By April Hathcock

Last week, I attended a symposium on “Publishing Art History Digitally: The Present and Future” that was sponsored in part by the NYU Institute of Fine Arts. One of the symposium organizers is a Ph.D. student with whom I’ve worked to navigate some sticky intellectual property issues related to an international collaborative digital art history project. She asked me to attend the symposium and come back the next day for an invitation-only workshop with several other symposium participants. The main focus of both the symposium and the workshop was to look at the ways art history journals are going digital and stepping into new modes of publishing and scholarship.

One of the main themes that seemed to run through the symposium panels and the workshop was the tension these scholars were experiencing in wanting to engage in and make available new forms of scholarship while still remaining respectful of traditional modes of scholarly creation and dissemination that in many places continues to dominate their field. As a scholarly communication librarian who works with scholars across multiple disciplines, this conversation was fascinating to me. Across disciplines, scholars are teasing out the implications of this tension between remaining faithful to the past and present while looking toward and planning for the future. It’s always interesting to hear how scholars in different disciplines navigate these questions based on their unique needs and priorities. But it’s also interesting to see the ways in which these various navigational paths overlap—realizing that the lessons learned in one space could easily be modified and applied in another.

I see great potential for libraries in helping to bridge that gap between devising unique discipline-specific strategies and learning not to reinvent the wheel, so much of my contribution to the workshop portion of the program involved sharing stories with the scholars and publishers about the ways their libraries can and should help with their work. Some of the scholars in the room had already made initial contact with librarians to discuss certain narrow issues and were eager to engage in fuller collaborative relationships. But for the majority of the scholars, the idea of working with librarians and archivists on their publications was a fairly new one. There was a lot of surprise in the room when I mentioned that libraries have been doing a lot of forward-thinking work in the publishing space and that we are eager to work with scholars on whatever projects they have going regardless of discipline. Certainly, the future of digital art history publishing could benefit from increased library involvement.

The workshop group plans to continue its work in the form of a best practices document or white paper outlining some of the issues discussed during our time together. And there is certainly a lot of eagerness to get more librarians and other information professionals involved. It was clear to me from the workshop and symposium that there is a lot of room for library outreach and collaboration with art historians who are publishing digitally.


April Hathcock

April Hathcock is a proud lawyerbrarian who works as the Director of Scholarly Communications and Information Policy at NYU. She speaks, writes, and tweets about diversity and inclusion in academia and ownership and access to research materials.

Comments (1)

  1. First of all, exploration of this topic needs to be done in light of the effort but ultimate failure of Rice University Press, which in its second incarnation, focused on digital art history publishing using the Connexions platform at Rice. It was the brainchild of a librarian, Charles Henry, but had to close down in 2011.

    Second, you need to be aware of the Art History Publishing Initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation:

    Third, although copyright issues are not such an obstacle as they once were, they still affect digital art history publishing more than they do other fields.

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