The Ministry of Books: creation and use of an online visual database for artists' books

Maureen O'Neill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper will outline how Internet access to a visual database can be used to support face-to-face teaching to promote and encourage diversity and democracy in the production of Artists’ Books. It will describe the establishment of ‘The Ministry of Books’ website outlining the mechanics and use of the site as a teaching aid. It will conclude with some recommendations for visual archiving and using the Internet for the image based academic community. Students in The School of Art, Design and Media, University of Portsmouth have been historically, and are currently, engaged in a range of artists’ book production. Book art is a visually creative way, through traditional and contemporary creative methods, that students can promote their concepts by self-publishing. The students increasingly use this form of self-publishing in both prescriptive and self-initiated projects and briefs. Within the school there are about 150 students who produce book forms for set projects and a large number of these choose to extend this to their final year degree self elected projects. A systematic collection of artists' books within the school began 15 years ago, and with additions from staff and students this collection has grown to around 80. Most of the works date from 1990 to the present. These books were not archived and were difficult to access. It was my belief that the Internet could provide a platform to enable students to retrieve information about this collection both textual and visual whilst ultimately inspiring them to contribute, thus potentially diversifying and democratising the collection. With a growth in the field of artists’ books supported by calls for entry for exhibition, book fairs and conferences internationally it seemed important for our students to have the potential to develop appropriate methodologies to embrace and become involved in this re-emerging area with its potential as a medium of expression that allows for multidisciplinary solutions. The heuristics required to support and encourage the construction of a multifaceted online knowledge base evolved from con-current research projects. An international Internet research initiative, Images in Practice and my submission of a practical PhD involving the production of a number of artist’s books which included a comprehensive website promoting and facilitating the dissemination of bookworks created for the practice component. To realise this research project, a website would be planned; constructed; programmed; loaded and updated by myself to be used to support face to face teaching. Currently ongoing it is beginning to act as an aggregated archive and gallery space and will draw together reflection and review with practical experimentation, design and production, allowing creativity and knowledge acquisition to establish how we relate to the ‘book’ and the structures that underpin them. I will discuss my intentions to use it to promote and disseminate artists books and facilitate the dissemination of bookworks created at the University of Portsmouth, supporting contemporary art practice, to a wide and varied audience through production, curation and exhibition of works encouraging links and collaborative potential with other institutions, galleries: bookshops: libraries, and museums who specialise in Artists’ Book collections.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-50
JournalThe International Journal of the Book
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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