Letter from Erin Davis, Curator of Rare Books

It’s been a pleasure to see how the Urban Books Collection and related projects have evolved over the years. Here in Special Collections we’ve been honored to house both the original collection – purchased by Jana Harper with a Sam Fox Interdisciplinary Teaching Grant in support of development of the Urban Books course – as well as the books produced by students in successive iterations of the course itself. The collection has seen growing numbers of visitors both directly and indirectly involved with the Urban Books classes and their associated exhibitions. Now, with this online presence, the collection invites an international audience to consider the important issues conceptualized by and in these books.

As multi-layered as the books themselves, this collaboration between the Sam Fox School of Design and the Libraries’ Department of Special Collections and Digital Library Services has encouraged all of us to reflect on means of representation – how concepts such as personal voice or decay or urban green space are articulated, and how these representations of ideas are themselves described. Book artists have a particularly acute sense of how to connect with their readers, and describing their work can be a challenge. It is difficult to separate content from presentation in books that engage multiple senses and use written, visual, and spatial language to communicate complex ideas. Classification and description must necessarily become interdisciplinary, combining the vocabularies of multiple audiences (readers, collectors, catalogers, etc.) and the artists themselves. We hope the Urban Books site will prove as thought provoking for our visitors as it has been for us.

Erin Davis
Curator of Rare Books
Washington University Libraries