Libraries, the universe and everything


From art to design

Once again it has taken me far too long to get around to writing up a couple of library visits I’ve enjoyed in recent months. They were both organised by the lovely NY Librarians meet-up group, and were to places which I hadn’t come across before, so as always I was keen to participate (which raises the perennial question: are librarians as a profession inherently more inquisitive than others?!). On Friday 21st June we took in the Nolen Art Library, and Wednesday 10th July found us at  Material Connexions.

Despite being a regular visitor to the Metropolitan Museum I had completely failed to discover the Nolen Library (though in fairness it occupies a somewhat out-of-the-way location in the Education Center). Very briefly, it contains a collection of some 8000 monographs, including exhibition catalogues, books about art, art history and artists, a children’s section and teaching resources. The museum has other, more specialist, library collections, but this one is open to the general public.

For me, the most exciting thing about the collection is it’s very existence – I don’t know a huge amount about art and visits to galleries often prompt me to wish there was an easy way to learn more about a particular artist/period/technique, but usually I’m too lazy to consider travelling to a major public library or embarking on an online quest in pursuit of whatever it may be. Knowing that I can just pop downstairs to look into something which interests me at the Met is wonderful. Another benefit is that the library is staffed by librarians who also work in the other collections around the museum, so subject-specialist advice is only a question away.

Material Connexions couldn’t really have been more different, at least to look at – the library collection is comprised of samples of different materials, and I don’t think I spotted any books in the entire visit. (The IOM3 has a similar collection in London, in addition to their more traditional library, but this is a much more advanced version.) Materials are submitted by manufacturers and selected for addition to the collection by a panel of experts – their e-bulletin gives some idea of the range of things. Users pay for membership, and include architects, packaging designers, sportswear manufacturers, and students in a range of disciplines.

Once accessioned, items are added to the relevant parts of the collection (metals, fabrics, polymers and so on), and each sample is presented with a label containing basic details and manufacturer information. I believe more information is listed on the online catalogue, which can be searched in a variety of interesting ways including by material properties – waterproof, shiny, recyclable, etc. As a casual visitor one of the best things about the collection is that you are encouraged to touch as much as you like – interacting with the materials is a recommended research technique! This approach also encourages designers to come up with innovative new uses for products (if I remember correctly one example was a plastic mesh originally designed to go around cables which was subsequently used to make the upper surface for trainers).

Like the group visit to the NCC CUNY Information Commons back in April, I really appreciated the opportunity to peek into these collections – I love learning about different types of libraries and it makes me very happy that New York is so well endowed with both interesting collections and generous librarians who are willing to show them off!

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