Analysis and Evaluation


The Museum of Modern Art accepted my application to work as an intern in their library for the fall 2015 semester. From the museum’s website the internship is described as “[providing] undergraduate and graduate students and beginning professionals with practical experience in a specific area of museum work at The Museum of Modern Art” So on Tuesday, September 15th I started my 12-week stint working as a library intern. Before reporting to the library all seasonal interns go through an orientation process where we are given an overview of museum policy, given a staff manual covering a range of workplace issues including benefits, security, etc., and shown the museum computer system. We go to security to get our photo ID and from there on to our separate departments.

This would be a three-day a week internship with two days working in your department and one day devoted to intern activities as described on MoMA’s website as “…each Tuesday interns participate in professional development activities designed to increase understanding of the Museum’s various collections, exhibitions, and departments.” During orientation I meet fellow Pratt student Megan DeArmond who would also be interning at the library. On completion of the orientation we head to the library where we met with our supervisor Jennifer Tobias, Head of Reader Services, and Milan Hughston, Chief of Library and Museum Archives. During my phone interview and reiterated now in person they explained what the internship would consist of — the basic library duties of paging, (patron requests) and re-shelving. The library has been understaffed, (which is why they got two interns for the first time), and it was where they needed help the most. The library had just completed a major reorganization with the moving of the bulk of their collection to the Queens facility and was in the process of figuring out the new workflow.

Both Milan and Jennifer where a bit apologetic that we would be starting at the bottom but this was my chance to get practical experience working both in a library and museum so I had no problem with my set of duties. It would give me an opportunity to get acquainted with the collection both in the Manhattan and Queens locations which on the website states: “… include approximately 300,000 books and exhibition catalogs, over 1,000 periodical titles, and over 40,000 files of ephemera about individual artists and groups.” The collection though always non-circulating had also recently changed from open stacks to closed. Now museum staff and members of the general public are issued library cards and are able to access the collection and submit requests through the library’s online catalog, DADABASE. So, for the next 12 weeks I would get to be submerged in this extremely extensive collection, covering, as one would expect, painting, sculpture, drawings, prints, photography, architecture, design, performance, video, film.

Vicki Wong, Associate Librarian, oversaw our training and as the bulk of the collection was now in Queens it was decided that our two days would be spent there. The paging system is set up is that all materials, regardless of location, have a 24 hours turnaround. At the Queens facility we used Millennium software to print out requests, locate items, check out, and package requests to sent to Manhattan for patron use in the library reading room. In the climate controlled stacks we were shown the organization of where materials are housed — an enormous space encompassing approximately 18,500 linear feet of compact shelving with over 100 separate locations for books (regular and oversized), periodicals, photography, film, artists files, exhibition catalogs, ephemera, special collections, flat files, microfilm, etc. — as well as how and where to re-shelve returns. We originally were also slated to check-in and unpack returns but the amount of paging turned out to be much bigger than expected so our duties we were limited to paging. Vicki also trained us in labeling and shelf checking when time permitted.

Over the twelve week internship I was able to conduct interviews with the other librarians, bibliographers, and cataloguers on staff to understand the nature of their jobs and MoMA’s specific cataloguing system. As noted previously, MoMA’s internship program is structured so that in addition to my library work one day each week were intern activities in other parts of the museum which I’ve described in detail in my journal.



As my responsibilities were mostly limited to paging and re-shelving I became interested with the cataloging system in use by the library. Over the course of the internship I was able to interview and meet with the cataloguers and bibliographers on staff including Associate Librarian and Head Cataloger Danny Fermon, Bibliographers Sandy Sumano and David Senior, Librarian Philip Parente, and Associate Librarian Aria Marco. Through them I was able to get an overview of the history, background, and underpinnings of MoMA’s Library catalog system.

MoMA's library in 1939 (left), and

MoMA’s library in 1939 (left), and Beaumont Newell, (right).

MoMA’s library has been part of the institution since 1932, having been established three years after the Museum’s founding in 1929. Like many museum libraries, it was initially seen as a curatorial library but as the resources and content grew making these materials available to the public became a core mission. In 1935 MoMA’s founding director Alfred Barr hired Beaumont Newhall to be the librarian at MoMA. Though his first interest was in photography, (he went on to become the museum’s first curator of photography in 1940), he came up with their first cataloging system based on a mix of Dewey, Cutter numbers, and by artists last names alphabetically. As the collection grew this became more and more unwieldy as the system didn’t offer artists by grouping (i.e. German Expressionism or Cubism), or country. In 2002 the museum started using Library of Congress classification. This offered an expanded system for numbering of artists, exhibition catalogs, artists book, periodicals, etc. Danny Fermon pointed out this was a major improvement but resulted in a split collection where some items are still shelved under the old numbers, (such as the photography and film collection).

class sys

Old classification system on the left and new LOC based classification system on the right. Both still on the shelves.

In 2007 MoMA, the Frick Art Reference Library, and the Brooklyn Museum formed the NYARC consortium to integrate their online library catalogs. With Millennium as the software chosen for the backend of all three institutions the new cataloging system put into place at MoMA worked much better within the shared cataloging environment of NYARC as it’s more granular and offered more detail for description.

As Head Cataloger, Danny spends most of his time creating original records or adapting records for MoMA’s specific needs of cataloging and identifying artists, art movements, artists books, exhibition catalogs, ephemera, etc. During our meeting he went over the basics of cataloging, bibliographic control, and creation of metadata touching on the philosophical basis of cataloging, describing catalog record creation as it’s own language, and the defining rules for describing information resources. MoMA’s cataloging standards are quite high and negotiating the fine art subject headings is layered and complex. MoMA uses descriptive cataloging which include describing the physical details of a book and title page transcription.

MoMA uses the Library of Congress classification to catalog every item including the ephemera they collect which includes their collections of Artist Exhibition Catalogs (AEC), and Group Exhibition Catalogs (GEC). It’s an expanded system of numbers for items by artist’s names and years so that in the case of these items the published year is at the end of the LOC number.

One the right the housing for an Artist Exhibition Catalog and on the left on section of Artist Files.

One the left the housing for an Artist Exhibition Catalog and on the right a small section of Artist Files.

Artists’ Books are another important part of the collection. Bibliographer David Senior gave us an overview of the acquisition and cataloging of them. The bibliographic record is expanded with descriptions of physical characteristics and subject matter as well as the term ‘artists’ books’ becoming part of the cataloging record for all items sharing this form. These terms can be utilized as keywords or phrase searches in DADABASE. Also some records include a citation or reference notation, indicating where a particular book was reviewed or discussed. Besides overseeing the selection of materials for the artists’ books collection David organizes exhibitions of MoMA library material to increase awareness of the collection. Recent exhibitions have included Scenes from Zagreb: Artists’ Publications of the New Art Practice (2011), Millennium Magazines (2012), an exhibition of contemporary artists’ magazines and Please Come to the Show (2013), a two-part exhibition of special invitation cards and event flyers from the Library’s ephemera collections.

A small section of Artists Books.

A small section of Artists Books.

Bibliographer Sandy Sumano, Librarian Philip Parente, and Associate Librarian Aria Marco touched upon other various aspects of the collection. Sandy is working on processing and cataloging Latin American acquisitions including special collection materials and ephemera. Aria’s primary duties encompass incorporating and cataloging periodicals and updating print and online subscriptions and she showed us how they are cataloged with a serial module in Millennium. Philip gives us an overview of the catalog, showing us how the Millennium software is the backside of the DADABASE catalog system and of the history and nature of the NYARC consortium relationship and some bibliographic issues that have cropped up because of differences in overlapping records.

Though I was not working on one specific project this experience proved invaluable. Being immersed in this great collection and having the opportunity to interview and interact with the staff gave me great insight and first hand knowledge of how a museum library collection is organized and how valuable a resource the library is to the museum. Their materials are in constant demand, equally accessed by museum staff and the general public. This showed a great testament to the library and the staff that runs it. But with patron use high the staff shortage indicated possible problems in the library’s relationship to the rest of the Museum. With nine full time staff, (of which only three page), the success in access leaves them having to prioritize paging over other library needs such as acquisition, processing, cataloging, labeling, and conservation resulting in a large unprocessed backlog and unavailable materials. Interns are only a partial solution as they are temporary, take time to train, and when the internship ends having to repeat the cycle for the next one. If the library is to continue to maintain full access and grow there may need to be a reexamination of their budget and staff needs.



ARTBOOK Interview with MoMA Librarian David Senior on Artists’ Books. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Benedetti, J. (2007). Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press.

Cataloging Section – Art Libraries Society of North America. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Corcoran, K. (2001). Art Subject Cataloging in the Real World. Retrieved from

Drucker, J. (1995). The century of artists’ books. New York City: Granary Books.

Ekdahl, J. (1999). Artists’ Books and Beyond: The Library of The Museum Of Modern Art As A Curatorial And Research Resource. Retrieved from

Gluibizzi, A. (2010). The Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship. London: Facet Publishing.

Historical Development of Library Catalogues: Their Purpose and Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Library Collections FAQ. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Milan, H. (2007). Documenting the art of our time: A new research facility for The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Art Libraries Journal, 32(4), 22-28.

New York Art Resources Consortium. Retrieved from