Texas-based craft scholar Ann Howington shares her research and favorite resources from the field.more
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Introducing Your Digital Library
Not everyone can make it to Minneapolis to explore the American Craft Council's rich library in person. But there's good news: With the launch of the ACC Library Digital Collections database in September, you can now access many great archival materials online.
The council received an Access to Artistic Excellence grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to fund its digitization project; ACC librarian Jessica Shaykett had the challenge of assessing the extensive library holdings and deciding what to put online first. The full-text searchable database, organized in four major collections and growing daily, already contains more than 3,000 items, from newsletters to exhibition catalogs to filmstrips.
The most extensive collection is the digitally reborn Your Portable Museum. In the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, the council's Your Portable Museum program allowed individuals and schools to rent or buy exhibition catalogs and slides or filmstrips with transcripts. Today you can immerse yourself in the program's archives, viewing themed slide kits on topics from macramé wall hangings to ceramics with a political slant.
"It's a nice combination of technique and process kits with prominent artists demonstrating, along with images from the Museum of Contemporary Crafts and the American Craft Museum," Shaykett says, speaking of two institutions the ACC sponsored in that period.
There are also collections of exhibition catalogs and ACC history. But Shaykett's favorite collection is the ACC newsletter archive, from the 1950s to the mid-'80s. "The newsletters were very thorough," she says. "They did a great job of talking about what was happening at the time - not just with the ACC, but with contemporary craft both nationally and internationally."
Uploading and categorizing all the materials for the initial launch was no breezy task - and the work is far from over. Shaykett and her assistants are continuing to build Your Portable Museum and add more exhibition catalogs. This spring, they'll focus on historical content, adding programs and information from ACC shows in Baltimore, Atlanta, and St. Paul. By early 2012, Shaykett aims to have upward of 7,000 items in the database.
With its open access and wide-ranging coverage of contemporary craft, the digital collections feel "magical," Shaykett says, a boon to craft experts and newcomers alike. She hopes they will be an incentive to visit the library in person and see what else we have.
Elizabeth Ryan is American Craft's interactive editor.