Traditional Books in the Digital Age: The Study of Art History in the 21st century
For over twenty years I have worked as Art Librarian at Bowdoin College, and have seen enormous changes in academia-both in the library, and in the way classes are taught. But for the Art History student, the presence of books, which are more beautiful and, relatively more affordable, than those published in previous decades, is still a paramount source of research and inquiry. One might ask if this is because of the tactile quality of the book in relation to the digital flatness of the onscreen image, or the ability to open, compare, under close scrutiny, those images? Is it because the combination of image and text is inseparable? What is the difference between using a digital reproduction for text, and a digital reproduction for an image? The answers seem to be as unique as the images are. Working in a small liberal arts college that encourages original research even among undergraduates, has put me in the middle of this experience. Bowdoin's art history library has grown out of its space, yet we are still a non-circulating collection, because I believe there is something intangible, yet essential, about the shared use of these materials,that enriches the experience. Certainly the digital age has had a secondary effect on art books: the images are far superior to what was possible(and affordable) in the past. But it seems to me that the study of art history will never be a completely digital one; the nuance, the ability to compare, side by side, in the solitude of a huge study carrel, the images of one or more artists,is often the beginning of the scholar's passion for the actual works, and is something that will not soon be replicated online.
Keywords: Art History, Digital, Traditional, College
Art Librarian, Library, Bowdoin College