Creation and Organization of an Archive


Creation and Organization of an Archive

Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art - Spring 2017

In the undocumented archives of the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Photography and Contemporary Art library, there was a book titled, simply, Holy Bible. Looking identical to the actual Holy Bible, this artist book by Oliver Chanaren and Adam Broomberg was almost put into the discard bin to be sold.  Luckily my supervisor and her associate realized it was a rare artist book, and we added it to the CMOA collection. For the remaining year I continued to expand this library collection with many interesting readings.

Working under my supervisor Hannah Turpin, Curatorial Assistant of Photography and Contemporary Art, I worked to help catalogue their collection of books onto the online archive LibraryThing, label each one, and arrange them in their back library room so their collection could be complete and comprehensive.

The program LibraryThing is an online web storage space designed to catalogue and document library books in a specific collection, with several basic features and of course premium features for those that use it more extensively. A main issue with the program is that it finds books through only a few sources and only in a few ways. By typing in an ISBN number or title it will search through, Overcat, and the Library of Congress. Many books are not available in those databases for various reasons, and all of those books had to be benched to be looked at later and assigned call numbers through WorldCat and other libraries’ online catalogues.

Beginning this project, I could see that it was clearly going to be large in scale. The creation of the library for this department was an interesting process as it essentially was creating my own library from scratch, and I was given certain agency in the arrangement and organization of it.  Looking back, I’ve logged over 2,000 books into their system, some even by hand when the online database was unable to register the titles or ISBN numbers of certain newer or older books. I started the semester working with another student who, while doing her own research, assisted me with some of the original logging, helping to lighten the workload.

While spending the year cataloguing and shelving the museum’s library, I was also given the opportunity to help out in small ways in other parts of the museum. I was invited to the opening presentation of the new architectural exhibition at the beginning of the Fall 2016 semester. I also was able to be a part of the Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh Wikipedia edit-a-thon, co-organised by Angela Washko, where I sent in a long list of artists in our collection that were women or members of the LGBTQIA+ community who didn’t have as big an online Wikipedia archive as many other white male artists.

At the end of the year, looking back on my experience, I think I accomplished a great deal, especially after being given such a large task. Moving forward to the future of this collection, there are still many books to be labeled and shelved and the position is going to be taken over by another intern. I leave for them a proposal detailing what still needs to be done, the organizational aspects that I have created for the labeling and shelving, and a plan for the department that uses the library to keep their collection in usable order to prevent a collapse of the system in place.

Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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