The Architecture Librarian’s Role: Open Data at the Intersection between Architectural Design Education and Data Literacy

From the Association of Architecture School Librarians column on the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture website.

By Vanessa Viola, Art & Architecture Librarian, New York Institute of Technology.


Architecture Librarians, increasingly encounter design students who need geospatial information.

“Is there a ‘topo’ map of this location?”

“I need to know the population distribution around Jamaica Bay.”

“I’m looking for the change in population” in Brooklyn”

“How many trees are in this neighborhood?”

“I need to know how many rental properties are in this area”

These are the questions often heard during reference desk conversations and research appointments. In some cases, students gather what they can from articles and conclusive analysis by other authors. However, I realized these requests are an opportunity to challenge my love of maps and learn alongside students. Design students need not only to locate maps but also to utilize geospatial data to visualize spatial conditions. David Stuart validates this hunch and recognizes geodata is not exactly exciting for everyone, however, “librarians play an important role in promoting these data sets, beyond responding to user requests (Stuart, 2011).

During the International Open Access Week of October 2018, we presented open data to architecture students while promoting open access principles. Librarians from each branch promoted OA principles and focused on open applications, open data, and open educational resources. Subsequent demonstrations of gateways included NYC Open DataNYC Population Factfinder, and how to locate and parse local GIS clearinghouses. After emphasizing the ability to access and use open data freely during a library workshop, the education and collaboration activities continued. In the Fall of 2019, the Art & Architecture library hosted, Locating Geospatial Information. This workshop began by defining open data, recognizing the building blocks of geospatial data sets, and then selecting and manipulating quality visualization such as Living Atlas by ArcGIS and Social Explorer.  Each iteration of these demonstrations addressed stages of precedent analysis, site analysis, and thesis research.

The ‘Opening Up’ of geospatial information is relatively new. We have gone from several siloed municipal data sets on (2009) to today where 30 global adopters of Open Data Charters such as Find Open Data in the United Kingdom. The Open Data Barometer measures governmental open data initiatives globally. This means it has become easier for students to discover, navigate, and generate analysis themselves.

Continuing the open data discussion does not aim to “treat data as unquestionable . . . rather as a proxy for things we want to understand or probe” (Haque, 2014). The open data and geospatial workshops serve as a backdrop for more complex design thinking.  Countering this notion of government data as the end-all of data requires developing a student’s geospatial data skills with a critical lens. Usman Hague argues that investigating the building blocks of geospatial data should emphasize people at the center analyzing data (Hague, 2014). Exposure to and understanding the access, evaluation, format, and analysis of open data sources lead to student participation in the evolving open data infrastructure.

Haque, U. (2014). Making Data, Making Sense. A + U: Architecture & Urbanism, 530, 110–113.

Stuart, D. (2011). Facilitating access to the web of data: A guide for librarians. Facet.


About the Images:

Heidi Abrahamsen developed these visualizations during the Community Design course at the School of Architecture and Design, New York Institute of Technology. The project considered revitalizing the Westchester Creek edge, by creating usable space and easy access for residents. The data research involved mapping the existing information and designing to expand limited space.

Ms. Abrahamsen explains, “The ‘personal public’ map refers to the parts of the city that the residents use personal vehicles versus public transportation more and relating to the areas that are more residential versus commercial.”

ARLIS/NA Architecture Section and Urban Planning SIG to Merge

In May,  survey was recently sent out to all members of the Architecture Section and the Urban Planning SIG of ARLIS/NA. The questioned posed asked if they agreed with the proposal to merge the two groups.

Forty-five members voted. Of these, forty-four votes were in favor of the merger, with only one vote against it.

Please find the breakdown below:


Thank you to all who participated in the survey!

They Stepped Up: Vendors During the Coronavirus

From the Association of Architecture School Librarians column on the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture website.

By Barbara Opar, Architectural Librarian, Syracuse University.

It is a changed world out there. We in academia have had to adjust very quickly—faculty to preparing lectures with the resources on hand and then recording them online using newly prescribed software; librarians to dealing with reference queries that were once easy to answer in the print world but now with limited online content. And what about our students? They can no longer presume that they can consult older periodical issues or study structural systems on actual drawings. Many are unaware of what they cannot access. All of us have had to make quick adjustments to different resources and content.

But we have had support. Many vendors have stepped up and offered free content for the duration of the pandemic without the expectation of purchase. Examples are numerous and often surprising. By March 25, RedShelf and VitalSource opened access to hundreds of textbooks for free to faculty and staff at qualifying colleges and universities impacted by this crisis. Proquest is offering access to 150,000 titles. Sage Knowledge and Project Muse are on board as well as presses like Duke University and the University of MichiganBrepolis and DeGruyter are among more commercial vendors expanding their access to nonsubscribers. Want to keep current with periodical literature? Then you can turn to Flipster or RBDigital. Streaming video content is being offered up by ArtFilms DigitalKanopy, and Swank. The list goes on. Academic libraries with such access have often listed it right on their home pages. Your architecture librarians have taken this one step further and tailored this information for your own institution.

But there are two other important sources of content that I wish to bring to your attention. The first is Hathi Trust which was initially designed as a collaboration of the Big Ten Academic Alliance, the University of California system and the University of Virginia to establish a repository for archiving and sharing digital collections. Many other libraries have joined. As a repository, Hathi Trust contains both public domain as well as copyrighted material. By request, member libraries now have temporary digital access to over 50 percent of copyrighted print holdings. Libraries must meet standards such as no physical access to print collections and adhere to the Trust’s copyright guidelines. Check your libraries’ database menu. There are also ways to access some content as a guest at the organization’s site.

Everyone has also heard about the Internet Archive. But you may not know much about its latest initiative which some consider very controversial. The Internet Archive is a 501c 3 non-profit organization based in San Francisco and founded in 1996 by Brewster Kahle. To date, it has captured 20 petabytes of data. It partners with libraries to preserve and make accessible 20th-century resources in a broad array of topics and formats. The mission of its Open Library is “universal access to all knowledge”. In early March as the United States was beginning to understand the pandemic, the Internet Archive launched the National Emergency Library. Instead of controlling the number of copies of a title circulating at a time, the Library decided to remove limits. Traditionally, the number of copies available for circulation was based on the number of print copies in its own collection, and a waitlist was created for additional borrowers. That feature has been removed, allowing for unlimited access. The Internet Archive does not claim to include everything, but a quick search of the late Michael Sorkin’s writings shows some interesting content. One of two titles available here, but not commercially through any vendors, is the popular Variations on a Theme Park, making the Internet Archive another valuable source of online content. Initially well received and endorsed by a significant number of libraries including MIT, the Archive is now facing lawsuits and backlash from groups including the Authors Guild.

Life as we knew it has changed overnight. We are all proceeding as best as we can and making use of what is at hand and easily obtainable. What is certain is that each of these initiatives has helped in some way. Library suppliers have been offering deferred payments and cost reductions. The free albeit temporary content has made a tremendous difference in the past month and a half and will continue to do so as we all work to provide the services for which we are responsible.

Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) Virtual Conference, April 30-May 1, 2020

By Aimee Lind, ARLIS/SAH Liaison

The 73rd Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, scheduled to take place in Seattle, WA from April 29th-May 3rd, promised to be one for the ages, with a full roster of paper sessions, roundtables, workshops, seminars, social events, and tours of Seattle and the surrounding areas. On March 10th, however, the SAH Board of Directors announced their difficult decision to cancel the Seattle conference due to the COVID-19 crisis. SAH leadership quickly pivoted to a new online model, a virtual conference with a registration fee of $100 featuring 36 paper sessions, with many papers recorded and available to registrants after the conference.

A welcome from the conference chairs Victoria M. Young, Ann C. Huppert, and Thaisa Way, SAH President Sandy Isenstadt’s State of SAH address, the keynote [“Seattle’s Inventions and Reinventions” delivered by Margaret O’Mara, University of Washington], and the Eduard F. Sekler talk [“The Home of the Oppressed”: Democracy, Slavery and American Civic Architecture, delivered by Mabel O. WIlson, Columbia University] are accessible online to all. Paper sessions as they were delivered live and, through May 31st, as recordings, require a registrant log-in. Roundtables will be held via Zoom from May 19th-May 28th and are free and open to the public. 

While it is regrettable that so many roundtables, seminars, tours, etc. did not survive the transition to the virtual model, there were many unexpected benefits to attending SAH online: fewer paper conflicts due to the ability to watch recordings later, a more accessible registration fee that led to many first time attendees, and the ability to follow along at your own pace to a certain degree. Moving forward, I would appreciate a hybrid model where the in-person conference takes place but there is a less expensive registration fee for virtual-only access to select aspects of the conference and all registrants have the ability to go back and review recorded sessions for a limited period of time. 

While it is difficult to know what we all have in store for us in the coming year, the 2021 SAH conference is scheduled for April 14-18 in Montreal, Canada.

As mentioned above, the State of SAH address is available in its entirety online but I have included my notes below.

State of SAH Address [Sandy Isenstadt, SAH President]

  • Switch to virtual conference
  • SAH Data Project
    • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant assessing the field of architectural history in higher education  in order to finetune commitments of SAH
    • Survey response rate started strong but dropped off after COVID-19 hit; Sarah Dreller adopted a snapshot questionnaire and extended time on original survey
    • Report should be available in 2021
    • More info on SAH website
  • SAH Affiliate Groups:
    • Meet in person or remotely to pursue common interests
    • SAH board approved 4 inaugural groups
      • Asian American Diaspora Architectural History
      • Historic Interiors
      • Minority Scholars
      • Race in Architectural History
  • SAH IDEAS Initiative
    • Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accountability, and Sustainability
    • Sparked by November 2019 Membership and Diversity meeting; further developed by Pauline Saliga and Carolyn Garrett
    • Among other efforts, SAH is co-organizing a summer teachers institute with Lakeforest College to enhance humanities education through deep engagement in issues of race; urban field trip program for underserved youth; events sponsored by the global architectural history and teaching collaborative; graduate student scholarships; childcare subventions for annual conference; formation of SAH affiliate groups (see above); SAH Data Project (see above).
  • Establishment of David B. Brownlee dissertation award; $1000 stipend to attend conference
  • Gill Family Foundation : Multi-year grant for $5000 in research travel for a doctoral candidate in architectural history. NB: The Gill Family Foundation also sponsored the $100 registration fee for the virtual conference for 160 graduate students.

Top Ten Checkouts for 2019 at the Boston Architectural College Library

Submitted by Robert Adams, Director of the Library, Boston Architectural College

At the end of December the Boston Architectural College Library compiles data on the items with the highest circulation numbers from that year. A look at this year’s top circulated items reveals a trend we commonly see – Practice. The BAC was founded as a practice-based education and this is reflected in the materials that are checked out each year; as can be seen in the number one item checked out for 2019 – The Architecture Students Handbook of Professional Practice.  Additional numbers…

We had over 2185 items checked out a total of 6,304 times.

Our school student population is just shy of 700.


Reconstructing Adler and Sullivan’s Stock Exchange Trading Room

Submitted by Autumn L. Mather, Head of Reader Services, The Art Institute of Chicago

The exhibition Reconstructing Adler and Sullivan’s Stock Exchange Trading Room is on view weekdays from 10:30 until 5:00 through Friday, March 6, in the reading room of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Ryerson & Burnham Libraries. The Trading Room was the centerpiece of the Chicago Stock Exchange building, one of the most distinctive commercial structures built by the architectural firm of Dankmar Adler and Louis H. Sullivan. The exhibit explores that space’s journey through changes in appearance and function as well as place. Drawing on the rich resources in the Ryerson and Burnham Archives and two private collections, the exhibit features architectural fragments from the Trading Room and adjacent spaces alongside press accounts, photographs, building plans, and correspondence to tell the story of the design, construction, remodeling, demolition, salvage operations, and eventual reconstruction of the space.

Terry Birck of Reed Construction surveys the completed Trading Room, 1981. John Vinci Papers, Ryerson and Burnham Archives.

In 1893 wealthy Chicago businessman Ferdinand W. Peck commissioned Adler and Sullivan to design a metal-framed, 13-story speculative office building to be located at the southwest corner of LaSalle and Washington streets. Work began that summer and was completed in spring 1894. The Trading Room was added to the design in order to encourage office tenancy by brokerage firms and related professions. The Chicago Stock Exchange, from which the building took its name, soon signed on to a 15-year, rent-free lease.

The Trading Room served its original function for just 14 years. When the original lease expired in 1908 the Stock Exchange moved, and Foreman Brothers Banking Company leased the space, hiring the architectural firm Frost & Granger to remodel the interior for a working bank by installing tellers’ cages, customer counters, and chandeliers. Foreman Brothers remained in the space until the bank failed in the 1929 stock market collapse. Subsequent tenants subdivided the space and installed a suspended ceiling over Sullivan’s elaborately stenciled design. The owners of the building declared it “economically unviable” in 1971 and, despite pressure from Chicago’s preservation community, members of the public, and prominent journalists, the City Council declined to intervene and demolition was scheduled.

Chicago Stock Exchange Building About 1971. Richard Nickel Archive, Ryerson & Burnham Archives.

The Art Institute of Chicago agreed to house a complete reconstruction of the Trading Room in its original state, which was complicated by the many renovations of the room and the urgency of completing salvage work prior to the building’s demolition. Despite time constraints and significant physical risk, the salvage crew went to great lengths to extract building materials from the Trading Room that could facilitate accurate reconstruction. Some of these artifacts—including windows, fragments of an artificial marble called scagliola, art glass skylight panels, wall sconces, and marble fragments—are displayed in the exhibition.

As salvage work took place, Vinci-Kenny Architects was hired to complete the reconstruction in the new East wing of the museum. They placed the room in its original orientation, allowing the skylights and east-facing windows to illuminate the space. Construction began in 1976, and the roughly 5,000-square-foot Trading Room was almost entirely recreated in just eleven months. The room opened to the public on April 8, 1977. The Trading Room is open for museum visitors to explore in the Rubloff Building, and the exterior entrance arch to the Stock Exchange Building can be seen just outside the Rubloff Building, on the southwest corner of Monroe and Congress streets.

Adler & Sullivan, original architects; American, 1883-1896, Vinci & Kenny, reconstruction architects; American, 1970-1977, Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room Reconstruction at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The story of the reconstruction of the space and the Trading Room’s rich history is illustrated with unique items from the collections of the Ryerson & Burnham Archives, a regionally-focused collection of primary-source materials on art, architecture, and design. The Ryerson & Burnham Archives hold the largest extant collection of documents—including architectural and design drawings—of Louis Henri Sullivan (1956-1924). The archive of architectural photographer Richard Nickel, who visually documented Sullivan’s oeuvre, salvaged hundreds of architectural fragments from buildings undergoing demolition, and was a key figure in Chicago’s emerging historic preservation movement, also is available in the Ryerson & Burnham Archives. More recently, the Archives acquired the John Vinci Papers, which include documents on Vinci-Kenny’s reconstruction of the Trading Room. All of these materials are available to the public without prior appointment during reading room hours (1:00 until 5:00 Monday through Friday, with materials pulled from the stacks until 4:00 on those days).

Preserving & Creating Access to Vladimir Ossipoff’s Architectural Collections

Submitted by Malia Van Heukelem, Art Archivist Librarian for the Jean Charlot Collection and Archive of Hawaii Artists & Architects Collections at the University of Hawaii at Manoa

The University of Hawaii’s Hamilton Library has a well-established artist archive in the Jean Charlot Collection, which opened in 1983. What most people don’t know is that the library has selectively added collections of Hawaii artist and architects since that time. One such archive is the Ossipoff & Snyder Architects Collection, acquired in 2010. Vladimir Ossipoff (1907-1998) is Hawaii’s most prominent modernist architect. Hired as Art Archivist Librarian just two years ago, my first year necessarily focused on the public facing Jean Charlot Collection. The past year there has been a shift to physical processing and making hidden collections accessible online. Each artist and architect collection under my care has been added to our library’s instance of ArchivesSpace, at least at a very basic level.

Conceptual rendering for the University of Hawaii’s Administration Building, 1948


Ossipoff came to Honolulu in 1933 and launched his architectural career which spanned over 60 years. He was born in Vladivostok, Russia, and moved with his family to Japan when he was just a toddler; his father was a military attaché to the czar. They remained in Japan following the Russian revolution, until after the 1923 Japan earthquake, when his mother fled with her children to California. He completed high school in Berkeley before pursuing architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. Following college, he worked on a few projects before moving to Hawaii, and by 1936 he had established his own firm and practiced in Honolulu for the rest of his life. Heavily influenced by Japanese and Polynesian design, the use of local materials and positioning of architecture to the landscape and climate, his style is often referred to as “tropical modernism.” During the 1940s, the firm was called the Associated Architects and included other emerging talent: Alfred Preis from Austria, Philip Fisk, and Allen Johnson. Both Fisk and Johnson were classmates of Ossipoff from Berkeley. In the 1950s, Sidney Snyder, Alan Rowland and Gregory Goetz joined the firm and became Ossipoff’s partners for many years.

Sid Snyder joined the firm in 1956 and worked with Ossipoff for over three decades. He supported the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Hawaiian Modern exhibition and catalogue organized in collaboration with Yale University in honor of Ossipoff’s 100th birthday. In 2010, Snyder donated the firm’s project files along with several award display panels, which are highlighted in an online gallery created in Omeka (our library’s latest image platform).


There are three major categories of materials in the Ossipoff & Snyder Architects Collection: the project files (drawings and specifications), award display panels, and architectural models. The largest group is the drawings which were all folded and are being moved to flat storage in map folders and drawers for long-term preservation and access. The specification files are housed by file number in archival folders and document boxes. The firm was involved with projects of all type and scale from the Honolulu International Airport, to private clubs like the Pacific Club and Outrigger Canoe Club, to the National Tropical Botanical Garden, University of Hawaii, residences such as the Liljestrand House and Goodsill House, to banks and libraries. Over 500 projects are represented in the collection, of an estimated 800 projects undertaken by the firm. Working from a preliminary inventory, researchers using the collections are asked to specify projects by name, date or type. For residential projects, they are easiest to locate by the original owner’s name.

In November 2019, the Library received an important gift of personal papers relating to Vladimir Ossipoff. These materials greatly complement the collection of project files by adding: Ossipoff’s scrapbooks with clippings and original photographs; magazines featuring his most prominent buildings; and personal items such as his school yearbooks and awards.

Ossipoff’s custom bound scrapbooks

Generous support from an anonymous donor enabled me to hire a highly experienced part-time processing archivist in 2018. She has worked with both artist and architect collections, most recently completing an inventory of preservation architect A. Spencer Leineweber’s papers. A Preservation and Access grant in the amount of $7,000 was just awarded by the Hawaii Council for the Humanities. This year additional archival supplies will be purchased with grant funds to continue re-housing Ossipoff materials and to scan selected conceptual drawings for an online gallery. Additional attention will focus on expanding an online guide to the Ossipoff collections and the information for the finding aid in ArchivesSpace.


An Archival Processing Internship has been arranged this semester with a student enrolled in our University’s Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program. The student is interested in archives as well as architecture, so we have opted to work with two large architectural archives which need much attention to increase their preservation, access and use.

Students & Volunteers

I have one student assistant who is a graduate student in American Studies and pursuing a Museum Studies graduate certificate. She has helped with spreadsheets for the drawing inventory and capturing additional metadata, especially for project collaborators. My two volunteers are exceptionally well qualified to help on preservation projects such as unfolding and numbering the fragile drawings. They are both noted local artists and have extensive experience in museum collections management and conservation.

Volunteers Sanit Khewhok and Hiroko Sakurai unfolding delicate drawings for flat storage

Until recently, there was very little online presence for the Ossipoff materials here at Hamilton Library. That didn’t stop our small community from spreading the word. Requests to study drawings have come from preservation architects, homeowners, students and faculty. September provided the incredible opportunity to partner with Docomomo on tours for the 2019 National Symposium in Honolulu. There were tours focused on Ossipoff buildings, which kept selling out, and more were added until I had committed to nine tours over three days. I wasn’t sure tour participants would appreciate the stop at the archives to view original documents related to the buildings they were visiting, but it turned out to be a big success. Each tour had a leader who rotated the visitors between the archival document stop here in the library and two Ossipoff buildings.

Docomomo Hawaii Chapter President Graham Hart bringing one of the tours through to view original drawings by Vladimir Ossipoff
Other Hawaii Architect Collections

Besides the Ossipoff Collections, the University of Hawaii also holds collections by the following architects: Hart Wood, Hego Fuchino, John Mason Young (engineer/planner), James Hubbard (landscape architect), Nancy Peacock (residential) and Spencer Leineweber (preservation architect). Managing architectural collections presents unique challenges. They require lots of space, special equipment to provide safe storage, large tables for viewing, and may consume vast amounts of archival supplies and staff time to process. There are no other local repositories known to collect architectural materials. Given these constraints, most archives are not equipped to handle the task. And this does not even take into consideration the astounding obstacles to preservation and ongoing access to digital design records created with a proliferation of unsupported and obsolete software.


The Vladimir Ossipoff architectural collections at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Hamilton Library are available by appointment Monday through Friday in the Jean Charlot Collection reading room. Please call 808-956-2849 or email, with any questions or stop in for a visit!

BAC Library History

Submitted by Robert Adams, Directory of the BAC Library and K.H. Kobialka, CA, BAC Archivist

The Boston Architectural College (BAC) was established as The Boston Architectural Club in 1889 by a group of practicing architects, some of whom were members of the Boston Society of Architects (BSA). According to the original charter, the Club was created “for the purpose of associating those interested in the profession of architecture with a view to mutual encouragement and help in studies.”[i] The Club was also envisioned to include not just for architects but also sculptors, painters, and practitioners of the “allied arts.”[ii]

From its roots, the BAC was intended to be a more inclusive group and over time that essential BAC principle has endured and developed as a vital part of the institutional mission. In the early days of the Club, members tended to be practicing architects in Boston firms who partly intended the Club as a venue for the continuing education of younger members of the profession after work hours.[iii] This level of accessibility may have attracted many first- and second-generation immigrants, who often lacked the resources to attend traditional colleges or to travel as part of their education.

The earliest records of a library at the BAC are the bookplates in the oldest books in the collection, which date to 1890. By 1894 regular Club meeting minutes record the existence of a library committee at the BAC.[iv]

Bookplate from 1890. Courtesy of Memorial Library, Boston Architectural College.

In 1895, a bequest of $5,000.00 was made to the BAC by Arthur Rotch, one of the founders of the prestigious Rotch Travelling Scholarship, “for the purchase of books and collections”.[v]  Initially, the library collection was primarily used by Club members. By the 1890s, the Library Committee had begun to consider the use of the Library to support the work of a student atelier. By the end of the 1890s, the library held over 200 volumes. At the start of the 20th Century, the Club Secretary’s report requests that “some adequate provision be made for the stacking and custody of the books, so that they may not only be accessible, but preserved under conditions more conducive to permanent use.”[vi]

Most books in the collection were European at this time, as American architectural publishing was still in its infancy. Some Club members with the means to travel overseas purchased books for the BAC.

During the first twenty years of the BAC’s operation, the Club moved between rented spaces, purchasing a permanent home at 16 Somerset Street in 1910. Library space in these temporary quarters tended to be limited and informal.

No. 6 Hamilton place was an early rented room by the Club and shows bookshelves in the lower right. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.

During the First World War, over 100 Club members served in the military.  Sadly, three students died during the war and the surviving Club members chose to dedicate a memorial in their name. The result was the creation of Memorial Library. The paneled walls, shelves, memorial plaque, and fireplace for the new library were constructed under the supervision of Bellows & Aldrich, a local architectural firm that had a long association with the BAC.  The dedication of Memorial Library took place in 1922.[vii]

At that time, the bulk of the books found in the library had come from the architectural office of Robert Swain Peabody, as a bequest from his widow. Over time, other noted architects such as Charles Brigham, Clifford Albright, and William Gibbons Preston, donated volumes.

Memorial Library pictured in the 1930s. The center plaque memorializes George Gordon Kellar, George Henry MacElligott, and Wilfred Edward O’Connor who died in World War One. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.

In 1944 the BAC changed its name from the Boston Architectural Club to the Boston Architectural Center. The name change reflected the emerging reality of the BAC as an institution focused more on education than professional membership. The curricular focus, which up to then had been mainly Beaux-Arts (European and Classical) based began to change with the times to become more open to Modernism. The BAC Dean, Arcangelo Cascieri, was an early adopter of Modernist ideas and facilitated the theoretical shift in BAC pedagogy.[viii]

Memorial Library during the 1940s. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.

Big changes came to the BAC in the 1960s. What would later turn out to be the last book purchased for Memorial library: Frank Lloyd Wright: drawings for a living architecture capped the collection at around 2,000 books. By 1962, the Center had lost its permanent home at 16 Somerset Street to the State of Massachusetts by eminent domain, in order to make way for the new Government Center.

They found a new location at 320 Newbury Street in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. Ultimately, it was decided to hold a global design competition for a replacement structure. One of the requirements for the winning design was to include the re-assembly of Memorial Library at the new building. A jury of prominent Boston architectural educators was assembled in order to evaluate the submissions.[ix]

Many of the competition proposals were in the Brutalist style of concrete architecture. The winning design was submitted by Ashley, Myer and Associates. The building opened in 1966 with the reassembled Memorial Library on the top floor.

Boston Architectural Center building, 320 Newbury Street at the time of its completion in 1966. Ashley, Meyer and Associates design. Photograph by George Zimberg. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.

At this time, there was somewhat of an ideological split between Memorial Library and what would come to be considered the “main” library of the Center. Memorial Library became non-circulating. Today it is a wonderful special collection that captures architectural education of a certain era and has not been changed in any way that would diminish its unique character.

During the fundraising for the new BAC building, Edward Durell Stone, a BAC alum, and his friend and colleague Alfred Shaw, made a very substantial donation that lead to the lending library being named in their honor. In 1966 this main library space was built adjacent to Memorial Library. At that time architect and former BAC instructor Howard T. Clinch donated a fund in memory of Winthrop D. Parker for the purchase of books in the humanities.[x] Essentially, the Parker memorial fund purchases formed the basis of the BAC’s current lending collection.

In 1974, Susan Lewis was hired as the Assistant Librarian; a year later she became the Library Director, a title she would hold until her retirement in 2018. During Susan’s tenure, she saw the expansion of not only the square footage of the library, but its collection as well.

Susan Lewis 1980. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.
320 Newbury Street sixth floor with the new modern library on the far left and the original open atrium which was eventually covered and incorporated into the library in 1979. Photograph by Louis Reens. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.

In 1979, the sixth-floor atrium was covered over and the space was acquired by the library, increasing the space by 1,900 square feet. At the same time the Service for Energy Conservation (SECA) was formed at the BAC, in part via a grant from the National Science Foundation. When the grant was finished, a large collection of solar energy books was incorporated into the main library.

Library floor plan during the 1980s.

The 1990s saw the school incorporate Interior Design (now called Interior Architecture) and Landscape Architecture programs into the curriculum. For accreditation purposes the library acquired books and materials to support these programs. 1990 saw the library go through an additional renovation that allowed it to expand to the entire sixth floor. This further increased the square footage to a combined 5,000 square feet.  In 1995 the main library acquired the book collection of the recently closed The Architects Collaborative (TAC).

Susan Lewis & Sarah Dickinson during the 1990 renovations. By 1991 the Library encompassed the entire 6th floor. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.

The Center saw immense growth in the number of students in the aughts. The library also saw similar growths in its collection. By 2005, the print collection had outgrown its physical space and this required the library to send materials to offsite storage. At that point the collection was around thirty thousand titles with five thousand sent to storage. Each year, the library acquires thirteen to fifteen hundred volumes, which requires the library to send the same amount to off-site storage.  Additionally, in 2005 the BAC hired its first Archivist.  The following year the school once again changed its name from the Boston Architectural Center to the Boston Architectural College to better reflect the fact that we are a degree granting education facility, yet still the BAC.

The research and reading rooms of the BAC Library 2010. Courtesy of Robert Adams.
As the decade came to a close, additional large print collections were incorporated from BAC alum John Howard (2004), a large landscape collection from the Bruck family (2005) and the library from the Landscape Institute, formerly of Harvard (2009.) This brought the library to about fifty thousand titles.

The research and reading rooms of the BAC Library 2010. Courtesy of Robert Adams.

The start of the last decade brought both honors and some challenges to the library.  In 2011 the library was noted during our reaccreditation visit from the National Architectural Accreditation Board (NAAB); we were met with distinction, and received a commends from the Chair. He stated that we were one of the top architecture libraries in the country. This was followed up again with our most recent accreditation visit in 2018 with the review team reiterating his statements.

In 2014, the 2008 recession caught up with the College. The school was forced to consolidate its buildings and this meant that the library had to give up some space for a new classroom. Subsequently, another ten thousand volumes were sent to offsite storage. At that point the library had twenty-three thousand volumes at storage while twenty-five thousand volumes remained on site.

10 thousand volumes were sent to storage to accommodate the construction of a classroom – shaded in white.

New online programs in Sustainable Design, Historic Preservation, Design for Human Health and Real Estate over the last decade saw the library expanding its collection to acquire materials in those respected fields. This includes eBooks, scanning services, and other digital content.

Moving forward, the BAC Library continues to evolve and adapt to the constantly evolving field of design education.  This includes maintaining a library staff presence on both the curriculum and education councils as we revise curriculum and help to create new programs, acquiring more digital content, digitizing our print collections, and mailing library resources to both our domestic and international students enrolled in our distance programs.  Ever flexible, the BAC Library is prepared to continue growing in new directions for the next 130 years.


[i] Boston Architectural Club Charter, December 11, 1889. BAC Archives, RG 035.

[ii] “Architectural Club: It’s Further Organization – Club House Arrangements.” [Boston] Herald, Dec. 1889.

[iii] Taverner. “Here in Boston.” Boston Post, 24 Sept. 1889.

[iv] Boston Architectural Club. Meeting Minutes, 1894-1905. BAC Archives, RG 035.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] “Boston Architectural Club Dedicates Memorial Tablet.” Boston Daily Globe, 26 May 1922, p. 15.

[viii] Arcangelo Cascieri. Oral History recording. BAC Archives.

[ix] Boston Architectural Center. Competition Brief, 1964. BAC Archives, PC 062

[x] Parker Memorial Fund papers, 1966, RG 026: The Dean, Box 34.

How diverse is your collection?

Submitted by Barbara Opar, Librarian for Architecture, Syracuse University Libraries

This is the latest piece in what has become an ongoing dialogue about existing architecture collections, censorship and diversity.

This past April, my initial 2019 ARLIS Collection Development SIG column addressed the Shitty Architecture Men list of 2018 and the reactions of some library patrons and staff to certain materials in our small branch.  See My second column, written earlier this month: includes the results of a brief survey distributed late spring to both the ARLIS and AASL listservs as well as students and faculty here at Syracuse.  Some suggestions to “downplay” those architects include refraining from displaying their books, removing such titles to storage and/ or not purchasing new works on those architects. One recommendation from the survey: “I’d say simply stop buying new materials on this person.”

Should we/Could we?  What are the consequences?  How would this affect our image as a library that prides itself on keeping up with new acquisitions? Would we be limiting access to current projects by some major architects? Many current publications focus on the newest works and those are often the projects selected by faculty for study. One response could be that periodicals address the newest works. At the same time, in most institutions current periodicals do not circulate. So we could be restricting easy access to research by failing to buy new titles.

Another respondent stressed “Invest in alternative voices. Seek out more resources on female architects and people of color, etc.–i.e. give more choices to patrons.”  Diversifying our collections is an excellent strategy. It coincides with one of ALA’s 11 core values. However, this task also requires additional work on the part of the selector. The librarian must research the alternative voices and then determine if there are indeed published resources available to add to holdings. Comparing the holdings of other institutions- such as historically black institutions-is one tactic. Libraries with robust budgets may have also collected more broadly.  Institutions with strong gender studies departments may have more diverse library holdings. Organizations within schools may be able to assist with the research and identify names, topics and/or terms.

That introduces another issue. Students need to know these names.  As a librarian, you can certainly create new book displays around these resources. What about after that? Faculty have to be willing to take the time to create assignments that include a more diverse list of architects. Often we see the same names and same projects appear year after year in coursework. How can you help students expand their understanding of the field? The Library of Congress categorizes general histories of women in architecture as NA 1997. That does not address the issue of individual women architects. What about black architects? The call number NA 2543 covers gender and race! What if students do not know that Merrill Elam is a woman or that Paul Williams was a highly regarded black architect in the 1930s. The use of reference works has somewhat gone out of fashion but should be encouraged (including over Google). Bibliographies and pathfinders too are no longer regularly consulted or being compiled with any frequency. However, they remain important ways to extract such information.

Historical biases, lack of publishing possibilities, and even the academy have led to uneven collections. Diversifying our collections is well worth the effort. “The fix” though will take time and effort.  Collection analysis will not be straightforward.  Tools like the Diverse Bookfinder focus on children and picture books. Reference tools, bibliographies and the other methods suggested earlier in this column will be more helpful. Are there specific publishers to add to approval plans?  In terms of cataloging, though, metadata in itself is limiting. Access and exposure to unique resources requires catalogs to be more explicit and nuanced. Does that labeling create other issues?

So we return to the theme of the Starchitect who is often a white man and could have been on that 2018 list. What should we do? I would side with those who stress we have no right to censor our collections. Our collections need to align with the resources needed by faculty and students for teaching and research. These two points are key. Yet in order to provide new and diverse materials we may have to choose a new and different title over adding more material on an architect on whom we have sufficient material. We must weigh the decision and be sure that we are not compromising collections we do hold. At the same time, we must not be passive selectors. We have a responsibility to seek out diverse resources. Institutional funds might be available to address legacies of bias. Being mindful will eventually improve the scope of our holdings. We must become more proactive in how we address collections holdings and gaps.  Finally, we must help each other to identify new and different resources and improve diversity  across the discipline and our institutions.

Comments and ideas welcome. Email me at 

arch_TECHA_ture: An Interview with Cathryn Copper, Head of the Art & Architecture Library, Virginia Tech

Submitted by Cathryn Copper, Head of the Art & Architecture Library, Virginia Tech. Cross-post with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture blog.

arch_TECHA_ture (“techa” a play on technology and bilbiotheca, Latin for library) is a curation project created by Cathryn Copper that gathers information at the intersection of art, architecture, and design-related fields, technology and education. We sat down with her to hear more.

Hi Cathryn. How did you first get involved in technology and the creative disciplines?

It was partially serendipitous. I did my graduate work at the University of Toronto’s iSchool. There I focused on information systems and interned with a few architecture firms and think tanks. Fast forward a few years, I attended a conference session solely because the presenters were librarians at the University of Toronto. The session was on the use of iPad apps which gave me the idea to research mobile apps for architecture. That idea really took off and opened a lot of doors for me. I noticed a lot of art and architecture librarians were interested in technology but not a lot was being done on the topic.

You describe this as a “curation project” where do you see it going?

I use the term curation project because arch_TECHA_ture offers a quick look at topics at the intersection of design, information, and technology. I always provide links to more information, so readers can make informed decisions on a topic. As of current, I’m gauging interest. If it turns out it’s worth my energy, then I’d like to see it evolve into a more critical platform where we can have healthy discussions on these topics. I’d love to get more voices involved. Then it could truly be a platform to connect with people from across disciplines and launch projects together—still a curation project, but on a larger scale.

Can you tell us more about the educator-as-futurist model you have adopted, and what makes it distinctive?

I use the term “educator-as-futurist” to mean forward thinking. But, there are no expectations and it’s not meant to be extremist. It’s really about being okay with experimentation and failure or the willingness to try something new. What makes arch_TECHA_ture distinctive is that there is no other place on the Internet, that I know of, addressing the intersection of design, technology, and education from the perspective of a librarian, someone that sits on the edge of all three.

As an art and architecture aficionado and tech lover, what are some of the technology trends you see impacting libraries and the design disciplines?

Without hesitation, augmented reality and virtual reality. There is so much potential for those technologies in libraries and the design disciplines alike. For libraries in particular, artificial intelligence. Information can be delivered in much better and more personalized ways and future generations are going to expect it.

What new projects are you working on that are destined to be included in arch_TECHA_ture?

There definitely will be no shortage of content. First, the Art & Architecture Library is experimenting with hybrid collections. We will be testing the use of our physical collections as an access point to our electronic collections through the use of interactive touch screens. Building on the transition for physical to digital, we are exploring 3D scanning technologies, which should be especially interesting to arch_TECHA_ture readers. More long-term projects include applying for a grant to develop augmented reality for libraries, and the development of Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus.

What has surprised you most in your research into tech and libraries?

The slowness. There are a million amazing ideas. Only a few come to fruition because of limited time and money. It’s frustrating because I see the potential for libraries to interact with users in much better ways. I’ve been thinking about artificial intelligence in libraries for over a decade, and just this year I attended my first conference presentation on the topic, which was at a macro-level. So, it takes time.

What do you see as some of the big changes in academic libraries over the next five years?

In libraries generally, a shift to collaborative spaces is already happening. Academic libraries have the potential to function a lot like a WeWork, which are shared workspaces for startups. Also, I see more attention on dispersed libraries and library networks. Our footprint can spread much further if we don’t think of a library as one central space. Drone delivery would be cool too, but that’s probably closer to 10 years away. Art and architecture libraries face unique opportunities, in that our users generally want more traditional library spaces, and that’s okay. It adds diversity to the library landscape.