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Treasures of the Natural World

Although professional journals are the lifeblood of the science collection, books and illustrations like these are used by students of all majors.

With the opening of the Science Center in 2002, selected materials from the Main Library were moved into the new Science Library. The 13,000-square-foot facility has space for 87,000 volumes—or 17 years of growth. With holdings in the natural sciences—astronomy, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, geology, biology, neuroscience, and biopsychology—the library attracts mostly science majors, although more students of all majors are discovering its assets.

Pursuing science is endlessly fascinating, even with the tedium of repetitive lab procedures or less-than-optimum fieldwork conditions. Each volume in the Science Library represents persistence, dedication, intuition, and initiative—as well as an abiding curiosity that sparks invention.

Every shipment of new books is a treat, heralding new advances in astronomy, physics, biology, chemistry, or neuroscience. At least one new volume in each shipment brings me to a full stop, as I peruse its table of contents or scan the introduction. Even if I just partially understand the terminology, I appreciate the process of investigation and carefully crafted summary.

Science journals, which are the lifeblood of the library’s collection, offer specialized, peer-reviewed reports of original research. The parade of new issues—50 in a single week alone—many thick and heavy with glossy photos, others sporting computer aided designs or whimsical images of interacting molecules—cry out to be read, or at least thumbed through.

But not all of the journals are heavy scientific reading; a good number reach out to the general public, presenting important findings to inform policy makers and voters. The faces of Senator Kerry and President Bush grace the October 2004 cover of Geotimes, with the banner “The Race for the White House: Energy Policy, the Environment and More.” In the same month, Environment offers a special report on environmental influences on human health, discussing the role of polluted water as a route for disease-causing chemicals, bacteria, and viruses.

Holothurians of startling hues enliven the cover of Conservation Biology (sea cucumbers are overfished to the brink of local extinction in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, harvested as a delicacy in the Chinese diet). An incredible representation of the brain, with streams of neon colors overlapping in a progression of purple, blue, orange, green, yellow, and pink, draws attention to Nature Medicine. The lovely Sialia currucoides (Mountain bluebird) perches on the tip of a pine bough on the cover of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Its habitat has become fragmented throughout western North America due to intensive logging and grazing.

Finally, what does Science News offer this week? The lesser hedgehog tenrec, cute as a rat in an elongated pincushion body, is the latest genome celebrity to be added to the list of “genome sequencing targets.”

It is gratifying to see non-science students using the library’s resources. Art students show up looking for specific illustrations: a colored photograph of a human heart, line drawings of mammal skeletal systems, close-up images of wood bark, or aerial photographs of river systems. Middle-school students earnestly scour the stacks for pictures of Earth from space, bridges destroyed by earthquakes, butterflies emerging from cocoons, or Saturn’s rings—all suitable for glossy prints in a science fair display. It is hard to compete with an image search on Google, and I relish the chance to get these younger students into the book collection.

Treasures of the Visual Arts

Part book, part work of art, these artists' books reflect the loves of the Art Library's early directors. 

The Clarence Ward Art Library, tucked on the top floor of the Allen Art Building, houses more than 81,000 books, exhibition catalogs, bound periodicals, and a large vertical file collection. Its holdings cover all of the visual arts fields: architecture, painting, sculpture, drawing, prints, photography, and the decorative arts, as well as related materials in anthropology, archaeology, landscape architecture, and urban planning. The collection spans all periods, from prehistoric through modern, and all nationalities, with a special emphasis on Western European, Chinese, Japanese, and American art.

Every March a life-sized photograph of Clarence Ward, a beloved professor and director of the art museum from 1917 to 1949, appears in the Art Library. Oberlin’s reputation in the visual arts began with Ward—the unofficial “Father of the Visual Arts”—who founded the art library and laid the groundwork for today’s dynamic art program. His library attracted another Oberlin luminary, librarian Ellen Johnson ’33, who strengthened the museum’s 20th-century collection, started the Art Rental program, and inspired generations of Oberlin students.

The library’s collection of artists’ books—part art object and part book—blend together the love of art and books that was shared by Ward and Johnson. The following artists’ books are particularly noteworthy (see photo, clockwise from top):*

1. Crazy Quilt is covered with excerpts from letters and journals written in the late 19th century by women confined to mental institutions, suggesting that only a crazy world would lock away such thoughtful, articulate women.
2. Inspired by the lofty towers of medieval Italian walled cities, Five Luminous Towers explores the tower form while presenting an engineering challenge: a book that can be read in the dark. The result is beautiful: light originating within the book illuminates translucent text, while five lighted towers surprise viewers.
3. The late 19th-century clothes for Paper Doll are covered with text recycled from Eugenics, a manual for better living published in 1910. The outer garments bear instructions for the public sphere; the advice becomes increasingly intimate until the doll is bare except for the words marking her body.
4. Get Me the President is printed on real U.S. currency and brings the musty green men to life when they learn that George Washington has been abducted by “The Crooks!” Conversations between the founding fathers are meticulously letter-pressed, while threatening notes from “The Crooks” use cut-and-pasted letters from various bills.
5. Book and collage artist Carol Rosen created Holocaust: A Series of Artists’ Books after a visit to Yad Vashem Memorial Park in Israel. Each page of text has an associated print collaged from archival photographs, TV, and other imagery. The volumes are loose folios printed on a translucent, almost skin-like parchment that appears worn, heightening the intimacy for the viewer.
6. Two metal cases of hand-rolled cigarettes from China make up The Red Book. On each cigarette, words are typed; together the cigarettes compose a message. The Red Book, part of a larger installation about marketing U.S. tobacco in China, is particularly powerful since the artist’s father died in China of a tobacco-related illness.
7. This square, wooden box holds nine neatly arranged resin blocks, the contents of which are identified on the lids: a tiny jar of paint, ball bearings, a small toy robot, an old photograph, a guitar pick. The blocks invite viewers to stack or rotate them in the light, although the mementos within are inaccessible. A poignant contrast of play and loss, the boxes evoke a sense of passing time.

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