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The disorder of things: the postmodern art library

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 June 2016

Simon Ford
National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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Postmodernism has stimulated a ‘new art history’, which challenged, and then displaced, the highly selective canon of the ‘Old Masters’ and ‘Modern art’ with a broader approach, recognising a wider range of art and interested in investigating both the contexts of art, and the nature of art history itself. The new art history is represented on the shelves of art libraries, but a ‘new art librarianship’ must do more than passively reflect this cultural shift. A new art librarianship will expect of art librarians that they should be aware of the ways in which art libraries legitimise certain books and artworks, thus reinforcing the hegemony of the dominant culture, and that they should be prepared to use the power of art libraries knowingly and productively. Instead of imposing order through inflexible classification schemes, the new art librarianship will embrace the ‘disorder’ of a vast complex of knowledge seen from multiple viewpoints, accommodated by hypertext, for example. It is possible that electronic networking will eventually liberate information from the custody of libraries; the new art librarianship will not resist this, but will in parallel with such developments re-value art books, and books as art, as historical artefacts, reviving a more museum-like function from the history of librarianship, while continuing to serve as a manifest symbol of the wealth of human knowledge.

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Copyright © The Art Libraries Society 1993

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