Create it! Challenges in Collecting and in Creating Access to Latin American Book Arts (2012)
Panel 15, June 18, 2012, 3:30pm-5:00 pm
Moderator: Teresa Chapa (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Presenters: Denise Stuempfle (Indiana University); Sara Levinson (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill); Teresa Chapa (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Rapporteur: Brenda Salem (University of Pittsburgh)
The presentations in this panel discussed collecting artist’s books from Latin America at an academic library from the perspective of librarians in acquisition, collection management, and cataloging. The moderator, Teresa Chapa, started out by introducing herself as well as the other two presenters.
The first presentation, titled, “Latin American Book Arts: Challenging Tradition and a Challenge to Collect” was given by Teresa Chapa, the librarian for Latin American, Iberian, and Latino/Latina studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC). Chapa started out by relating how she acquired her first (Ediciones) Vigía book as a new bibliographer in 2001. Each of the Vigía books is hand-made by artists in Matanzas, Cuba. The purpose of Chapa’s presentation was to inform others about the challenges of collecting Vigía books, which she was unaware of as an inexperienced bibliographer. She clarified that she would be using the general term “book arts” to describe books that come from Vigía and other books of an artistic nature because she does not have a background in art librarianship to confidently differentiate among the different kinds of artist’s books. Using that term also allows her to include the more inexpensively made “cartonera” books, as well as works of art, such as “Todos Los Mares Del Mundo” by Venezuelan artist Ricardo Benin, which cost $1,000. Throughout the presentation, she passed around several examples of book arts.
Chapa explained that book arts in Latin America are different from book arts in other countries in that Latin American book arts are more socially and politically engaged. As such, convention is disregarded, so alternative or everyday materials are used to create these books as opposed to the fine material used in conventional book arts. The structures of these books are also unconventional. She named a number of publishers throughout Latin America that specialize in book arts and described their different approaches to making books. She mentioned Eloisa Cartonera in Argentina, Ediciones Vigía in Cuba, Taller Leñateros in Mexico, and Ral Varoni in Argentina. Their unique and unconventional approaches to creating book arts create special challenges in the storage and preservation of these items in libraries.
Among the things she wishes she had considered before deciding to collect Latin American book arts were the high cost of the books, whether the books would be housed in the art library or rare book room, and whether the rare book curator or librarian would even accept the care of these books. In her case, the rare book librarian was hesitant to accept the books but was eventually won over. Still, whether or not care of these books will be accepted is something to consider when taking on such a collection. There are also the costs of housing, preserving, and cataloging the books to consider, which are significant. As an example, she talked the book titled “Altar Maya Portátil: Hechizos Mayas de Bolsillo” that consists of a miniature altar with candles, incense, figurines, and three small books. She described the creative solution to storing this collection of items devised by the preservation department. Other things to consider are how funding for the acquisition and care of these books can be justified; how these books fit into an academic curriculum; and how the collection can be promoted in order for it to be used. She went on to list possible reasons that would justify having a collection of book arts at an academic library as well as the challenges in acquiring these books. At the end of the presentation, Chapa talked about her experience in organizing an exhibit of UNC’s book arts and the activities related to the exhibit. The exhibit was named “Hecho A Mano: Book Arts of Latin America” and focused on the book arts of Cuba, Argentina, and Mexico. She stated that it was a lot of hard work, but it paid off because she now receives a lot of requests for the books. She also showed the searchable exhibit website as well as the Artist’s Books resource page in the UNC Libraries website.
The second presentation was titled, “Voices from the Margin: An Exploration of Themes in the “Libros Cartoneros” of the Indiana University Libraries Collection” and was given by Denise Stuempfle, a catalog librarian for Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Studies materials at Indiana University. In this presentation, Stuempfle discussed the subject treatment of “Libros Cartoneros” held at Indiana University (IU). She started her presentation by defining “Libros Cartoneros” as chapbooks manufactured by alternative publishing houses, known as “cartoneras.” The books have covers of corrugated cardboard that are hand-painted with unique designs. She then went over a brief history of the cartonera publishing houses and provided background information on the cartonero book collection at IU, which was started in 2004 and contains approximately 500 cartonero books. Stuempfle previously presented on this topic at the SALALM conference in Providence. In that presentation, she gave an overview of IU’s collection and described how they were being processed. The objectives for this particular presentation, however, were to explore the themes in the works that make up IU’s cartonera collection and to demonstrate the creation of subject access to these works using the Library of Congress' special provisions for increased subject access to fiction.
Stuempfle talked about the practice of many academic libraries to not add subject headings when cataloging works of fiction, opting to have author and title as the main access points. The disadvantage to doing this, she asserted, is that works cannot be searched for by similar themes. Also, it is assumed that the searcher knows the exact titles and authors he or she is looking for. While this practice works for established authors, it makes cartonero books harder to find because their authors are not well known within mainstream publishing and do not have an established canon. An example of such an author is Washington Cucurto. Omitting subject headings when cataloging works of fiction, particularly cartonero books, is often a time-saving measure for catalogers dealing with a large backlog, but it puts the burden on the researcher when it comes to discovering these works. The Library of Congress has a provision for allowing the addition of subject headings when cataloging works of fiction, but these apply only to certain works, such as biographical and historical fiction, as well as animal stories. She then cited several academic articles that emphasize the importance of subject headings in works of fiction for improving discoverability. She also said that many users have expressed the same sentiment. In order to promote and improve access to the works in the cartonera collection, which the Special Collections Department already spent money in acquiring, it made sense, she concluded, to invest the time and money in providing subject access to them.
Since 2001, the Library of Congress has had special provisions for increased subject access to fiction. However, these provisions were made with public libraries in mind as a way for patrons to more easily search for recreational reading. With the exception of the New York City Public library, no public libraries have cartonero books, so cataloging and providing subject access to these books should fall upon the academic libraries, because many of them have cartonero books. Besides helping the recreational reader, subject access to fiction, she asserts, would also help save the time of the academic researcher, particularly those who might be conducting a literature research. Also, it is important to provide enhanced access to these works because the Library of Congress classification numbers for works of literature correspond to the author, not the subject matter of the work. Moreover, these provisions were aimed at English-language works, but it stands to reason that they can be applied to non-English works as well.
When it comes to providing subject access to the cartonero books at IU, certain subject headings and form subheadings are commonly used. For example, to indicate the country of publication, the subject heading “chapbooks” is used with the country of publication as a subheading. The works found in the cartonero books cover a large range of literary genres and themes. Stuempfle went on to list many of the titles held in their collection. She then made a subject analysis of three works of fiction found in the collection. The examples included La asesina de Lady Di by Alejandro Lopez, Barrio Miseria 221 by Daniel Hidalgo, and Trento by Leónidas Lamborghini. Subject headings were assigned according to the work’s individual characters, class of persons to which the primary character belongs, and settings in the story, all according to certain considerations such as the Library of Congress special provisions for subject access in works of fiction. Headings for topical access and genre headings were also assigned. In some cases, new subject headings are proposed through Subject Authority Cooperative Program (SACO).
Stuempfle ended her presentation by concluding that the thematically diverse libros cartoneros are a rich resource for literary researchers, particularly those in the field of Latin American Studies. As such, institutions with strong comparative literature, linguistics, and Latin American Studies programs should ensure that access to these works is enhanced so that scholars can benefit from them. Subject access to the humanities has been historically difficult but the problem is compounded when it comes to literature from Latin America. Stuemple considers creating enhanced access to cartonero books part of a larger effort to expand knowledge and use of Latin American and Caribbean literature.
The third presentation, titled “Creating Access to the Vigía Collection of Artists’ Books at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill” was given by Sara Levinson, a catalog librarian at UNC. In her presentation, Levinson talked of the challenges of the descriptive cataloging of UNC’s collection of Vigía artists’ books. Unlike regular books that are in roughly the same physical form in relation to each other, what sets artists’ books apart is what they look like. But to be cataloged, words can only be used to convey something that is mainly visual. The Vigía artists’ books at UNC are housed in the Rare Book Collection section of the library. They are not available in the open stacks and cannot be checked out, so the only way to access them physically is to go to the Rare Book Collection section of the library and request to see them individually. In order to give library patrons a good idea of what these books look like before they see them, Levinson tries to provide as much description as possible in order to “paint a picture” with words. She tries to imagine who would be searching for these books, what they would be searching for, and how they would search for it. She uses genre headings from the Rare Book and Manuscript controlled vocabulary, as these headings are familiar for those who work with rare book collections and those librarians who provide rare book-related reference help. She also uses headings from the Art and Architecture Thesaurus, as these books are considered art works and would be familiar to students and researchers of art, as well as to art librarians. However, these terms are not searchable in all of UNC’s catalogs, so when cataloging each item, Levinson uses long descriptive notes, which are keyword searchable. When possible, Library of Congress subject headings are also used. The materials and techniques used to create the book are often included in the description. Levinson read examples of the descriptive notes she writes in the records for these artists’ books.
Levinson ended her presentation by saying that she hoped that in providing a large number of potentially searchable words in her descriptions, patrons would be more easily able to find the records for these books. She also thanked the people who helped her in putting together her Powerpoint presentation, which included beautiful photographs of the artists’ books she described.
Questions & Comments:
Meiyolet Mendez (University of Miami) asked Levinson if she is the only cataloger who writes such detailed descriptions of artists’ books in bibliographic records and how long it takes to catalog such a book.
Levinson replied that bibliographic records for some of these books already exist, but she enhances those records by adding subject headings, genre terms, and searchable headings. The cataloging takes a while so she tries to spread the work out, but she wants to make them as complete as possible because she wants patrons to be able to find the records for these books. She ventures that in the future, when the Art and Architecture subject terms are searchable in all catalogs, such detailed descriptions won’t be necessary.
Stuempfle then asked Levinson if these record enhancements are done at the local level or if she applies them to OCLC records as well.
Levinson replied that it depends on whether she is doing original or copy cataloging. She contributes her original records to OCLC with all enhancements but if she makes any significant changes to existing OCLC records, she makes them only at the local level.
Wendy Pedersen (University of New Mexico) commented that at her institution, the catalogers have worked on artists' books, adding detailed description as well. She then asked Stuempfle if IU’s cartonero books are special collections and what considerations are taken in shelf-listing them.
Stuempfle said that IU’s cartonero books are individually put in special preservation boxes and placed in the library’s storage. If patrons want to look at them, they can be requested and sent to the patron within half a day.
Martha Preddie (University of Trinidad and Tobago) asked Chapa what the print run for artists’ books usually are. Chapa replied that depending on the publisher, the print run might be as little as 20 to as many as 200.
Chapa added that she had not been able to bring any Vigía books to the conference because they cannot be checked out of the UNC library, but that she does have some books in her office to use as examples when she does presentations in classrooms.
Preddie then asked if the books are digitized and Chapa replied that they cannot be digitized as her institution does not hold the copyright for these books. Moreover, getting the permission to digitize the books has not been a priority for the library as they are busy digitizing other material. But for the artists’ books exhibit website, images of the featured books were digitized.
Stuempfle disclosed that she ended up with the responsibility for a box full of artists’ books that had not been cataloged when the previous art librarian had moved on to another position and that she is currently trying to figure out how to catalog them.
Sarah Leroy (University of Pittsburgh) asked whether the multiple copies of artists' books are meant to be identical in spite of a small print run. Having them being identical, she added, would make it easier to use a bibliographic record for different copies.
Chapa replied that usually, copies in a print run are identical. Leroy said that it would be useless to write a detailed description of a cartonero book in an OCLC record since each cover in a relatively large print run of a cartonero book is different.
Stuemple and Chapa explained how the creation processes of cartonero books and artists' books like the ones at Vigía differ from each other. Levinson added that artists' books, unlike cartonero books, are numbered.
Luis A. González (Indiana University) asked Chapa if she had ever been challenged to justify the acquisition of artist books.
Chapa replied that putting together the exhibit on artists books helped to get support from the library director. The library’s new rare book curator is a bit resistant about accepting the care of the books, but the assistant art librarian, who is a book artist, has been very supportive and promotes the materials.
The panel concluded with the moderator thanking the rapporteur and the presenters.