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Site Mission

Artists' Books Online is designed to promote critical engagement with artists books and to provide access to a digital repository of metadata, scans, and commentary. The project serves several different communities: artists, scholars and critics, librarians and curators, and interested readers. ABsOnline operates as an online collection with curatorial guidelines established by an advisory board of professionals. Founded in 2004 ABsOnline is an ongoing project hosted at the University of Virginia under the direction of Johanna Drucker and with assistance from staff and interns working with the University Library and its units in digital scholarship. Anyone interested in participating in the project should contact us directly for guidelines on submissions.


Site Basics: The Conceptual Framework of Artists' Books Online

ABsOnline consists of files that display artists' books, exhibits, essays, and links to other collections or resource materials for this field. There is an index of agents (authors, publishers, binders, printers etc. of books and works represented), titles (of works, books, and sometimes objects), contributors (authors of essays, exhibits, commentary), and of collections and other resources. The indices are currently under development.

The core of ABsOnline is the presentation of artists' books in digital format. Books are represented by descriptive information, or metadata, that follows a three-level structure taken from the field of bibliographical studies: work, edition, and object. An additional level, images, provides for display of the work from cover to cover in a complete series of page images (when available), or representative images.

A basic understanding of the way the categories work, edition, and object are understood will be helpful for anyone using this collection, either as a contributor or a reader. The three levels operate according to a hierarchy, and each lower level "inherits" the properties of the category above (an object has all the characteristics of the edition of which it is a part, for instance).

Work: The highest category in the hierarchy should be understood as the overall idea or concept for the project as a whole. An example might be Pattie Belle Hasting's Scarlet Genome, which is conceived as a work with performances, a book, other documentation, and component parts. A "work" cannot be copyrighted, only elements within it that are actually produced are subject to copyright protection. The category of work is used to organize all the many component parts of a project, but anything related to actual production should go either at the edition level, or (in certain cases) with the object.

Edition: This includes all production information and materials for an edition, including but not necessarily limited to the actual texts, images, layouts and dummies, manuscripts, correspondence about production or reception, edition size, physical characteristics, design, and so on. A work may have several editions, and an edition will contain one or more objects.

Object: At this level a specific object, or instance, is being described. In cataloguing or description, this is the example one has in one's hands, and it will likely have some individuating characteristics: an inscription, a number, damage, repairs, anomalies from the printing process, an individual or unique binding, a provenance, an owner, and so on.

Images: These are page images from front to back, including spine, foredge, covers, end sheets, blank pages, and so on. We chose the page instead of the spread for maximum flexibility, but artists' chosing to scan their work in spreads will be able to display them in this manner.

Exhibits are curated by contributors in this online environment in exactly the same way they would be in a gallery setting. Exhibits have a theme, focus, or idea at their core and are accompanied by a statement or texts and become a permanent part of the site.

Essays are written by contributors who are either solicited or who propose a piece for publication. Essays draw on and contribute to the ABsOnline collection and become a permanent part of the site.

Collections are either linked to redirect a user to another site or are aggregated virtually in a way that allows them to appear seamlessly integrated into ABsOnline.

Indexes are organized by agent (works on the site), contributor (to the site), essay title, exhibit title, and collections.

A note on nomenclature: many of the terms used in this site, like "agent" to stand for any of the roles (author, printer, illustrator, publisher, binder, photographer, designer, etc.) that an individual might play in the conception or production of a work, are defined in the glossary. The nomenclature is taken from bibliographical conventions of professional cataloguing and descriptive methods. It is not meant to be confusing, but it may be unfamiliar, and every effort has been made to be consistent throughout the site, and to make the glossary complete. Please contact us with any questions or confusions.