b1794000_089_001

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Museum Hunt : After the animals! Africa, Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications Collection, © Metropolitan Museum of Art

by Abby Wanserski

If you’ve ever been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“The Met”) you know how impressive their collection is. What many people are not aware of is that The Met maintains several reference libraries, “study centers” and two visitor oriented libraries: the Thomas J. Watson Library and the Nolen Library. This first article in a series will focus on the museum’s main library, the Thomas J. Watson Library. With a non-circulating collection of over 900,000 volumes, they have one of the most comprehensive collections of art books and periodicals in the world.

The primary mission of the Thomas J. Watson Library is to “support the research activities of the museum staff; in addition, it welcomes a broad range of students and researchers college age and above.” This is achieved with outreach initiatives, creating a strong social media presence, and both digital and special collections. In addition, special programs are often hosted for student and research groups.

I spoke with William Blueher, Metadata and Collections Librarian, who stated that “Watson strives not only to have one of the most comprehensive collections of art books and periodicals in the world, but also to develop a robust digitized collection. The result of this effort has been the Digital Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which now has over 50,000 digitized items, all freely available to download as full-text searchable PDFs.”

LAIP: What excites you about Watson’s digital collections?

William Blueher: When I came to Watson, the Digital Collections had roughly 30,000 items, and we were devoting a huge amount of staff time and resources to continuing to build these collections. There was one minor problem, however: very few people were using the collections. For the last two years, we have been working very hard to begin promoting the digital collections, and we’ve launched a number of outreach initiatives. The most successful of these has been our collaboration with Wikipedia. We have edited over 2,000 articles at this point, and the impact on traffic to the Digital Collections has been pretty overwhelming. In 2012, we had fewer than 200,000 total pageviews. By 2014, that number had jumped to over one million, and over 50% of that traffic was coming from Wikipedia (whereas 3 years ago 0% came from Wikipedia). This has been a great success for us, and I recently wrote a blog post that lays out exactly what we’ve done with Wikipedia and the impact it has had.

When I came to Watson, the Digital Collections had roughly 30,000 items, and we were devoting a huge amount of staff time and resources to continuing to build these collections. There was one minor problem, however: very few people were using them.

LAIP: Do you see the digital collections moving in a particular direction?

William Blueher: The Digital Collections continues to grow, and we are allocating more staff time and resources than ever before. We have begun collaborating with a number of departments within the Museum, helping them to digitize material they hold. For instance, we are working with the Department of Islamic Art and the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art to develop The Ernst Herzfeld Papers collection. Here is a good blog post that explains more about this collection.

Watson_Rutgers

Marilyn Symmes, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, discussing an album of illustrations from Napoleon’s expeditions in Egypt, published in the 1820s, with Marija Dalbello (in blue), a professor in Rutgers’ Library and Information Science program, Dalbello’s students, and other librarian colleagues.

Some specific individual collections William suggests looking at are the MMA Pubs which include Met publications from the Museum’s founding in 1870 through the present day, Costume Institution Fashion Plates, Japanese Illustrated Books (check out this related blog post about the digitization process), and the Brummer Gallery Records (introduction here).

JIB176_005

Tansei Ippan (Tansei ippan 丹青一斑) : [volume 3 of five], Ink and color on paper, Japanese Illustrated Books Collection, © Metropolitan Museum of Art

JIB4_3_017

Bairei Picture Album of One Hundred Birds (Bairei hyakuchō gafu 楳嶺百鳥畫譜) : [volume 3], Woodblock printed book; Ink and color on paper, Japanese Illustrated Books Collection, © Metropolitan Museum of Art

In addition to public outreach and the ongoing Digital endeavors, the Watson Library also focuses on maintaining and building their large Special Collections. Jared Ash, Watson’s Special Collections Librarian, has this to say about their work:

“Of the nearly 1 million volumes held by the Met Libraries, approximately 10,000 of them constitute Watson Library’s “Special Collections.” The scope of Watson’s Special Collections mirrors the general collection: publication dates range from the 15th century to today, and reflect a wide range of languages, and places of publication. Particular strengths of the collection include: trade catalogs; art, design, and fashion journals from the 18th century to present; and early printed works on color theory, perspective, art processes and techniques.”

In a future post, we’ll talk to Jared Ash further about the Watson’s Special Collections, and how he promotes awareness and works with artists and patrons to find inspirational and meaningful materials.

InstaGram

Meet the Instagrammers of Watson Library @metlibrary

You can keep in touch with the library’s blog In Circulation for highlights collections, events, library news, and more, or follow them for regular updates on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Stay tuned for more articles in this series on the Libraries of the Met.

 

DSC_0015Abby Wanserski received her BFA in Photography from the University Wisconsin Milwaukee. She currently works at the Alicia Ashman Library in Madison Wisconsin and is the co-founder and manager of the Russian folk music group White Birch Ensemble, where she plays the domra, a Russian folk instrument, and sings. Abby is also a photographer and visual artist, and she hopes to apply her creative experience and expertise to a career in Art Librarianship. Visit Abby online at abbyroseart.com.

 

Pin It