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Art history collection policy

Liaison librarian

  • Jennifer [dot] Garland [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Email) 514-398-4785

Revised 2013

History of Collection

The Library's Art History collection is housed in the Blackader-Lauterman Collection, along with the Architecture and Urban Planning collections. The core of the Blackader-Lauterman Collection  originated with several significant endowments reflected in the library's name. Historically, the collection supported the mandate of the Art History Department which focused on providing a program on the history of the visual arts and architecture of Western Europe, with lesser emphasis on North America. Oriental art was considered mostly for its historical influence on Western art. This more traditional program has recently undergone a major revision due to greater emphasis on the study of Contemporary Art and the establishment of a Chair in East Asian Studies at McGill.

In chronological terms, the most exceptional part of the art history collection has focused on the study of, and research in Byzantine and Medieval art. The Byzantine collection has long been considered the best in Canada and has been consistently augmented both through library funding and through special grants. Greek and Roman art and archaeology and the art of the Renaissance and Baroque periods represent other strong aspects of the collection. Other strengths of the collection lie in its holdings of art journals published in the 19th and early 20th century, its collection of catalogues raisonnés, and its exceptional resources for the study of iconography. In recent years, and emphasis on Modern and Contemporary (particularly Canadian) Art has been undertaken.

Subscriptions to print and electronic journals support research in Art History, as well as Architecture, and Urban Planning. Among the subscriptions to electronic indexes and databases are Grove Art Online; Art Fulltext; Art Retrospective; ArtBibliographies Modern; Bibliography of the History of Art. Several important image databases such as ArtStor; Art Image Gallery and Bridgeman Art Library Archive (Credo) are subscribed to. The microfiche collection, housed on McLennan 2nd floor, includes the Marburger Index to Art and Architecture in Germany and the Catalogues of the Paris Salons, 1673-1925.

The collection is particularly rich in Catalogue Raisonnées of major artists, under the responsibility of Rare Books and Special Collections.

Academic Programs and Liaison

The Department of Art History supports an undergraduate program with Major and Honours options, as well as a program of study leading to the M.A and Ph.D. degrees in Art History. Courses and graduate research for Art History focus on the history of art and architecture from antiquity to the present, emphasizing developments in Europe and North America. With the establishment of a Chair in East Asian Studies at McGill in 2001, the program began to reflect a growing interest in Oriental Art reinforced by the expansion of courses in East Asian Language Studies and Literature.

Collection Development is the responsibility of the Art History Liaison Librarian in consultation with faculty members of the Department of Art History and Communication Studies is maintained through the Departmental Chair as well as with other faculty members when required. Regular contact with other liaison librarians and teaching departments is maintained through the sharing of relevant review material. The Art History Liaison Librarian is also responsible for collection in Architecture and Communication Studies, and since 2012, has been based in Rare Books and Special Collections.

Current Collection Development


Maintaining quality in the historically strong areas of the collection while responding to major changes in the Department's curriculum have remained both a challenge and a priority. New courses and seminars in North American Contemporary Art, East Asian Art, Islamic Art, East European Art, have shifted the geographical and chronological focus of our collection development. Many of these courses are now taught in conjunction with different language and culture departments within the University such as East Asian Studies or Islamic Studies. Increased emphasis on multicultural study and research will require further co-operation with other campus and city libraries, as well as an expansion of the language base of the current collection. While we will continue to build a significant collection on 20th century art to equal the library’s holdings for earlier periods, greater emphasis will be placed on East Asian Art to reflect the recent establishment of a Chair at McGill in East Asian Studies. The Beaverbrook Chair in Ethics, media and communications, communication policy has been established (2004).

General Collection Guidelines

Format: In general, when both print and electronic versions of a journal are available, the electronic version will be acquired as long as the electronic version is identical to the print version and includes all the images. The print version of some titles will be considered for cancellation. Reliable online access to archival coverage of the journal must be available also.

Languages: English is the primary language of the collection, but works published in French, German, and Italian are regularly purchased. A growth of the foreign-language component of the collection is underway in connection with changes in the curriculum.

Chronological Coverage: Special emphasis is on collecting materials for the following periods: Ancient, Greek and Byzantine, Medieval, Italian Renaissance, Baroque and East Asian Art. Since the merger of the Art History and Communications Studies Departments, major efforts have been made towards building up a strong 19th and 20th century collection to support increased teaching of courses covering modernism and contemporary art.

Geographical Coverage: Emphasis is on the art and architecture of Western Europe and increasingly on North America. Other areas of development now include Eastern Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East. Further information can be found below geographic priorities in the Subjects and Levels section below.

Treatment of the subject: Scholarly treatment is emphasized. Books consisting of high-quality reproductions of an artist's work are purchased selectively, under the terms of the Lauterman bequest.

Date of Publication: Emphasis is on current publications. Whenever possible, retrospective acquisitions are made to upgrade specific areas of the collection and to replace books which have deteriorated or disappeared.

Deselection: Library collections should be evaluated on a regular basis with a view to retention, repair, replacement or de-selection ("weeding"). This work is essential to ensure the collection continues to serve user needs and supports a changing curriculum. De-selection decisions must be done very conservatively given the research-intensive nature of McGill University. Older and superseded materials can have historical significance and should be retained, while others may simply be misleading to inexperienced users and should be withdrawn. Multiple copies of a title should not be retained. The Collections Librarian should carefully evaluate all materials considered for de-selection, in terms of the Art, Architecture and Urban Planning collection policies, the teaching and research mission of the Schools and the uniqueness of the material. As space requirements are always an issue, material that becomes available electronically should take precedence over the print version, providing content and quality of images are the same.

Subjects and Levels of Collecting

Definitions of collection levels are derived from the American Library Association's Guides for Written Collection Development Policies, 2nd edition. 1996.

The following definitions of levels are employed in the McGill Library for describing levels of collection both for policy development and for collection evaluation purposes. http://www.mcgill.ca/library/about/collections/collection-policies/levels

* Numbers in parentheses reflect the level of aspiration.

Class No.TopicLevel
N61 - N75 Aesthetics, Theory, Philosophy 3b
N81 - N390 Study & Teaching 2
N400 - N3990 Art Museums, galleries etc. 3a
Art History
N5300 General 3a
N5310-N5560 Ancient 3a (3b)
N5320 - N5560 Artistic Archaeology 3a
N5630 - N5790 Greek and Roman 3b
N5940 Medieval 4
N6250 Byzantine 4
N6370 - N6375 Renaissance 4
N6407 - N6425 Baroque 3b
N6447 - N6465 Modern 19th Century 4
N6480 - N6494 Modern 20th Century 4
N7475 - N7483 Art criticism 3b
N7521 -N7521, N7565 Iconography 4+
N8555 - N8580 Conservation/Restoration 3a
Art Media
ND25 - ND3416 Painting 3b
NC1 -NC1940 Drawing 3a
NE1 - NE3002 Print and Printing 3a
NB1 - NB1902 Sculpture 3a
TR1 - 1000 Photography 3a
NK4700 - NK4890 Decorative and Applied Arts 2
GT500 - GT2370 Costume 3b
Regional Priorities
Western Europe   4
Canada   4
United States   3b
East Asia   4
South Asia   2
Near and Middle East   2 (3a)
Africa   2
Latin America and Caribbean   3
Russia, East and Central Europe   3(3b)
Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands   2

Co-ordination and Co-operation

Humanities and Social Sciences Reference and Stack Collections are relied on for national and trade bibliographies, general and national encyclopedias, etc. Blackader Reference concentrates on specialized reference works in its fields of responsibility.

The audio-visual materials in the field of art history, including videos, etc. are selected by Blackader and housed and serviced in the Audio-Visual Service of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library in the Redpath Building.

The Media Resource Curator at Art History and Communications Studies is responsible for the image needs of that faculty. 

Classics: It is recognized that some overlap with the general classics collection is inevitable although it is understood that Blackader collects in the field if the material offers visual images or supports the Ancient Greek and Roman Art academic curriculum.

Psychology: Material on the psychology of art and artists is collected by Blackader rather than by the psychology bibliographer.

Philosophy: Aesthetics, as it relates to art, is collected by Blackader rather than by the philosophy bibliographer.

The Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC )maintains a collection of original art as part of its Print Collection, although occasionally other material might be included. Information on art techniques is selectively collected, especially if it relates to its Print Collection. Materials on illustrations and illustrators are generally collected by Rare Books rather than Blackader. Blackader will selectively collect facsimiles of medieval manuscripts in the future, although such materials have been collected by Rare Books in the past. Certain items from Blackader Collection are on long term loan to the Rare Books Division for its Blake collection. The Blacker-Wood Collection collects extensively in the field of wildlife art, particularly in the area of ornithology. Included in their holdings is a rich collection of original prints. They collect secondary sources in the field of botanical illustration.

Related Resources Available to Members of the University

Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University collects books, manuscripts, facsimiles, and prints of interest to Art History students. Areas of common interest with Blackader include Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts and the History of the Illustrated Book, Book Design and Typography. Of particular interest are the Lande Collection of Canadiana for its original prints of Montreal, the Blake Collection for its illustrations, the Stearn Collection on the Puppet Theatre, and the collection of artists' books. Since 2000, this library has housed the Blackader-Lauterman Collection of Rare Books on Art and Architecture.

The Audio-visual Service of the Humanities and Social Sciences Research Library includes some slide-tape material and videos on contemporary artists.

The McCord Museum has a significant collection on the work of the Canadian Indian and Inuit artists and their collection on the history of costume is outstanding. Their Notman Photographic Archive is an invaluable resource for early Canadian, especially Montreal, social history.

The Humanities and Social Sciences Library, as well as other campus libraries includes works of visual interpretation of different subjects and themes throughout their book collections. Of particular interest are the following:

The Blacker-Wood Library of Biology maintains a rich collection of zoological, ornithological and botanical illustrated materials.

The Religious Studies Library collection includes iconographic representations of religious subjects, especially those related to Christianity in the mediaeval period.

The Osler Library of the History of Medicine maintains an important collection of early works on anatomical drawings and atlases, the history of vision from the human perception point of view, as well as the historical material on "patient art". The Health Sciences Library collects current materials in these fields.

The Islamic Studies Library includes publications on Islamic art and architecture, with strong holdings in Islamic iconography. Special collections include original art work, including a collection of fine Persian and Arabic lithographs.

The Education Library maintains a collection of materials on art therapy and art study and teaching. Presently, Concordia is the strongest partner in this area.

Regional Resources

The Library of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal has a significant collection in European and Canadian art history, including applied and decorative arts. Exhibition catalogues, catalogues raisonnés, and auction and trade catalogues represent a particularly valuable aspect of the MBAB library.

The Library of the Musee d'Art Contemporain de Montréal focuses on the contemporary visual arts including painting, sculpture, prints, photography, drawing, art videos, performance and dance. It also collects in the fields of museology and contemporary art history. It maintains a 11,400 item clipping file and almost 70,000 exhibition catalogues on contemporary art subjects. Approximately 39,150 of these catalogues are of over 30 pages in length. The library’s web site now includes a repertoire of roughly 3,000 links to sites related to contemporary art. Of particular interest are their microfiche copies of the archival fonds of artists Paul Emile Borduas, Yvan Boulerice and Gérin-Lajoie.Guerra/OVO.

The Bibliothèque nationale du Québec is a depository for all Quebec publications including art history. Of particular interest is the collection of over 800 artists’ books which form the largest collection of its type in Quebec.

Four other Montreal universities are relied on for the strengths of their individual collections. In addition to its general collections on art history, l 'Université de Montréal, and its Institut d'Etudes Medievales provide a special resource for medieval studies. L'Universite du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) collects material primarily on European, American, Canadian and Quebec art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Museology, photography, graphic design, applied and decorative arts, and cinema art are also areas of special interest. Concordia University focuses on materials on the fine arts, including non-print media such as videos, slides films, with particular emphasis on Canadian and women's art. Art education and art therapy are heavily represented. Of special interest is the Ann Savage Archive, housed in their Fine Arts Department, as well as their general university archive which includes material on Montreal art institutions and artists. L'Université de Laval has rare materials relating to the Quebec region, 75,000 slides on the historic art of Quebec, 40,000 slides on European mediaeval art and 200 art films. It has a large collection of exhibition catalogues covering art of all periods. Over 200 artists' books are held by its Department of Rare Books.

Future collection co-ordination between these four universities will be significantly influenced by the joint PhD program in Communications. Artexte Information Centre maintains a documentation centre and distribution service on the contemporary visual arts. Since 1965, it has tried to collect all exhibition catalogues published by Canadian museums, galleries and individuals and maintains files on Canadian institutions active in contemporary art. Since 1975 it has maintained a collection of contemporary art journals, many of which are Canadian small press and underground magazines.

The David M. Stewart Museum Library has a strong collection of books, maps and engravings which cover the early social and religious history of Canada from its discovery to 1763. It also collects current materials on the applied arts as they relate to Canada and maintains a collection on museology.

The National Theatre School Library collects materials on decorative and industrial arts, stage design, fine arts, theatre and costume.

The National Gallery of Canada Library in Ottawa. In addition to its comprehensive collection of materials on all aspects of art history, the library maintains artists' files for Canadian born artists or artists who have worked in Canada. Artists in Canada, its publication and corresponding data base, includes those files as well as others located in libraries and galleries across Canada. Comprehensive collection of auction catalogues.

The Center for Research Libraries in Chicago, CRL, a consortium to which McGill belongs, includes art history-related material in its holdings. These include titles such as the Collection of English Cartoons and Satirical Prints, 1320-1832, Sotheby’s Sale Catalogues, 1773-1945 and Decorative Arts Trade Catalogues from the Winterthur Museum.

Priorities for Future Development

Intensive development of the collection in the area of contemporary art. Continue to develop in Iconography.

Expansion of the geographical and language coverage in accordance with the development priorities of the Department of Art History. Co-ordination of collection development prioriorities with the East Asian bibliographer and with the Head of Islamic Studies Institute to facilitate new joint initiatives in these areas.

Published and Web Descriptions of the Collection

Gordon Home Blackader Library. Catalogue of Books in Architecture and the Fine Arts in the Gordon Home Blackader Library of McGill University. Montreal, Dominion, 1922. (McGill University Publications Series VII. Library No. 4).

Gordon Home Blackader Library. A catalogue of Books on Art and Architecture in McGill University and the Gordon Home Blackader Library of Architecture. 2nd revised edition. Montreal, McGill University Library, 1926.

Blackader-Lauterman Library of Architecture and Art Periodical Holdings. November 1989.

Library Guide: Art History Term Paper Handbook. Blackader-Lauterman Library of Architecture and Art, October, 1989.

Library Guide: Art History; a Selected List of Reference Sources. Blackader-Lauterman Library, 1990.

Sources in iconography in the Blackader-Lauterman Library of Architecture and Art, McGill University : an annotated bibliography, 1997

Several legacy web sites highlight aspects of the collection, including: The Urban Plan Collection, the Industrial Architecture of Montreal, Montreal’s Hospital Architecture, The Norbert Schoenauer Collection, and a full text, searchable version of The Canadian Architect and Builder. To support the teaching of the School of Architecture, Expo 67: A Photographic Journey” (2007) includes the digitization of 500 slides of the buildings of EXPO 67.

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