Michigan State University

Collection Development Policy Statement: Fine Arts Library Art Collection

Purpose or Scope of the Collection

A. Definition

Definitions for artists' books are as varied as the objects themselves. In simple terms, artists' books are books created by artists, where the artist has total control over every aspect of the creative process. Artists' books differ from livre d'artiste in that the livre d'artiste are books illustrated with original artwork. Artists' books can take any format, from a traditional codex to a tunnel book. The history of artists' books can be traced to the Sixties, when artists began making multiple copies of cheaply produced work in order to disseminate and democratize their art. Generally speaking, artists' books continue to be made in limited editions. Artists' books offer a non-traditional yet innovative approach to the relationship between book and reader.

B. Curricular/Research/Collection Needs

The artists' books collection serves several purposes by

  1. supporting the curricular needs of the Department of Art and the research needs of undergraduate and graduate students and faculty in that department, in particular, those active in the book arts,
  2. supporting the research needs of the community at a land-grant institution,
  3. enhancing the collection of both the Fine Arts Library and the Special Collections unit of the Michigan State University Libraries, and
  4. supporting the programmatic needs of the Kresge Art Museum. Curriculum, research and programs in the Art Department go beyond the traditional media in art, an important factor to consider in collecting artists' books. MSU currently offers Bachelors and Masters degrees in Studio Art and Art History.

C.  History of the Collection/Existing Strengths and Emphases

The artists' books collection is small but current holdings are strong. The collection includes both nationally known and local artists' works. Women artists and Cuban artists are particularly well represented. As these are items that require special housing and preservation, they are kept in Special Collections. Materials about artists' books are kept in the Fine Arts Library.

Factors Influency Collection Policy

A. Anticipated future trends

Current trends include course work in the book arts taught by Studio Faculty in alternating Spring semesters. Artists' book exhibits are becoming increasingly popular and prevalent on local, regional and national level.

B. Scope

A variety of formats will be collected, in order to provide representative examples of all types of artists' books. Students and faculty would benefit from a wide variety, and the collection will be more typical of other artists' books collections if a number of formats are acquired. At this time, virtual artists' books will not be included in the collection, but requests for this type of book will be taken into consideration. Because of availability, an emphasis will be placed on regional and national artists rather than international. Foreign language books will not be actively collected but may be included. There is no restriction on dates of publication for artists' books, although retrospective collecting may be constrained by budget limitations.

C. Acquisition

Both the Art Librarian and the Special Collections Librarian will select items in the collection. Artists' books will be purchased 1) directly from the artist, 2) from artists' books dealers or distributors, such as Printed Matter, Art Metropole, Women's Studio Workshop, or Califia Books, and/or 3) through galleries or dealers at exhibitions. Donations of books will be accepted and sought out, if feasible.

Collection Management Issues

A. Housing

Due to the variety of formats and unique nature of each item, the artists’ books collection will be housed in Special Collections.  This will ensure optimal conditions for the preservation and security of the collection.  If the artist does not provide a protective enclosure for his or her work, the Libraries’ conservation librarian will be consulted.  Special enclosures, ranging from archival envelopes to custom-made boxes will be necessary to protect the items.  Artists’ books must not be labeled or marked in any manner, as this would result in an alteration of the artist’s work and a reduction in the value of the item. 

B. Access

Staff in the Special Collections unit will perform cataloging of the items in the collection.  Consultation with the Art Librarian may be necessary to ensure that as much information as possible is included in the online record.  Consistent application of LC call numbers (N7433.3…, N7433.4…), subject headings (Artists Books) and a concise description of the item’s format in a 500 field note are of particular importance. 

Library patrons will be able to access the collection’s records through the MSU Libraries' online catalog.  Use of the items will follow the same guidelines as use of other materials in Special Collections.  Items will be accessed only in Special Collections unless needed for display in the library or instruction by the Art Librarian. 

In the future, additional finding aids are recommended.  As they are visual in nature, artists’ books are best accessed through a visual medium.  An online or in-house database that combines images of the items with textual information would be ideal.  This would enhance not only patron access but also promotion of the collection.

Michigan State University