Work Beyond the Reading Room

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If you are one of the patrons of the Amon Carter Museum Library, all that you might see is the reading room, and one of the fine library staff members helping you find what you need in the library. The reading room is a great space - quiet and welcoming – designed by architect Philip Johnson. At the east end are the periodicals which the Carter subscribes to, along the south wall are the major reference works in the library (catalogue raisonné, etc.) and the Bio Files. On the west wall are the study alcoves, and the north wall displays the collection of exhibition catalogs held at the Carter. It’s a wonderful space, and as I said, really the only space that most patrons of the library see. Behind the scenes, though, it’s a different world.

For example, how does the Carter decide what resources to add to the library’s large collection of over 100,000 items? What path do these items take from the bookseller to the stacks? What happens when a patron requests a book? What about interlibrary loans? Also, the library is just not books, periodicals, and ephemera. It is also a repository for some very important archives – such as the archives of Laura Gilpin, Eliot Porter, Karl Struss, and important records relating to the history of the museum itself. What of the archives, then?

My mind was filled with these questions when I began volunteering at the library here at the Carter. My name is Jason Dean, and I am a student at Syracuse University earning my Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. Before I started my library science program, I contacted the Carter library about providing me some practical library experience. So far, working at the Carter has provided me with a wealth of experiences and knowledge, some of which I would like to share with you – and I might even be able to answer some of those “How does it work” questions I posed above.

For my first post, allow me to give you a brief description of how the museum selects what resources are purchased and then added to the collection. There is a document that states a broad collection development policy. It's the tool that guides what the library collects. Though it offers some solid boundaries, it must also be flexible enough to accommodate new subject matter that may relate to new art entering the collection or special research projects. Any of the staff members (including curatorial staff) can propose the purchase of a book, but the final “veto” power rests with Sam, as he is the library director. Individual librarians have influenced the document as well, with their interests and their quest to expand the collection of the library in a meaningful way. These purchases can be sourced from any number of businesses, from ones we use every day – Amazon – to specialized rare book dealers. If an item falls within the areas outlined by the collection development policy, then the subject is researched to see if it will fit into the collection of resources we have here. If it does, then the item is purchased and integrated into the collection.

We also receive a great number of books which are gifts, or books that are sent in exchange by other museums. When the Carter exchanges books with another museum, generally we will send them exhibition catalogues they are interested in, and in exchange they will send us the books we want that the other museum has published. As I mentioned above, we have some very generous donors that give books outright to the library frequently. These gifts are recorded, and then they are researched to see if they fit into out collection.

Depending upon the size of the item purchased, it might simply go into the extensive bio files and skip the next step in the process altogether. However, if Sam, Jon, or Mary Jane think it best, the item will go on to the next step in the process.

What happens to the book next? Do we just put it on the shelf and leave it be? This question will be answered in the next post, which will take you through part of the behind the scenes area in the library. I hope you enjoyed this small look into the library, and I also hope you’ll keep checking “The N-Files” blog, as there is some great information about this wonderful library on the blog.


Jason Dean

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Fascinating post! I look forward to checking back to learn more.

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