Skip to main content

Artists' Books: What the CIA Library Collects

Collection Development Overview

The library staff began the artists’ books collection in 1981/1982 in response to a foundation design final assignment to make a book, and that beginning determined the fundamental character of the collection. The artists' books collection is a teaching collection of edition and some unique books, representing the range of artists' books, fine press books, and bookworks produced in the United States and Canada with examples from Europe and elsewhere. In the first decade of the collection, the guiding collection development principle was to acquire artist-made books that would help foundation design students think about “the book” as a concept as well as a physical object. Soon the library staff began to collect more broadly in recognition of the “artists’ book” as an important contemporary art form and as a primary document of some art movements of the last half of the 20th century, such as performance, conceptual art, minimalism, postmodernism, etc. As the collection grew, the library staff also began to be mindful of the history of the artists’ book movement and to acquire books that illustrate that history.

The staff acquires edition and unique books, as both types of book have much to offer Institute students. However, edition books are far more common. The staff attempts to acquire a variety of traditional eastern and western book formats and binding styles as well as non-traditional ones.  The staff does not actively collect broadsides, or virtual (digital) artists’ books, and the collection is biased toward bound books.  While there are no strict guidelines about a book’s materials, we would not acquire books made from dead animals or known toxic substances. There may be limitations to the size of books we could add to the collection, although here again, we do not have any strict rules.  There are no limitations on language type, subject matter, format, or geographical scope. All artists’ books are fully cataloged and the records are included in the library’s online catalog.

The Institute's artists' books collection is broadly defined and includes books made by artists created outside of the publishing mainstream and, on rare occasions, books published by well-know mainstream publishers.  In order of proportional representation in the artists’ books collection, types of books added to the collection include:

artists' books, inspired by reformers and artists not usually associated with bookmaking (such as video and film makers, photographers, and performance and installation artists) as an alternative to traditional means of producing and exhibiting art, and with the intent to make art accessible and affordable for all people

altered books, where artists have transformed a pre-existing book into a new work of art

book objects, one-of-a-kind or limited‑edition books usually emphasizing the physical aspects of the book form and sometimes taking on a sculptural quality

fine press books, made by book craftspeople using traditional book materials and techniques, printed by independently owned and operated presses, and focusing on the materials and production of traditional book art (printing, papermaking, binding, etc.)

alternative press publications, which grew out of the mimeograph and offset printing technologies,  tend to be motivated by advocacy (and not craft), and  are more often produced by writers rather than visual artists

The collection also includes some commercial reproductions of unique books as well as a few examples of zines, artists’ commix, graphic novels, and mail art books.

For additional information, please contact the library staff (referencehelp@cia.edu)