We’re delighted to have Rebecca Rubenstein on board as a Feature Writer at large for the Library as Incubator Project! This interview was conducted with Chris Heuberger, Head Librarian of Brooklyn Art Library in November 2012. A portion of the discussion can be seen in Rebecca’s feature on the Sketchbook Project.  Enjoy! ~Erinn .

The Brooklyn Art Library | An Interview with the Head Librarian

by Rebecca Rubenstein

Rebecca Rubenstein (LAIP): When did the library start?

Chris Heuberger: November 2010.  It’s our two-year anniversary in Brooklyn!

LAIP: How many books are in the collection?

CH: The Brooklyn Art Library currently houses about 22,000 sketchbooks from 130 countries and all 50 states.

LAIP: Are all the sketchbooks (those that are not touring) displayed in the Brooklyn Art Library? What is the schedule of exhibition for the books? 

CH: Sketchbooks from 2010-2012 are on the shelves in the library. Previous to this the sketchbooks were sent back to the artists after they toured.

LAIP: How are the books organized on the shelves?

CH: They are only arranged on the shelves in groups by theme but they are cross-referenced in our database by a variety of categories that you can search: location (city, state, or country), format, material, mood, the artist’s profession, color, interest, or tag (whatever keywords the artist wanted to use to describe their book). We have our own numbered cataloging system that allows our librarians to pull any book based on your search, even a specific artist.

LAIP: What happens to the books after they tour? Are they cataloged right away and put into the library? 

CH: They’re actually cataloged before they go on tour because when we go on the road, our mobile library functions exactly as our system in the library does, with library cards and searches and everything.

LAIP: Tell me about the cataloging process– what does the system entail?

CH: The artists supply tag words for their own books. It’s up to the artists to describe their sketchbooks after they’ve completed them. They can fill out a survey and tag it with keywords that we use to cross-reference their sketchbook so that it will come up in a search. So it’s all automatically done in our database; the terms are up to the artists.

LAIP: How does the library card system work? What are the benefits of the system?

CH: You need a library card to search the catalog at the library, it takes a minute to sign up for the card and it is free. You log in with your library card and then can search the catalog in a number of ways, including: by theme, books by Brooklyn artists; by color, interest, format, mood, material; or tell the catalog to “Grab a Random Book.”

LAIP: Are the books for sale?

CH: No the books are not for sale. It’s more about the collection as a whole so that people will know all the sketchbooks will always be kept together and on view for everyone.

LAIP: Since so many people are handling the books all the time, how do you address issues of preservation?

CH: When participants sign up, along with their sketchbook, we provide all of them with a guide book that includes tips and suggestions about how to protect their sketchbook and make it as durable as possible.  Basically, the process of transporting and allowing people to hold these works of art, it comes with the territory that they may see some slight wear and tear over time.

We do our best to keep them in good condition and perform some upkeep along the way.  If a book becomes in great disrepair, we ask the artist if they want us to send it back to them to fix it or if they’d like us to fix it.  But that very rarely happens. For the most part, the sketchbooks are treated with great care and hold up quite well. And after all, if a book has been handled, it has most likely been loved, too!


Rebecca Rubenstein is an artist who earned her MFA from from Pratt Institute before enrolling as an MSLIS student at the Palmer School of Library and Information Science, Long Island University. She recently completed an internship with the Librarian for Fine Art at New York University’s Bobst Library. One of her projects there was to build a Lib Guide which includes online and print professional development resources for visual artists. She currently works in the eLibrary of an educational software company. Visit her website at www.rebeccaprojects.com.

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