Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Art in a Medium-Sized University Library: Acquisition, Cataloging, and Access Issues: Challenges and Opportunities

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Art in a Medium-Sized University Library: Acquisition, Cataloging, and Access Issues: Challenges and Opportunities

Article excerpt

In 2001, the William Madison Randall Library at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington found itself with a substantial collection of art, acquired over time through gifts and purchases to augment existing collections of faculty scholarship and regional materials. What had been tracked in a simple administrative database had become a collection deserving improved access. This paper outlines the acquisition, cataloging, and access issues that shaped the evolution of the art works front their status first as decoration on the library walls, then as fully cataloged library materials in the online catalog, then as digitized images available in a searchable Web tour. Explored are the reasons behind the collection development push and the methods of acquisition, how and why the collection outgrew its original inventory database, and why the university librarian turned to catalog librarians for solutions to improve access by utilizing and linking data existing in separate databases. The paper offers implications and lessons learned that could assist other libraries that may face such a challenge, as well as a literature review of the issues faced in art documentation. Randall Library's experience illustrates how a decision to invest in cataloging an unusual medium can go beyond the basics of author and subject access to create an unusually valuable foundation for promotional, curricular, and Web-based ventures.

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By the late 1990s, the William Madison Randall Library at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) had acquired a small collection of original art for display throughout the building. Mainly paintings and drawings, with a few sculptures, the pieces were owned by the library, and permanently in place, but they were not perceived as library materials or represented in the online catalog. If anyone expressed an interest, they were directed to the office of the university librarian, who maintained the Randall Treasures Access Database, which contained basic inventory information about each piece, such as date and source of acquisition, artist contact information, and general description or title.

The university librarian decided to expand the collection in large part to recognize and utilize the art works not simply as decorations, but as library materials with as much value for scholarship and intellectual advancement as traditional books or journals. This perspective supports the library's mission statement to "effectively support the University's teaching, scholarship, artistic achievement, and service functions by providing dynamic collections of informational resources in all formats." (1)

The decision to expand the art collection caused rapid growth beginning in 2000. This paper explores the reasons behind the collection development push and the methods of acquisition, how the collection outgrew the original database system, and how and why the university librarian turned to the cataloging department for answers. Catalog librarians are typically the intellectual organizers of materials and collections upon arrival, and such was the case for the organization and processing of the art collection. The two catalog librarians at Randall Library (the cataloging supervisor librarian and the special formats catalog librarian) were active participants in shaping critical decisions including which art works would be cataloged, what level of cataloging would be conducted, and how the cataloging could be performed in order to create a bibliographic foundation for related digital and Web-based projects based on the collection. The catalog librarians embraced this opportunity, again echoing the library's mission by "implementing innovative and creative methods centered on the needs of its users to inspire and support intellectual curiosity, imagination, rational thinking and thoughtful expression." (2) In 2003, the art collection numbered more than 450 pieces. Each piece is accounted for and is either individually cataloged in the online catalog and updated in the OCLC Worldcat database, recorded in the Randall Treasures database, or listed as part of a finding guide in the Special Collections department. …

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