Skillman Library at Lafayette College by Alisa Banks

Lafayette College is located in Easton, PA, about an hour or so from Philadelphia. The rare book collection of Skillman Library at Lafayette is home to over 15,000 volumes of printed objects including works about its namesake, the Marquis de Lafayette, slavery and abolition, angling, and artist books. The collection also includes early editions of works by Stephen Crane, who spent a semester at the college, and miniature books.

The artist book collection is diverse, with subjects including but not limited to the environment, books on race relations, alphabet books, books featuring photography, and books on women and gender. There appears to be limited on-line access to the artist books - but one can view the holdings in the on-line catalog. I was able to pull up my book Rosenwald, which is in their collection. Skillman also does a good job explaining their collections, how to search the collection, and discussing visiting etiquette. Skillman library holds exhibits of their collection and announces them on-line. Synopses of past exhibits can also be viewed.

I wish I’d known about Skillman Library years ago when my sister and her family lived outside of Philadelphia. I really enjoyed my visits there, and if ever there’s an occasion to return, I will be planning a visit to Easton!

Where and How to View Artist Books by Alisa Banks

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Artist Books

Where to view them

Welcome to my blog! This post discusses artist book collections, including how to visit a collection and what to expect. In the next few posts, I’ll introduce collections that house my work along with other '“bookish” topics.

There are many avenues to viewing artist books including exhibits and private and public collections. Many rare book collections include artist books and some libraries have have digitized their collections for on-line viewing. On-line viewing is very helpful as a supplement, but to get a real feel for the work, one should consider visiting a collection in person. Visiting an artist book collection may be one of the few times one is able to touch the art! Most collections are accessible to the general public for free. Always contact the library in advance for an appointment, though.

Artist book collections vary in size and scope. Some libraries house multiple collections, each with a specific focus. Other collections are more diverse. More information about a library’s collection is usually available on-line.

Because they house rare and often expensive work, there are a few basic ground rules when visiting a rare book room, though these can vary with each facility. One can expect to part with personal belongings such as handbags, backpacks, and umbrellas before entering the viewing area. Usually, a locker of some sort is provided. If you’d like to take notes, you may be provided with a pencil or you may bring your own, but ink pens are generally forbidden as ink marks can cause permanent damage. Many libraries will provide disposable cotton gloves for handling the work.

If you are considering starting a collection of your own, visiting a rare book room can be a good introduction to a variety of types of artist books. Or, perhaps your collection starts with a book you “can’t live without!”