NOTE: The following text originally published as a section in Artist Files Revealed: Documentation and Access.
This chapter provides recommendations for the physical maintenance of artist files. It addresses the day-to-day procedures of processing the numerous and varied items found inappropriate for the library shelf.
Standards put forth in this document are done so with the hope of creating greater continuity across collections, to aid the librarian in day-to-day decision making, and to allow for greater ease in physical access. Recommendations should be edited, expanded, and augmented depending on the size, scope, and resources of a collection.
Because of the myriad types and subjects of documents eligible for artist files, it is important to establish a clear policy delimiting the scope of the collection.
Size or page number is an obvious criteria for inclusion in artist files. Fewer than fifty, forty, or thirty pages are common parameters.
Limits on material types are further determined by the use of the collection and resources for housing. Can posters be properly stored and are they useful for researchers? Might hard bound items be placed on shelves?
Appropriate subject areas for artist files are also determined. A useful strategy is to align the collection policy of the artist files with that of the library or parent institution. For example, the National Museum of Women in the Arts would limit its artist files to women artists. Some artist files are devoted solely to artists represented in the museum’s art collection.
Duplicating efforts within the institution should be avoided. Are materials in the artist files replicated in the institutional archives, registrar, or curatorial records?
Classification of the Collection
Oftentimes artist files are but one of a number of collections contained within the library. Creating a simple organizational system allows for greater continuity within the larger library’s collection and causes less confusion for the researcher. The most straightforward method of ensuring this continuity is to create folder or item level records in the library’s online catalog. While browsing is a common method of exploring artist files, frequently researchers seek out specific documents. A straightforward classification system and a clear policy for determining an item’s location eliminates some of the guesswork in using artist files.
Common types of artist files include:
Individual artist files – files devoted to a single artist commonly compose the bulk of artist files.
Artist Groups – artists working collaboratively should have a single file interfiled with individual artist files. Groups of artists who share credit for single artworks, or who have a purely collective identity share a single file, i.e. Gilbert & George, Atelier van Leishout. Often, these artists will have a distinct Library of Congress subject heading.
Less straightforward, however, are artists with individual subject headings who primarily work together. For example, Christo and Jeanne Claude, despite having distinct headings, share a joint file, as the majority of documentation is devoted to both artists and their collaborative efforts.
Institution files – the institution files contain documents pertaining to multiple artists or thematic shows. These items are placed in the file of the institution hosting the exhibition or the creator of the document.
The most thorough of artist file systems will create a physical file and catalog record for each artist on which they own documentation. There may not be a substantial amount of material, however, to merit the efforts of creating and cataloging a new file for every single artist who has a gallery announcement. A general alphabetical file is useful for these materials.
General alphabetical folders may hold materials by artists in a certain alphabetical range. As documents accrue, a new file is created. Artists who have individual files can be listed in the corner of each general folder. For example:
When naming files, use Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) when at all possible. This will allow greater integration of the artists file with the larger library, especially if file level records are created in the online catalog. Using LCSH will also eliminate confusing name variations.
Frequently, lesser known or emerging artists will not have established subject headings. Sources for determining the correct form include:
- Chapter 22 of the second edition of the Anglo American Cataloging Rules (AACR2), which provides rules for forming headings for persons.
- OCLC Worldcat.
- Getty Union List of Artist Names (ULAN)
- Auction databases such as Artnet.com.
As material in the artist file is rarely cataloged, using a clearly definable access point-—the name of an artist or institution printed on the document–is integral in making the collection retrievable. Finding a place for gallery announcements for single artists is a simple task. Filing gallery announcements for group shows, however, is not as straightforward. Determining the proper location of documents whose subject is two or more artists will often depend on the availability of staff resources.
Some options include:
- Choosing one artist–the first artist listed, the artist whose work is featured or the cover, the artist with the earliest alphabetical surname, etc.—under which the item will be filed.
- Placing the original document in a single artist’s file and placing surrogates or references that direct the researcher to the original copy in the additional artists’ files. A reference might include a photocopy of the document’s title page with a “See” note directing the researcher to the original.
- If the collection includes institution files, determining the number of artists featured on a document needed to qualify the item being filed by institution. More than three or four artists is a common criterion.
Ideally, items added to artist files should be maintained in as close to their original condition as possible. Labeling an item, however, serves to indicate ownership and to allow ease in filing and organization. Depending on the use, size, and value of the collection, some form of labeling might be appropriate. This could be anything from a small pencil mark indicating the name under which the document should be filled to following the labeling procedures for the library’s book collection. All efforts should be made to ensure the conservation of items in artist files and labeling should not interfere with textual or graphic information.
Types of labels include:
- Property stamps indicating ownership by the library in general.
- An “artist files” stamp indicating the location of the document.
- An artist name label operates similarly to the call number on the spine of a book, indicating the correct file location.
- Date of publication allows for ease in chronological filing.
Where to Label
Items are labeled on the edge that will be visible from the file folder, preferably on the back. If it is not bound, the document should be oriented so that the text reads top to bottom when the file is opened like a book. When at all possible, pencil should be used for labeling.
Balancing the needs of preservation with accessibility is a classic library dilemma, and it is especially prescient in artist files, where items are sometimes fragile and fingering through files is common. Simple conservation measures will aid in longevity of the collection.
- Remove extraneous materials including paperclips, rubber bands, staples, and wrapping material.
- If at all possible, do not fold large items.
- Unfold and flatten papers wherever possible. This will eliminate bulkiness in the files.
- Make copies of newsprint or isolate clippings in acid free envelopes.
- House fragile or irregularly sized items in archival folders or in Mylar sleeves.
Artist files documents are often housed in a combination of file folders and hanging files. When at all possible, folders should be acid free. Legal sized folders allow for a reasonable variety of document sizes. Folders with closed sides limit movement of materials within file drawers and prevent items from falling out.
The number of artist files, rate of growth of the collection, and available space determine the best housing solution.
- Vertical files are usually arranged in columns of four or five drawers, with file folders arranged from front to back.
- Lateral files use longer, wider drawers that allow for a greater number of files arranged left to right, similar to spines read on a book shelf. Lateral filing cabinets are deeper than vertical files, so protrude farther from walls and take up more space.
- Deep drawer filing cabinets allow for larger, oversized items, but necessarily have fewer drawers. A combination of deep drawer and standard drawer depth cabinets will save the greatest amount of space.
- Compact shelving including electric lateral filing systems such as Lektriever may be necessary as the collection grows, saving considerable floor space and limiting the frequency of shifting.
- Flat files or folio boxes are useful for posters and oversized items.
Filing documents by an artist’s surname is relatively straightforward. The task can become perplexing, however, when names contain diacritics, prefixes, or punctuation. Written standards such as A.L.A. Filing Rules and the Filing Arrangement in Library of Congress Catalogs provide guidelines for confusing situations. Whatever method chosen, consistency across the collection is necessary for accurate organization and easy retrieval of the collection.
Within a single artist’s file, maintaining chronological order minimizes physical handling. The filing task is also an opportunity to observe the condition of the collection—checking that all the material is in proper order within the folder, identifying misfiled items, ensuring proper alphabetization, removing duplicates, and addressing general untidiness.
Use and Circulation Policies
The circulation policy of the collection is determined by the nature of the library and institution that house the artist files. Small-sized documents are easily misplaced, and the collection is at risk when files stray too far. Space limitations for viewing the collection, staff limitations, or a desire to increase collection accessibility, however, are reasons for formulating a check-out system. A “File Out” card filed in place of a checked out folder is a simple way to indicate borrower and borrowed item. If artist files are cataloged at the item or folder level, then the circulation functions of artist files can be integrated with that of the larger library.
Space Planning and Statistics
Statistics are used to record the use, size, and growth of the collection. Valuable data to maintain may include the total number of files in the collection, number of questions asked, files used, number of items added, and volunteer hours.
Keeping track of the total capacity and amount of space used in artist files creates information on the rate of growth and future space needs. For this purpose, counting feet or inches of material added may be more constructive than the number of items. Counting the number of documents added and the number of files in the collection is often beneficial for administrative reports and publicity purposes.