Intrigued by the “Song of the Wright Brothers” sheet music cover seen in last week’s National Aviation Day post? Read on for more information about the collection in this post by summer intern, Karen Anton.
I am Karen Anton, the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) Sheet Music Cataloging intern for the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. I travelled from Bloomington, IN where I am pursuing a Master of Library Science (MLS) degree with a Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarianship Specialization at the Indiana University School of Library and Information Science and a PhD in Musicology at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. While at the Smithsonian this summer, I will be learning from Lowell Ashley, principal cataloger at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Continue reading →
When The President of the United States and the Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) break ground on February 22, 2012, it will be the beginning of a new adventure for Smithsonian Libraries. Plans for the museum include locating the library in wonderful space on a public floor with direct public access. Mary Augusta Thomas and Bill Baxter have been working with the staff of the NMAAHC space planning team, including representatives from the education department, the center for media arts and collections. We all enjoy the challenges of planning for a highly interactive information commons and a research library with a program that is only now being defined. Our joint vision is for a place that visitors will come with questions raised by their time in the exhibitions. These might be about objects in the collections, or the location of a museum or cultural center in their vicinity.
For many years, the Smithsonian Institution Libraries has had a publication exchange program with various organizations around the world. Our exchange partners are generally universities, academies of sciences and arts, museums, government entities, and societies. Through our agreements, we swap our material, primarily the Smithsonian Contributions (a series of monographs which are written on a variety of subjects like anthropology, botany, marine sciences, museum conservation, paleobiology, and zoology), in exchange for titles by other institutions. Each Smithsonian Contributions issue is published initially online, followed by a print version for those who prefer that. All published issues can be found at: www.sil.si.edu/SmithsonianContributions/.
One of our scientific journal exchanges has been with the American Museum of Natural History Library in New York City. We have worked with them since 1951 or before, according to our correspondence files. In exchange for our Smithsonian Contributions series and various National Museum of Natural History departmental publications, we receive their American Museum Novitates and Bulletin of the A.M.N.H., in addition to many of their monographic publications on paleontology, zoology, botany, and taxonomy and the systematics of various types of plants and animals.
As an art librarian, I was expecting to feel a little like a fish out of water at the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s (BHL) Life and Literature conference held at the Field Museum in Chicago. However, the intrinsic relationship between Art and Science was a recurring theme explored by over 120 attendees from across the globe who gathered to focus on the future of BHL.
Naturgeschichte in Bildern : mit erläuterndem Text / Von Professor Dr. Strack. Lief. 4. (Heft 33-56). Fische. Düsseldorf :Arnz & Co.,[1819-1826]biodiversitylibrary.org/item/37422
Having scanned over 35 million pages (and counting) of scientific texts documenting life on earth, BHL is transforming how scientists do research. Within these millions of pages are thousands of illustrations, which served as scientific documentation before the invention of photography. Paging through these texts, it becomes clear that Art and Science have been inseparable from the beginning, each informing the other as they developed. Serving as evidence, we find many rare botanical and zoological texts in art libraries, collected for artists and designers who look to nature for inspiration. Now artists can look to BHL in much the same way including new digital advantages such as access to more images from anywhere at anytime.
BHL is working to make these images more discoverable, especially for non-science communities. In the meantime, they have gathered thousands of illustrations at BioDivLibrary’s Photostream on Flickr. Organisms can be browsed by Kingdom such as Birds, Fish, Mammals, etc.
Now Art needs to join in this effort to help connect Art and Science in the world of digital scholarship. From an Art History perspective, I have long been jealous of Science's ability to develop advanced research tools using the latest technologies, from electronic journals to online databases. How can the Arts create similar resources, and why do they seem to trail behind?
Aside from fund raising abilities and the importance society places on different areas of study, I attributed much of this discrepancy to the unique nature of each discipline. The heavily visual and subjective nature of art can make it difficult to organize. Artwork cannot be cataloged based on how many legs it has or weather or not it grows hair. Art requires human interpretation, which is full of gray areas, which makes cataloging art difficult.
Richard Pyle’s eye-opening talk explaining the complicated world of taxonomy, in a way a non-taxonomist can understand, made me realize how Art and Science actually share similar cataloging challenges. I had mistakenly thought that life sciences had it easier when it came to organizing information because they have this great taxonomic system introduced by Linnaeus in 1735 that continues to be used by scientists today. If only art history had such a system, maybe it too could transform research by creating a resource like BHL for art. But after learning from Pyle how difficult it is to name a fish, identifying an art movement did not seem as daunting anymore!
When naming a fish, one must consider the whole history of names that came before it. As new discoveries are made, fish get named, renamed, and renamed again by different people throughout time. Trying to keep track of all these names and their histories is an enormous challenge involving several global initiatives. The Linnaean taxonomy that I was envious of quickly turned into a cataloging nightmare far worse than those caused by Library of Congress’ subject headings.
I can no longer excuse Art from the world of advanced digital scholarship because it lacks a structured taxonomy, instead, I’m feeling relieved that it does not have one and like a hurdle I thought was there has been removed!
The BHL conference made it very clear that by creating stronger connections between Art and Science through linked data and other emerging technologies we can open new doors just as scientific illustrations paved the path for new discoveries centuries ago.
We’re testing out a new way of displaying our “New & Notable” books by combining them in to one post per month. Also, above the book listings, you’ll see a slideshow with links to the WorldCat records for each book. If you are not a user of our physical collection, WorldCat will help you find a copy of the book in a library near you. If you enjoy our “New & Notable” section, we would love to hear your comments below.