684 Art and Museum Librarianship research proposal

Assignment 1: Adding Poetry Archives to the ARLIS Under Digital Humanities

  1. Bibliographic Essay

Is Poetry Art?  And if so, is there a space in the study of art museum librarianship for a new publication highlighting the numerous examples and manifestations of poetry archival practices?

This proposal answers both the above questions in the affirmative.   The proposal includes a brief survey of the literature, identifying the gaps that exist in the coverage of poetry archives.  I identify examples of poetry archival efforts that may qualify for inclusion under a new rubric that includes poetry within the overall category of digital humanities.  I list poetry archival projects that exist and are not ready for inclusion but soon may be.  Finally, I propose a new publication, a book of essays by experts at poetry archival organizations already listed, that may serve to mark off the terrain of poetry archival practices.

To open the literature survey, let’s take a quick look at Ranganathan’s Fifth Law of Library Science, which states that the library is a growing organism (Ranganathan, 2006).  Ranganathan explains that the library can be characterized as a growing organism because it is made up of three parts, a trinity, the parts of which are also growing, i.e., the staff of the library, the books themselves, and the public, the readers, and that these subcomponents not only grow, but equally, interact with each other in a very dynamic and “growing” way.  Similarly, we know intuitively that a museum follows a similar pattern, with a public who visits the museum for education and for entertainment, the artifacts that are arranged in a display for the public, and the museum staff, led by a curator and a librarian or library director.

McCann reveals the interesting interdependency that exists between the library director, the curator, and the public (McCann, 1933).  The curator classifies and identifies the artifacts and arranges them in some meaningful fashion, and the librarian supplies the information on which the curator bases his/her artistic decisions, the background, the provenance, and the ultimate origin of the material being exhibited.  The artifacts, the things being arranged, of course, are analogous to books, or documents, thus keeping intact the Ranganathan trinity.

John Falk, in chapter 10 of his essay, “Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience,” lays out some ideas for ensuring that the museum experience adds value for visitors.  Many of these ideas are generally useful, but of particular value to the art collections on which we are focusing.  Museum visitors have varying needs, and museum staffs must work to accommodate those needs (Falk, 2009).  Some visitors, for example, are explorers, seeking to satisfy already formed personal interests.  For them, museum staff should design exhibitions that facilitate their exploration in an accurate and precise way.  Some visitors may be facilitators themselves, accompanying small children, or elderly groups, or students, or whatever members of a group they support.  Facilitators will need to occupy the minds of their members, and keep them stimulated and interested.  Museum staff will have to be present to work with facilitators to ensure their success.  Some visitors are experience seekers, looking for the newest exhibit, or one that particularly appeals to them.  Experience seekers require an overview and may prefer a quick dose of superficial information rather than a deep dive.

Poetry is a well-established art form, dating back to ancient times, examples of which are still intact.  Numerous poetry archives exist in substantive form on websites and at universities and literary institutions throughout the United States and in Canada and the United Kingdom. These poetry archive locations have staffs, and they receive large numbers of visitors, just like museums. They contain artifacts, whose information is highly sought by students, scholars, and the general public. The Ranganathan trinity is satisfied.  And yet, a careful search of the ARLIS website does not result in a discovery of a poetry page or a publication aggregating poetry archival efforts, or any attention devoted to the poetry art form.  There may have been very valid reasons for this exclusion many years ago, prior to the digital and digitizing age.  There may also be a valid reason for the dearth of literature related to the inclusion of poetry archives among art library collection considerations.  However, we are reminded that the Roman poet Horace said words to the effect that “A painting is just a poem without words.”

This proposal sets forth a standard by which to measure, among the numerous examples, the existing poetry archive sites that are serious collections, ones which might warrant a close look by ARLIS for inclusion on a possible website page for its membership or in a future publication.  After outlining selection criteria, I will offer sites that satisfy that selection criteria.

The archival site should have the following features sought by students and the general public:

  • archived poetry covering a significant period or dedicated to a significant artist;
  • recorded archives of actual readings of the poetry covered;
  • regular podcasts or real time radio broadcasts that are downloadable;
  • downloadable mp3 files of lectures, conference and symposium proceedings;
  • on-going on-line courses, lectures, MOOC’s;
  • integration with social media for access and sharing;
  • subscription capability, i.e., members can subscribe to regular periodic updates.

The following five sites presently meet the above criteria (unless otherwise noted, all information is from the designated website):

  1. PennSound.  PennSound (http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound) is a web-based archive for non-commercial distribution of the largest collection of poetry sound files on the Internet. PennSound offers a large variety of digital recordings of poems — currently 1,500 and rapidly growing — mostly as song-length singles.  PennSound directors are famed poet Charles Bernstein and English professor Al Filreis.   PennSound hosts over 3500 downloadable links to single poems.  Associated programs and lectures and supporting documents are also archived.  Recordings of over 560 individual poets reading their own works are preserved for perpetuity.  And scores of poetry programs are recorded/produced at Kelly Writer’s House, also associated with PennSound, on the campus of University of Pennsylvania.  PennSound is an on-going archiving project, committed to producing new audio recordings and preserving existing archives and associated documentation. According to the PennSound manifesto, all media archived must be free and downloadable, MP3 quality or better, in singles format, clearly named and identifiable, indexed, and embedded with bibliographic material in the file (provenance).

2. UBUweb.  UBUweb (http://ubu.com) began in 1996 as a website focused on visual and concrete poetry.  As internet technology developed and expanded, UBUweb grew and increased its capacity, adding sound poetry files when streaming audio technology became available, and adding MP3 files and video as bandwidth increased.  UBUweb also maintains an archive of “off-beat” historical artistic performances, films, radio plays, and eclectic music files.  In 2005, UBUweb acquired the 365 Days Project, a collection of celebrity gaffs, song-poems, how-to recordings, and spoken word pieces.  UBUweb holds over 2500 full length avant-garde films and movies, all free and all downloadable.  UBUweb hosts over 7500 artists and several thousand works of art.  Its current director is Kenneth Goldsmith, Poet-In-Residence at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

3. Poets.org. Poet.org (www.poets.org) is the on-line representation of the Academy of American Poets, founded in 1934.  Poets.org first went online in 1993, but was re-launched with a new website in 2005.  It is one of the most popular non-profit poetry sites on the web, hosting over 2000 poems, over 500 poet biographies, 400 essays and interviews, 150 audio recordings of poetry, lesson plans for high school teachers or English and Humanities, and a poem-a-day email service for tens of thousands of subscribers.  Poets.org offers written works, photos, biographies, interviews, audio recordings, a purchasable DVD, a list of related poets, and external links on contemporary poets.  Founded by Marie Bullock in 1934, the Academy is led by executive director Jennifer Benka, author of several collections of poetry.  On-going programs include National Poetry Month, Academy Book Awards, live archives dating back to 1963, a host of educational programs, and the American Poet Magazine.  Its Board of Chancellors includes America’s top poets and poetry scholars.

4.  The Poetry Foundation.  The Poetry Foundation (http://www.poetryfoundation.org),  Led by Executive Director John Barr, is the publisher of Poetry magazine and is an independent literary organization committed to discovering the best poetry and making it available to the widest audience.  Founded by Harriet Moore in 1912, its parent magazine, Poetry is the oldest monthly magazine dedicated to poetry in the English-speaking world.  The Poetry Foundation was established in 2003 by a philanthropic gift from Ruth Lilly.  The Poetry Foundation library (Katherine Litwin is the Library Director) hosts a collection of over 30,000 volumes, audio and video recordings.  The Poetry Foundation hosts a number of education programs, collaborates with universities, and send daily poetry emails to its members.

5.  The Poetry Center, San Francisco State University.  The Poetry Center at San Francisco State University (www.sfsu.edu/~poetry/archives.html) is led by Steve Dickison.  It was established in 1954 and funded with the honorarium paid to and then returned by W.H Auden when he read his poetry to celebrate the opening of the University.  Since 1954, the University has recorded every poet who has read on campus and has added it to the archive, which now exceeds over 4000 hours of recorded audio and video.  In 1994, the archive was transferred to a climate controlled vault.  An on-line catalog contains over 2000 hours of original video recordings made since 1973.

These five examples of poetry archiving organizations are ready now for aggregation and exhibition.  Other examples do not quite meet the stringent requirements set forth earlier in this paper, such as Naropa Audio Archive (http://archive.org/details/naropa), the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center (http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/poetryaudio/), the U.K. Poetry Archive (http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/home.do), and Concordia University’s (Montreal) SpokenWeb http://spokenweb.concordia.ca/).

  1. Bibliographic Essay References

Books and Articles

Falk, John H.  Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience.  Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press. (2009)

Hollister, Christopher V. Handbook of Academic Writing for Librarians. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.  (2013)

McCann, G.L. “The Art Museum Serves the Curator.” Special Libraries 23/24.  (1933)

Ranganathan, S.R. The Five Laws of Library Science.  Bangalore: Ess Ess Publications.  (2006)








  1. Abstract

The proposed publication will consist of the following chapters:

  1. Introduction.
  2. Staffing and resource challenges in maintaining an on-line archive. (Dickison)
  3. Archiving collaboration across many related agencies.   (Dickison)
  4. Pedagogy of using on-line archived material in teaching, esp., on-line courses. (Filreis)
  5. Archivist, curator, collaborator, performer: managing the poetry archive. (Goldsmith)
  6. Fundraising and marketing for poetry archiving organizations. (Benka)
  7. Poetry as a museum-able art. (Benka)
  8. Library directorship in the on-line archiving environment. (Litwin)
  9. Conclusion.

Dickison’s work as a collection curator and manager makes him uniquely qualified to contribute an extended essay on the staffing and resource challenges of cataloging and preparing recordings for on-line presentation and for maintaining a historic and growing archive of poetry performances. A second chapter by Dickison will compare archival practices and collaboration strategies across the top five poetry archival providers, highlighting staffing and financing differences and similarities among them.

Filreis will provide a chapter on incorporating the archive he manages, PennSound, into a course he has taught at Penn for over thirty years and a new MOOC he taught worldwide to over 40,000 students for the first time in 2012 (a 2013 offering starts in the fall).  Invariably, his chapter will get into the pedagogy of using on-line archived material to teach an on-line course to tens of thousands of students at a time and in a way that provides a high quality, Ivy League educational experience at a low cost.

Goldsmith’s contribution to the publication will be an extended essay, in his remarkable poetic sonorous style, on the mechanics of maintaining a film and poetry archive, as a curator, while collaborating with Filreis on teaching at Penn, all balanced by his service as Poet Laureate at MOMA.  The Goldsmith chapter will also draw from his series of lectures on poetry at the White House in 2012-2013.

Ms. Benka’s contribution to the book will be a chapter on arts fundraising and marketing for poetry organizations and a separate extended essay on the techniques and the significance of poetry as a museum-able art form.

Ms. Litwin will provide a chapter detailing her experience as library director of a large collection supporting a performance and collection archive.  This will be an important chapter because of the significant role of the museum library in supporting the precision and accuracy of the exhibits and artifacts on display, their provenance, and chain of custody.

  1. Biographical Statements and publications

Bio – Dickison, San Francisco State University – The Poetry Center

Since 1999, Steve Dickison has been the Executive Director of The Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University.  He manages and curates the Poetry Center’s extensive public reading series and directs the American Poetry Archives collection of over 4,000 hours of video and audio recordings of poets and writers from 1954 to the present.  He also teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University and is an adjunct professor in the Writing and Literature program at California College of the Arts.   Dickison is a writer and a poet. He is editor and publisher of the poetry press Listening Chamber.  He co-edits a music magazine, Suffle Boil.

Publications:  Dickison published two collections of poetry, Disposed, and Wear You to the Ball, a poetry-sound collaboration with musician Bill Dietz.

Bio – Filreis, University of Pennsylvania – PennSound. 

Al Filreis has served as co-director of PennSound, an archival collection of poets reading their own works, since founding it in 2003 with poet Charles Bernstein.  He is Kelly Professor of English, Faculty Director of Kelly Writer’s House, Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, publisher of an on-line poetry magazine, Jacket2, and host, in collaboration with the Poetry Foundation, of a monthly podcast, PoemTalk.


Counter-revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-60 (University of North Carolina Press, 2008).

Modernism from Right to Left: Wallace Stevens, the Thirties, & Literary Radicalism (Cambridge University Press, July 1994)

Wallace Stevens and the Actual World (Princeton University Press, 1991)

Secretaries of the Moon: The Letters of Wallace Stevens and Jose Rodriguez Feo, with Beverly Coyle (Durham: Duke University Press, 1986)

Bio – Kenneth Smith, Ubuweb

Kenneth Goldsmith is the founding editor of the poetry archive UbuWeb.  He teaches Poetics and Poetic Practice at the University of Pennsylvania and is a Senior Editor of PennSound.  From 1995 to 2010 he hosted a weekly radio show at WFMU. In 2013, he was appointed the Museum of Modern Art’s first Poet Laureate. He resides in New York City with his wife, artist Cheryl Donegan and his two sons.


Ten books of poetry, notably Fidget (2000), Soliloquy (2001) and Day (2003) and Goldsmith’s American trilogy, The Weather (2005), Traffic, (2007) and Sports, (2008). He authored a book of essays, Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in a Digital Age (2011). As editor he published I’ll be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews (2004) and is the co-editor of Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (2011).

Bio – Jennifer Benka – Poets.org, Academy of American Poets

In June 2012, Jennifer Benka was appointed Director of the Academy of American Poets.  Previously she served as National Director of Development and Marketing for 826 National, a national non-profit promoting writing skills through a network of eight writing and tutoring centers.  Ms. Benka has extensive experience in nonprofit fundraising, marketing, and management of local and national arts and social service organizations.  She was previously Managing Director of Poets & Writers, where she served as the chief fundraising and marketing officer.  There, she planned and executed a multi-million dollar endowment campaign.  Ms. Benka said, “American poetry tells the story of our country in unique and powerful ways. I’m honored to lead the Academy and to work with poets, readers, and educators to deepen our engagement with an art form that speaks to the human experience like no other.”


Two collections of poetry: Pinko (Hanging Loose Press) and A Box of Longing With Fifty Drawers (Soft Skull Press).  She has had poems and essays featured in Crossing State Lines: An American Renga (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Bio: Katherine Litwin – Librarian – The Poetry Foundation

Katherine Litwin is the library director of the Poetry Foundation.  Her library holds some 30,000 volumes, making it the largest library supporting a poetry archive among the group of top five poetry archive organizations.

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