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Field Report

Christopher Howard is CAA managing editor.

Getty-Sponsored Meetings on the Future of Art Bibliography

In response to the uncertain future of the Bibliography of the History of Art (BHA), and concerned with helping anticipate and facilitate new developments in art scholarship, the Getty Research Institute organized two meetings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the ARTstor office in New York on April 20–21, 2010. Funded with a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the event, called “The Future of Art Bibliography in the 21st Century,” convened a small but passionate group of art librarians, professors, publishers, information specialists, and CAA representatives that began discussing the state of art bibliographies, research, and scholarship.

Kathleen Salomon, head of library services and bibliography at the Getty Research Institute, writes, “Our goal was to review current practices, take stock of changes, and seriously consider developing more sustainable and collaborative ways of supporting the bibliography of art history in the future.” The Getty has just released a brief summary of the April meetings, which describes outcomes and indicates important next steps. Appendices list the twenty-four members of the Future of Art Bibliography in the 21st Century Task Force, which includes Linda Downs, CAA executive director; the forty-five participants in the open meeting on April 20; and agendas for the two meetings.

CAA Summary of the Meetings

During the two days of discussion, ideas of scholarly authority and discipline comprehensiveness were discussed in relation to BHA. A key topic was a systemic process (creating a record of publication in the field) versus a critical approach (emphasizing the reliability or authority of a search). While many meeting participants agreed that complete breadth is an impossible goal, approaches to a future art bibliography should be as complete as possible, which is helpful in fending off duplicative research and the misrepresentation of ideas, according to Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann of Princeton University.

With internet research ever increasing, especially among undergraduate students, the popularity-driven results of search engines must be countered with reliable sources of knowledge, said Elizabeth Mansfield of New York University. She recently entered a lesser-known artist from the nineteenth century into Google Scholar; of the fifteen pages of results, none referenced the work of the most important scholar on that artist. Without a trustworthy body of knowledge on the web, authoritative research may drown in a sea of extraneous, even irrelevant material.

Since BHA covered only Western art—the founding editor Michael Rinehart noted that H. W. Janson’s survey textbook was the original model—inclusiveness is key to moving forward. Tom Cummins of Harvard University mentioned that references to only half his scholarship on South American art is archived in BHA: work dealing with colonialism (that is, Western influences) is included, but other publications are not found there. Any future bibliography should, of course, embrace scholarship on Asian, African, and South American art.

Further, because of increasingly multidisciplinary approaches in art history, an art bibliography should establish consistent metadata, with much of the information (from general publication information to keywords to abstracts) for a database generated by authors and publishers before publication. Multilingual subject headings, for example, are a must for a future art bibliography, as are linking, tagging, and other user-generated notations, as recommended in a paper by Jan Simane of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence. Simane cited artlibraries.net as a model for a art-historical bibliography that would include such additional capabilities. Concerns about how to include citations from born-digital academic journals, which have become more numerous in recent years, into an art bibliography were also touched on in the meeting, as were resources in art history not traditionally captured by existing catalogues.

Collaboration and sustainability are also necessities, as single organizations like the Getty, CAA, the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS), or the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA) can no longer host and maintain a bibliographic database on their own. This is especially evident with BHA, which received its final update of 135,000 records in spring 2010. Since BHA indexing ceased in summer 2009, one meeting participant estimated that two weeks would be needed to catch up on cataloguing one week’s worth of backlogged entries. However, it is unclear to the task force if there is an immediate need to plug this deepening hole, or if alternative approaches to bibliographies could better serve scholars.

Representatives from art bibliographies similar to BHA made short presentations. The Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals, reported Carole Ann Fabian of Columbia University, has three full-time indexers and a couple part-timers, but the bibliography’s scope—English-language publications from the 1930s to the present—is narrow enough to be sustainable. Fabian also talked about the index’s financial model as relying on aggregators, subscriptions, and technological and administrative resources at her university. Volunteer groups of scholars, it was thus determined at the meetings, could not sustain a comprehensive bibliography, but collaborations among institutions could alleviate the cataloguing burden. For example, the European-based Kubikat has no harvesting tool and all entries are done manually, said Rüdiger Hoyer of the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, but the three German and Italian institutions that operate it are assigned specific periodicals to index.

Questions that remain open for discussion ranged from practical issues (“Do we need full abstracts or just subject headings?”) to philosophical inquiries (“Does an art bibliography best facilitate art-historical research, or do other methods need exploring?”) Creating an environment for discovery and enlightened self-interest in an art bibliography, in contrast to the older method of working toward the greater good, was put forward in the meetings. In the face of the increasing instrumentalization of the humanities in higher education, perhaps the most pressing concern is how to more strongly articulate the need for a comprehensive art bibliography.

Next Steps

After intensive discussion, the task force did not come to consensus on an immediate plan of action. Some members believed that the BHA model should be adhered to and expanded, and others felt a wholly new approach to art bibliographies is needed. Therefore, within the next six months the task force plans to seek funding for two things. First, it will create an international working group, which will include an outside specialist, to scan currently operating art bibliographies, which in addition to BHA include artlibraries.net, arthistoricum.net, the Avery Index, Arcade, and Kubikat, among others. The task force will also examine emerging resources and other technological opportunities. Second, the task force will establish another group, again with an outside consultant, that will conduct focus groups with librarians, scholars, publishers, and nonprofit and commercial vendors to determine their professional needs. The task force also plans to explore different business models and more clearly identify the technological and financial challenges that can sustain BHA or something like it.

A follow-up discussion took place at the ARLIS annual meeting, held on April 25, 2010, in Boston. Further meetings will be held this month at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles (for participants who could not attend the New York meeting because of flights cancelled from the volcanic ash); at the yearly International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, in August 2010; and at the CAA Annual Conference in New York in February 2011.

Published on June 7, 2010.

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