Making Hidden Collections Visible: Highlights from MCN 2015

By Nicole Lovenjak, Library Practicum (2014-2015), The Banff Centre

Earlier this year the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) reached out to its members and asked for submissions that addressed MCN’s conference theme from our own perspective. As a new art information professional, having just recently completed my MLIS, I jumped at the chance to gain insight into this different sector.IMAGE 1_ MCN Blog PostI am so grateful that the scholarship from MCN allowed me the opportunity to travel (20 hours by the Greyhound bus in fact!) to Minneapolis. I came to the MCN conference to not only present a Case Study that explained my motivations and challenges in pursuing my independent digital research project, Artists’ Books Canada, but also to be inspired and learn of other ways that museums are giving visibility to their collections through digital initiatives. Below are some of my highlights of institutions from the conference pursuing new ways thinking about promoting and opening access to collections:

The Walker Art Center’s Kiosks and Displays

In the afternoon of the first day of the conference I was able to attend a tour of the Walker Art Center, which included a demonstration of the new Mediatheque, the Cinema, and a private tour of the Library and Archives’ artist’s book collection.

IMAGE 4_ MCN Blog PostThe Mediatheque gives interactive access to the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson moving image collection. Much like a jukebox, an iPod on the side wall of a small theatre allows visitors to select films, create a playlist, and project these films on the big screen. This kiosk is an inspiring way to give access to archives that gives choice and autonomy to visitors.

IMAGE 5_ MCN Blog PostSelections from the Rosemary Furtak Collection of contemporary artist books at the Walker Art Center’s Library and Archives

One major challenge in promoting a collection of artists’ books is their display and integration into exhibitions. Books often lay closed within glassed-in display cases—withdrawing the contents from view and touch.

However, as I walked through the Hippie Modernism exhibition at the Walker Art Centre, I was so excited to see the way access was offered to printed matter. It was brilliant to see tablets beside the closed books. Visitors may virtually flip through the books and magazines, of which physically only the covers are visible.

IMAGE 8_ MCN Blog PostPrint media from the traveling exhibition, Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia

Open Images and Museums

“The art of humanity belongs to humanity” — Gray Bowman, Lead Software Architect, Indianapolis Museum of Art

The panel “Let’s Talk about Open Images and Your Museum” included a series of Lightning Talks. Tax funded museums should follow their mission statements in their actions as this pertains to image dissemination. If one’s mission is to serve the community, disseminate knowledge, or connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas then it should be followed through in all aspects of the organization, including open access to images. To achieve this, panelists suggested thinking big but starting small such as allowing online access to images of works which have no copyright restrictions. If your museum only has a tiny fraction of images not under copyright, all you have to do is start with one.

“nothing bad happens” — Merete Sanderhoff, Curator and Senior Advisor of Digital Museum Practice, National Gallery of Denmark, offering the panel audience an undeniable truth about the result of opening access to images of artworks

Making Hidden Collections Visible: Artists’ Books Canada

The main reason for my attendance at this year’s MCN conference was to present on my current digital solution for promoting access and giving visibility to artists’ books collections.

IMAGE 9_ MCN Blog Post

Artists’ Books Canada will become a national directory of artists’ books collections across the country. This project, initiated at the Paul D. Fleck Library and Archives at The Banff Centre, hopes to identify the locations of these collections; provide descriptions and links to useful resources; and ultimately promote these amazing, but often hidden collections. 

Presenting at MCN was a very positive experience. During informal networking many colleagues offered design ideas for the project.

Accessibility = Availability

“It is about the ability for all people to use a product.” — Sina Bahram, President, Prime Access Consulting, Inc.

Another way to open collections to visitors is to use universal design. What really struck me is how this can be critical for one, but immensely useful for others, such as having transcripts for audio tours or having captions and searchable videos. Before arriving at the MCN conference I was concerned that the sessions and workshops would be too technical. But the opposite was true: speakers emphasized the human element and the visitor experience. I hope to keep this in mind as Iembark on my career in the library sector.

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