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Tuesday, August 9 • 1:45pm - 2:45pm
What Makes an Art Library an Art Library?

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Session sponsored by Notre Dame International

From 'Maps' to 'Labyrinths' of Knowledge: The Spatial Factor in Art Libraries
Jan Simane, Head of the Library, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck-Institute

The Right Space: 150 Years of Housing a National Gallery's Library and Archive Collection
Andrea Lydon, Head of Library, Archives, Web, National Gallery of Ireland

Moderated by Kathleen Solomon, Assistant Director, Getty Research Institute 

Simane, From 'Maps' to 'Labyrinths' of Knowledge: The Spatial Factor in Art Libraries

Libraries are places where the disposition of literature (and other material) together with the ergonomics of its consultation constitutes a specific spatial scenario. However, a library defines itself as a place through another—probably the most important—ontological category, and that is its ability to provide orientation and to support navigation in scientific work processes. This is true for open-shelves libraries with systematic placement of their holdings, and has an outstanding significance in the humanities where the availability of and comfortable accessibility to comprehensive book collections is the norm. Therefore, when we talk about libraries as places, we have to understand their historically conditioned spatial ‘didactics’ in order to get a clearer idea of possible future developments.

This paper will show how spatial concepts of art libraries have always been related to specific methodological and functional requirements and, in a second step, how the future can be imagined in view of substantial changes in publication formats and media. The starting point is a historical view of particular cases, focusing on the years around 1900 when both art history as a discipline and the art library as library typos were consolidated. Since the early modern period, the systematic order of libraries has mirrored microcosmically the current order of knowledge and the system of the sciences respectively. In the late nineteenth century, when more and more highly specialized sub-disciplines emerged, the related libraries, particularly in the humanities, became laboratories for specific research. If it is true that, with the systematic spatial order of the collections a corresponding ‘knowledge space’ is being incorporated into the real space, what will be the consequence when ‘physical’ libraries disappear? What does it mean for the library as place when more and more parts of the collection and related sources become ‘invisible’ and are stored outside the library building, in the ‘digital’ space? 

Lydon, The Right Space: 150 Years of Housing a National Gallery's Library and Archive Collection

The National Gallery of Ireland, the nation’s premier art institution, maintains a comprehensive collection of library and archive materials relating to the visual arts. Some 100,000 volumes and substantial archives are held in the main National Gallery of Ireland Art Library, the ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art, Yeats Archive, Institutional Archive, and the Sir Denis Mahon Library & Archive. This world-class art research collection plays an invaluable role in supporting the work of the Gallery and is regularly consulted by artists, scholars, dealers, collectors, and the general public. Surprisingly, for more than a century there has been no dedicated space for the Library and Archive collection. Today it is housed between three stores, three reading rooms, two processing areas, as well as staff offices. This paper considers both the positive and negative aspects of the arrangement that has evolved.

It has been a management challenge to develop new spaces, re-purpose areas never intended for library use, and upgrade facilities not fit for purpose. However, the challenge of dispersal has benefitted the public’s experience of the collection and has led staff to be more creative in how they introduce people to the collection. While the traditional research role remains a central focus, direct public engagement with the collection has become increasingly important.  Space limitations have resulted in the Gallery space itself being used to connect the public with the library and archives through exhibitions, tours, and lectures that now form a regular part of the institution’s main public engagement program. The paper concludes with details of the Gallery’s exciting future plans for the Library and Archive Collection, and the challenges the Gallery faces in finally realizing its ambitions to develop a large dedicated, secure and publicly accessible space that will be a fitting home for this remarkable collection.   


Kathleen Salomon

Assistant Director, Getty Research Institute


Tuesday August 9, 2016 1:45pm - 2:45pm

Attendees (27)