Monday, November 16, 2009

Princeton Library Tours

Even though time is very tight now that the semester is in its last few weeks, I couldn't let the opportunity pass to tour select Princeton University libraries with a bunch of other MLIS students at Rutgers. We began our tour at the Seely G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Our excellent guides were Dan and Christine (both of whom also attended MARAC). They talked to us about the services the library provides and showed us the archives in all their glory (OK, in all their boxes).

The most-used collection held at Mudd is the ACLU legal case files archives. Mudd also is the home to the university archives, public policy papers, George McGovern's papers, Woodrow Wilson's papers, senior theses for every student, tons of alumni information, and much more. The archives stacks aren't open to the public, which means that if, after searching through the finding aids, you want to view some freedom of speech documents from ACLU's Roger Baldwin years, you will need to either show up at the library or email the Mudd folks with your precise request (i.e., call, series, reel, and volume numbers -- that collection is on microfilm).

You really should start requesting items because they are following the same model as the Amsterdam Archives. Meaning that each time they digitize an archive item, they put the item online for anyone to use and link it to the finding aid. The Mudd librarians now also have these huge photocopiers that function as high-quality scanners (very helpful in lowering costs of digitization efforts).

One interesting thing I learned about climate control and fire prevention was that Princeton uses halon to supress potential fires (they haven't yet had to use it). The way Dan explained it was in case of emergency, halon is released into the air. It sucks all the oxygen out of the air, disabling any fire instantly. It also would disable (and probably kill) anyone in the room pretty handily as well if they didn't make it to an exit.

Mudd houses 250 collections, which take up approximately 15,000 linear feet worth of archives. Since 2005, they have spent less time and fewer resources on sorting and rehousing, and more time on letting people know that these items are available on line (via their extensive finding aids).

During our tour through the stacks, we passed 16th century Mongolian texts, John Foster Dulles' papers (he was Eisenhower's Secretary of State, if you didn't know), files on every single alum and staff person, and much more. They appear to be outgrowing their space and plan to move some things offsite in the next five years.

After our Mudd tour ended, half the group stayed for the afternoon tour of the Marquand Library of Art and Archeology. Well, we went to a fabulous Indian restaurant (Masala Grill) downtown for lunch first.

Prior to our tour of Marquand, we had a very brief look around the Princeton University Art Museum (FREE, so go!), an art museum in the way that the Metropolitan Museum is an art museum -- very historical as well. We were told that it's open until 10 pm on Thursday nights, with free food, so it might be a good place to go on a date night some time.

When we began our afternoon tour, we were first placed with Colum Hourihane the Director of the Index of Christian Art. I wished we had more time with him because his presentation was fascinating. I tried to note most of what he was sharing, but it was so much and so interesting that I just wanted to experience it in the moment. Colum is an excellent storyteller (and the Irish accent didn't hurt either). I'll try to relate as much as I was able to remember here, but do try to get an appointment with him to hear about the Index right from the source.

Did you know that Princeton was the first university to teach art history as a subject? I didn't either. The fellow who started the index, Charles Morey was very into iconography. He collected all kinds of images of paintings, stained glass, postcards, and whatever else he could put his hands on because images were in such short supply at that time. Morey was strict about what he collected in terms of dates. He only collected images of art up until A.D. 700. The collection was later extended up until A.D. 1550.

Getting into the nitty gritty, the collection was cataloged on 300,000 cards using a thesaurus structure with 28,000 subject headings. Can you imagine? The index has scholars who painstakingly analyze the images and describe them in impartial ways. Colum gave the example of describing a painting of 12 gentlemen (last supper, perhaps? or knights of the round table?).

The index was computerized in 1981. I tried to access it, but wasn't able to enter it. My guess is that I'd need a subscription or a Princeton libraries account to see it in action. My last interesting fact about the index is that the indexers have been cataloging all of the Morgan Library's medieval manuscripts.

It's way too much to publish here, so I encourage you to visit the index and see for yourself the largest archive of medieval art in the world. Mind you, the history of the index as described by Colum was far more interesting than what's displayed online.

From Colum's presentation, we were whisked away to Visual Resources and Trudy Jacoby. Trudy, like all of our excellent hosts, was passionate about her collections. She walked us into one of the oldest slide collections in the country (600,000) that serve the Art History department. It reminded me of my sophmore year at William Paterson (back then, it was a College, not a University). We all sat in a huge lecture hall as the professor showed us slide after slide of the images shown in our tome of an art history book. I loved it. Although there's nothing like seeing the paintings in person -- or better yet, interning or working in a museum or another cultural heritage institution where you can be around the art and really see it differently day after day. (That said, you can read about my missing the artists' books project I'm working on now here.)

Trudy talked with us about how she teaches people how to use ARTstor, and she showed us some amazing photographs from archeological digs. I really enjoyed her part of the tour because I could tell how fond she is of the collections and how much she likes serving her faculty and the emeriti. Of course, learning about the collections was interesting as well. It's interesting that they are specifically for the professors. I'm curious to know whether researchers outside the university call for the slides or digital versions of them as well.

Finally, we moved on to the actual Marquand tour. The Marquand library functions very differently than the rest of the Princeton libraries in that it has its own funding through an endowment. Their acquisitions budget is the largest of all the Princeton libraries. The history of the library is quite interesting. Marquand himself bought and selected all the books with his own resources. After he married, the collection was moved out of his home and onto the campus.

The books do not circulate out of the library, and it seems like very little of the library's contents are digitized. Hence, people set up shop at the library in little cubicles called carrels. There are 109 of those carrels, primarily for graduate students and long-term researchers who might be there every day. The library has a system where someone may "check out" a book to their carrel or shelf. If another student or researcher needs the book, they can recall it in a way -- by borrowing it from the person who checked it out.

As our group toured the library facilities, I was continually impressed by the design and flow. The organization and shelving was very tidy. The resources are shelved by size (as is appropriate with art books, which are often so large they are called "elephant folios").

Even the basements didn't seem at all like basements. There were mosaics from historic archelogical digs mounted on the red walls, and natural light was plentiful. They also have very comfortable chairs.

Finally, our tour closed with a presentation and Q&A session with our guides Sandy Brooke, the librarian; Rebecca Friedman, the assistant librarian; Julie Melby, graphic arts curator (who writes a marvelous blog); and Trudy.

I'm not sure I can adequately express how great of an opportunity it is to spend the day touring a portion of Princeton's libraries. Our guides for the day were incredibly generous with their time, especially since they all are doing so much more with so much less and must wear many hats. I'm very glad to have made the time to take the tours. It was well worth the trip.

1 comment:

Teresa said...

Hey... so I just read this quickly and had a couple of notes...
I'm not sure it is accurate to say Morey was really into iconography in reference to his collection of images... iconography relates to giving the images further meaning and the way Colum told it he was into the preiod of art first and only when he saw a collection that used iconography in its organization did he get interested... a little thing but I wanted to say it.
Also, you certainly can access the index... you have a Rutgers ID don't you? It is available through the library databases. Unfortunately, they are still in the process of digitizing much of the collection and don't have copyright access to many of the images so its not really useful for looking at the images, but it does give bibliographic references. I am planning on doing a mini interview of Colum tomorrow to ask him some questions and plan on doing a more formal one later, so if you have any specific things you were wondering feel free to let me know.
Also, scholars outside princeton most certainly use the princeton visual resources collection. They sorta led the way of many archeological digs, so they have the photograph drawing etc of things as they were just uncovered which isvery useful as even 10 years above ground can be damaging to colors and structure. Besides that, they have some more unique collections that I'm sure peple have used. My guess, however, would be that in most cases researchers would need to come to the location. Maybe they are starting to do some 'digitize on demand' type services, but if so that is probably a recent development and not the standard, yet anyway.
Anyhoo, nice to see your sum up of the lovely day. I hope all is well.
Oh, btw, I was wondering if I could link from the Source site to your MARAC post? We are trying to get some reports together form the other girls to put up on the site and I thought it would be nice to also have a link out to you if you don't object.
Good luck being a busy bee as always.