The Clark's rare books enter digital age thanks to grant

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WILLIAMSTOWN -- About a year from now, millions of hungry minds will have almost instant access to nearly 200 books printed as long ago as the 1500s.

Due to a $118,737 Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), much of the Clark Art Institute's Julius S. Held Collection of Rare Books will be photographed digitally, and eventually made available on a number of websites.

"We really want to put these volumes out there," said Clark Librarian Susan Roeper. "The goal is to reach the widest possible audience."

The Clark's Julius S. Held Collection of Rare Books includes 283 volumes imprinted in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Many of them include illustrations by artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Albrecht Dürer, and Anthony van Dyck. The collection include works by Virgil and Ovid, versions of Aesop's fables, and titles on art and art theory, astronomy, religion, natural history, travel, and anatomy in a range of languages. There are important art histories and early treatises on iconology and emblems.

Approximately 80 books that form the core of Held's scholarly collection hold his manuscript annotations and commentary concerning provenance and identification of illustrations present in the texts appear on the inside of covers, in margins, and as end notes on fly leaves. The annotations will also be digitized.

Held was a distinguished art scholar and professor of art history at Barnard College for more than 30 years. His extensive contributions to the study of Dutch and Flemish art range from the 1947 book Rubens in America to Flemish and German Paintings of the Seventeenth Century that came out in 1982. His publications include several other important books, as well as countless articles and book reviews. After his passing in 2002, his collection of rare volumes was given to the museum in a gift/acquisition arrangement.

"Held wanted to share his collection," Roeper said.

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Museums for America grants aim to help museums address key challenges. The Clark will digitize 185 of the collection's volumes and enhance cataloging for more than 107,000 images in the collection.

By committing the volumes to digital memory, the Clark will be expanding access to these rarities, while at the same time ensuring physical preservation and extended future digital access for millions.

IMLS received 554 applications for the Museums for America grant. Of these, slightly more than one third (196 projects) received funding.

"Millions of Americans visit museums each year," said Susan H. Hildreth, IMLS director. "These federal investments will ultimately help museums deliver enhanced learning experiences, improve collections care and address community needs."

At the Clark ...

In response to overwhelming interest in "Radical Words: From Magna Carta to the Constitution," the Clark Art Institute is initiating a special admission offer for adults accompanying children to see the exhibition. The "Super Sunday" program will provide one free adult admission to the Clark when accompanied by a child. The program will be offered on Sunday afternoons from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., beginning on Sept. 21 and continuing through Oct. 26.

To reach Scott Stafford:,
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On Twitter: @BESStafford


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