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I spent last week looking at pictures. Sounds relaxing, no? But since I was taking a class at the University of Virginia’s summer Rare Book School, it was enlightening but intense week, with a large amount of information absorbed in a very short time.
Rare Book School offers a variety of classes every year, on a wide array of special-collections-related topics. This year I was keen to take “History of Printed Book Illustration in the West,” taught by Erin Blake of the Folger Library.
ZSR’s special collections have a wealth of illustrated materials. And in recent years I’ve noticed a rapidly growing demand for our visual resources in teaching, research, social media, and other special projects.
I went into the class with a basic knowledge of the history of book illustration, but after a week under Erin’s tutelage, I now have a much enhanced understanding of illustration techniques, and I know more about the innovative and influential artists of the past 600 years. I can now with some confidence tell my etchings from my engravings and my collotypes from my photogravures.
I’m eager to deploy this new information in next year’s teaching. But I’ve also realized that I need to enhance the metadata for the visual aspects of our books. Academic library cataloging has traditionally viewed the text as primary, with illustrations, in most cases, of secondary importance. With better documentation, we’ll be able to make even more extensive use of special collections’ exciting visual resources.