Help Take Care of the Library's Art Books

July 11, 2017 | Jen McB

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Did you know that you can help us maintain the art books in our collection through careful handling and by asking for help? That way, everyone can continue to enjoy the library's treasures for many years to come.

A good art book will cost you. A good art book will cost you like the perfect pair of jeans fit, or your ideal frames compliment your face type. The sky will be bluer, your coffee will be bolder, the troubles of the world will melt away. Someone else out there was seeing your version of the world, or took the time to show you what you were missing. A good art book is a once-a-year purchase or a once-in-a-lifetime find.

For some of us, we go to a library where income status is a non-factor. Or if you have access to your own art books, you come here to find that elusive out-of-print title. Looking at art books in the library, you may also see in advance what the quality of the photo reproduction is like. Alas, the RBG colour of the internet is not the same as the CMYK of most print media.

A great way to do this is through our holds process. Ask to have that big art book you are coveting shipped across the city. We can help you carry the heaviest materials to a branch closer to your home, avoiding puddles and congested transit. It's also better for your back.  

My colleagues in the Special Collections gave me the following tips for the safe handling of large or precious books.

  • Allow the book to open naturally. Additional help to keep the pages open and flat is not recommended.  
  • Most adhesives are bad for paper; and books in general like cooler temperatures and little humidity.  
  • If like the Final Fantasy book photographed below you are dealing with something large and heavy, support the spine by propping up the covers to a gentler angle than 180 degrees.  
  • If something does happen to a book, please allow library staff to decide on the appropriate way to fix the item. Our staff take great care to use special acid free card stock to keep books from further deterioration.  

The sky: the Art of Final Fantasy

The Cover pages of
The Cover pages of "The Sky: The Art of Final Fantasy" by Yoshitaka Amano. Photo taken with permission from the Merril Collection.

You can also help us keep our collections healthy by supporting them through the Toronto Public Library Foundation – ask them how to support a specific branch or department like the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books or the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy

Night Watchman
The Night Watchman by Rembrant, (1642) is a room sized painting at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Happenings like coffee spills and charcoal stains are almost (but not quite!) forgivable offenses – at least they provide evidence that the material is being well used. 

There are many reasons to help us keep books in good form. When something happens to an art book there is also an accessibility that is denied people who cannot afford or who are unable to travel to places like the Rijksmuseum. Not everyone can be disappointed by Rembrandt's "The Night-Watchman" in person. Not that Rembrandt himself is disappointing. It's the crowds that make the experience painful. A book solves this issue by allowing you to take in the full scope of an image.

Arguably flipping through an art book is as experiential as taking a day trip to a museum. 

The last time I was at Toronto Reference Library I took some photographs to illustrate the variety of our collections:

At the Limits of Infinity
La Barque c1900, Odilon Redon edited by Rapael Bouvier, 2014. Photographed at the Toronto Reference Library June 2017.
Giorgio Morandi
Giorgio Morandi is the artistic opposite of the fauvist school of painters. For every movement, a counter move. Beige was his contrast and the current trend is the chemical absolute of a colour.
Yun Fei Ji art book
Looking through "Yun-Fei Ji: The Intimate Universe"  in 759.951 on the 5th floor of Toronto Reference Library. Appropriate use of a multiple folded page, please close with care.


Two Africans, by Rembrandt
"Two Africans" by Rembrandt, 1661. Mauritshuis, The Hague. Photo taken at the Toronto Reference Library June 2017.

In Toronto, we have so much access to materials for inspiration. It is important to preserve these treasures, these amuse bouche of the mind. If you love art books like I do, take care of them so that others can enjoy them too. You may find something unseen by your contemporaries.