posted by Christopher Howard
CAA learned last week, through the Art History Newsletter, that the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles is withdrawing the Bibliography of the History of Art (BHA) from distribution on March 31, 2010. With the closing, hundreds of thousands of records and abstracts in the database will soon be unavailable to scholars worldwide—indefinitely.
Subscribers to BHA, which include many academic libraries and research institutions, received notice about the shutdown from the Getty earlier this month. While there are some alternatives—among them Art Index, Avery Index, and ARTbibliographies Modern—the loss of this invaluable resource is immense and will be deeply felt throughout the international art-history community. Indeed, BHA’s “coverage has not been duplicated in any single database available to us,” writes Jill E. Luedke, a librarian and art-subject specialist at Temple University.
Since June CAA has made numerous communiqués by phone and email to the Getty regarding the demise of BHA, receiving only one inconclusive response. From what CAA can gather from other sources, the closure appears to be strictly a budgetary decision. The Getty attempted to find an organization that would purchase the database and software program that they had developed, but found none. CAA was not privy to the negotiations to find a buyer.
As the world’s most comprehensive bibliographic database of publications in art history, BHA covers the visual arts in Europe and America from late antiquity to the present. Copublished with the Institut de l’Information Scientifique et Technique in France, BHA originated in part as the International Repertory of the Literature of Art (RILA), created in 1972 under the auspices of CAA and supported by grants from public endowments and private foundations. The Getty’s bibliography includes RILA records from 1972 to 1989 and those from the Repertory of Art and Archaeology (RAA) from 1973 to 1989, and had been growing ever since.
Michael Rinehart, formerly editor in chief of RILA and BHA for nearly thirty years, wrote in 2009: “It is highly unlikely that any commercial vendor will want to maintain it. It is equally clear that the Getty intends to end BHA with or without a plan for its continuation…. Whatever the original understanding between the CAA and the Getty may have been, it is self-evident that the CAA entrusted RILA to the Getty in the expectation that it would continue.”
Art historians and researchers were first alerted to the possible closure in June 2009, and CAA published a response at that time. The Getty released a statement in the same month, but negotiations with other organizations, as noted above, failed to produce a solution to keep BHA alive.