Monday, August 16, 2010

The Addison's Other Installation

By now you probably know that the Addison staff is hard at work installing our first exhibitions since the renovation and expansion project began. Inside, Outside, Upstairs, Downstairs: The Addison Anew will showcase treasured favorites and noteworthy new acquisitions, grouped in creative and unexpected ways that will truly reopen your eyes to the Addison.

As exciting as that is, however, it’s not the only installation currently taking place at the museum. In our dramatically renovated and expanded library, the Addison’s collection of nearly 6,000 books on art, artists, and all things art-related is being cataloged and shelved for the public to use and enjoy. Overseeing this extensive project, which actually began some five years ago, is Timothy Sprattler, a librarian with 32 years experience and 25 years at Phillips Academy. Sprattler, the Assistant Director and Archivist at Phillips Academy’s Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (O.W.H.L.), has spearheaded the Addison art library’s integration into the larger Phillips Academy library system. Instead of disparate collections spread all over campus, institutions like the Addison and PA’s Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology are now satellite libraries, with inventories fully searchable in the central O.W.H.L. database. The days of showing up with fingers crossed that we might have a book on the artist you’re interested in are over!

Make no mistake, however—this is not a casual undertaking. The new Addison art library is the culmination of years of work by Sprattler and other catalogers. Instead of merely alphabetizing by artist (leaving you to guess where to search for a book like Homer, Eakins, and Anshutz: The Search for American Identity in the Gilded Age), the library is now installed in accordance with the industry standard Dewey Decimal System. How, then, did Sprattler take dozens of boxes of books packed in no particular order, and create a true library out of haphazard piles?

To find out, I spoke with him about his work on this project. My first question was simple: where on earth do you begin? Faced with row after row of empty shelves and box after box of uncataloged books, it goes without saying that Sprattler needed to be prepared before diving in. One key component in managing the reinstallation is building in extra space when starting to shelve; as anyone who’s ever tried to put things away and miscalculated the space needed knows, shifting the entire assemblage over and over again in neither fun nor productive. Sprattler builds ample empty space into his mental blueprint, so that only small sections at a time need to be readjusted.

Another tool in his arsenal is something called a “shelf list.” As one might imagine, it is simply a list of all previously cataloged books in the order they should be shelved. When dealing with a fully cataloged collection, this shelf list is virtually all you need to reinstall, because following it is like painting by numbers. The Addison’s collection, however, is not fully cataloged. The purpose of the shelf list is two-fold—a plan of attack for shelving the books Sprattler knows about, and a system for identifying those that still need to be cataloged. Once everything is unpacked and put away, he’ll go through the shelves and check them against his list; anything not on the list still needs to be cataloged.

The project may be complex and occasionally laborious, but the results will be well worth the effort. Students, researchers, and casual visitors will all enjoy the lasting benefits of Sprattler’s undertaking for years to come. The system is organized but flexible, modernizing the Addison’s research facilities while still allowing users to experience the benefits and enjoyment of real books. The internet serves its purpose, and indeed there will be computer terminals available right in the library, but the best way to obtain information is via a variety of sources. Now, the Addison is much better equipped to be one of those sources, and we hope you’ll make time to stop in the library when you visit the Addison after our reopening on September 7th.

Posted by:

Samantha Katzen
Development Associate


Unknown said...

Seems like an overwhelming task - thanks for explaining the step-by-step approach

Dennis Richards said...

I look forward to visiting the newly assembled collection in the new library. Complements to all involved. Your work is appreciated.