the patrons you have are able to get the most out of their experience.
- Sometimes, it’s not about the books. It is about supplementing/enhancing the organizations mission.
This was a very informative visit that will have a beneficial influence on our project and also how I think about Special Libraries. Many thank to Rachel Faust and the Henry Art Gallery.