A Culture of Innovation
Betsy Lantz Director of Library and Archives
The beginning of the New Year and the celebration of the museum’s centennial is a fitting moment to reflect on some of the rapid changes that have occurred in the Ingalls Library and Museum Archives since settling into our current facility in 2006. Our beautifully lit and serene setting is the perfect place to sit and work or to browse current journal and newspaper offerings, and of course we continue to provide comprehensive research assistance. Just as significant, however, are the innovations that go on behind the scenes and shape our evolving approach to sharing resources with the public.
The museum’s founders deemed it crucial to have a library on-site in order to provide high-quality, pertinent information on the museum’s art objects. Today, in our complex and information-rich society, this is even more important than it was in 1916 when we opened with 600 volumes and one librarian. The move into the renovated Breuer building took place in a decade marked by significant technological advances, changes in information-seeking behavior, and an increased interdisciplinary approach to art historical research. We knew that progress meant shifting our focus from amassing large, historic collections to making the access and discovery of information a priority. We also realized that providing such access demanded an ability to respond flexibly to our researchers and other visitors, working with them to facilitate success whether related to an exhibition idea, new acquisition, publication, program, grant proposal, student art history paper, or general art question of interest.
By 2006 the demand for our popular and extensive collection of general art images was declining due to the availability of images on easy-to-use sites such as Flickr, Google Images, and Artstor. However, the unique images we had gathered over the history of the image collection, particularly those related to the museum’s collection of non-Western art, remained relevant. Today you can find an image of a Nigerian wooden sculpture from the Horniman Museums and Gardens Collection, not in Artstor or the Horniman’s own collection online, but in our publicly accessible database on the library’s website.
In 2007, two decades after we became one of the first US museum libraries to transfer information from drawers and drawers of 4 x 6-inch cards into an online catalog, we migrated to a new online system. This system included new modules that unified our accounting practices with all the standard library functions—buying books or journals, checking a book in or out, inventory, etc.—and the online catalog enabled visitors to search across the entire library collection. With one search you can find everything that we own on a particular artist, whether it is a book, website, video, sales catalog, or file of newspaper clippings. Over the past eight years we have continued to enhance the online catalog, adding numerous electronic journals and databases, links to open-source materials, and links to specialized art libraries and their myriad resources. But we didn’t stop there. Researchers wanted access to our online catalog via their mobile devices, and 2010 brought development of the “Bookmobile.”
The emergence of e-books posed yet another new challenge in 2012. Although a recent study had found that only about 2 percent of the e-books offered by standard library vendors are on art, architecture, and design, it was clear we needed to locate and make relevant e-books available. Locating appropriate e-books was easy. Making them available for use was not, and the Ingalls Library became a pioneer among art museum libraries in e-book circulation. Today, if you want to read an e-book you can check out an iPad to be used in the library or download the e-book to your computer for use in the library.
Most recently we began the digitization of rare and unique materials, such as those in our John L. Severance arms and armor book collection and our Wade lace book collection. Upon digitization the books are completely searchable and are contributed to the Getty Research Portal. This free online search platform offered by the Getty Research Institute provides global access to digitized art history texts in the public domain, and gives researchers local, round-the-clock access to these materials.
Archival materials have also been identified for digitization, including our extensive collection of historical editorial photography on unstable and deteriorating negative film. At the same time we have been digitizing small audiovisual collections and making them available on the library’s website. Do you want to hear what the late actor Vincent Price had to say about the museum collection? Access the color slideshow that he narrated on the library’s website (http://library.clevelandart.org/museum_archives/audio_visual/vincent-price-slide-tour). Our ultimate goal is to provide full digitized access to all of our rare and unique materials via the museum’s website.
Publicizing our collections requires creativity, and the museum archives posts on Tumblr twice each week: a Monday “countdown to the centennial” and a “throwback Thursday.” You can also read our award-winning blog at library.clevelandart.org/blog or follow us on Twitter, @Ingalls Library.
Ask-an-Expert, our current prototype venture in Gallery One, was developed from the 2014 Caravaggio focus exhibition Ask-an-Expert project where visitors submitted their handwritten questions on cards and the library and archives staff provided answers. The new prototype allows visitors to ask questions using Gallery One iPads, the museum’s website, and the library’s website. Questions are answered, and the questions and answers may be displayed within the Ask-an-Expert feature. Our goal is to engage with museum visitors in a new way, responding to questions outside the traditional library setting while using our exceptional collections and our staff’s research expertise. We hope the display of questions and answers will encourage visitors to ask their own questions and to learn from the questions of others.
In the next 100 years we will most likely have several new physical settings, but our strategic focus on creating a culture of innovation, combined with excellent and evolving public services, will continue to distinguish the Ingalls Library and Museum Archives.
Cleveland Art, January/February 2016