The special collections of an institution, including archives, rare books, artists’ books, ephemera, and permanent collections, unless regularly on display, are often hidden and locked away from visitors. The forthcoming digital map and reference tool, Artists’ Books Canada, hopes to reach, engage, and educate audiences about the amazing book art collections close to home and across the country. Artists’ books are an increasingly popular collecting area for institutions. However, these works of art realized in the form of a ‘book’ also pose considerable challenges in the areas of cataloguing, access, and promotion. Consequently, for users, these collections tend to be relatively unknown and difficult to access, brought about by cataloguing inconsistencies and inaccessible physical browsing. Artists’ Books Canada is a comprehensive online resource that maps and describes artists’ books collections that each Canadian museum, library, gallery, centre, etc. provides access to. It offers a chance to acknowledge, promote, and offer greater visibility to the oft-hidden and difficult-to navigate artists’ books collections across Canada.
Designed to deepen an understanding of what our institutions have to offer, the tool will include general information about each collection, collection focus, search techniques for locating these materials, what visitors should expect when they visit, as well as contact information and additional links. While this case study focuses on a digital tool for artists’ books, this strategy can be used for many types of collections. I will explain the motivations of creating this resource, the goals of the project, and my progress to date. I hope to share my experiences and challenges of creating this type of interactive research tool with the intent of stimulating discussions on outreach strategies for special collections.