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Material Order: Building Collections and Creating Community

November 8, 2016
Barbara Opar and Lucy Campbell, column editors


Column by Mark Pompelia, Visual and Material Resource Librarian, Rhode Island School of Design

Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s Frances Loeb Library (GSD) and Rhode Island School of Design’s Fleet Library (RISD) announce the launch of a consortium of libraries with materials collections. Responding to expressed need for material description and access in an open source environment, Material Order provides a shared cataloging utility and collection management system, as well as a framework for a growing community.

The partnership began in 2011 to pursue a shared cataloging and search system. In 2012, RISD received a National Forum grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to organize an international symposium that clarified the fundamental issues and challenges, formulated solutions, and promoted the role of libraries in serving material collection curricular and research needs of faculty and students in art, architecture, and design disciplines.

Materials Education and Research in Art and Design: A New Role for Libraries, held in June 2013 at RISD, assembled a roster of international keynote speakers, funded fifteen participant librarians and directors from stakeholder institutions, and ultimately gathered nearly one hundred attendees for a multi-day and multi-format event, including a workshop for over forty librarians. Speakers, participants, and attendees all communicated the growing need for students in art and design programs to become better educated when selecting and using materials in projects.

Wide acknowledgment of the absence of a resource for material classification and description in design-related fields, unlike those found in materials science and engineering, fueled the conversation further. The existence of such consensus provided the basis for an emerging community—loosely knit but united around a common development: libraries supporting art and design programs are developing collections of material samples in order to support the curriculum and research in their institutions.

The GSD-RISD materials database project team was introduced to CollectionSpace (CS), part of the LYRASIS family of platforms, at a June 2015 meeting at Harvard University that included the Materials Collection at the GSD library. With its strong and proven experience in developing management platforms for object-based collections, CollectionSpace was selected as the right partner for further defining and developing this project to completion.

CS staff and GSD-RISD project team members conducted frequent group teleconferencing meetings to examine CS functionality for the materials database and for development of a consortium of materials collections. CS staff reviewed the GSD-RISD -derived database schema and gained a thorough understanding of the project as both shared and local implementations. With that clarity and the experience of other CS client projects, CS staff re-purposed a sizable portion of existing programming to be redeployed for Material Order.

Material Order’s shared cataloging utility is cloud -hosted and -accessed by multiple institutions, which will facilitate the larger goal of building the consortium. Both GSD and RISD have recently launched the full database and are beginning to use it. At the same time, GSD-RISD are defining and developing foundational and guiding policies, procedures, and documents to establish and sustain the use of a shared database.

This current academic year will offer a concentrated outreach effort including both broad and targeted communication and presentations on the features, benefits, and operation of Material Order, which include the use of the cataloging tool and its authorities, resource creation, and community development. In an effort to expand the consortium, we will be contacting institutions that have previously expressed interest in the database development and will be offering recorded and live demonstrations of the system through the year. We will also be attending conferences through the year to network with colleagues and that will support development of the consortium.

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  • Association of Architecture School Librarians
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