Profile: Kohler Art Library (UW)
If Gertrude Stein was correct, a rose is a rose is a rose, but a book is not always a book. Books are also works of art. The Kohler Art Library holds more than 1,000 artists’ books, one of a kind or limited edition works, created as works of art.
The library’s primary mission is to serve the education of art and art education students and support the Chazen Museum, provides not just information but a sense of inspiration, of thinking of art differently, says director Lyn Korenic, and the artists’ book collection is one of the ways the library does this.
“The practice of browsing is paramount,” says Lyn Korenic. “They’re just looking. I think the art historian and the art student learn a lot on their own. Only they know what they’re looking for and when they find it.”
Artists’ books, books made by artists as works of art, began to emerge as an art form in the 1960s. Unlike paintings, for example, “artists’ books are meant to be handled.” The Kohler’s collection was started in the early 1970s under director William C. Bunce. The collection acts as an outreach tool, drawing patrons of all ages and from throughout the state.
Korenic has brought in classes from the Madison area, from Madison College and Edgewood College; Clark College in Dubuque; Chicago. Patrons ranging in age from teen-age members of Girl Scout troops to senior citizens. The Girl Scouts who visited recently were working on their Book Arts badge, making books. This is often the case; patrons are often working on books of their own.
(Full disclosure: I learned of the artists’ book collection through Carol Chase Bjerke, whose work is in the collection. I also took a bookmaking workshop from her.)
“It starts with the teacher who’s making the books,” says Korenic. The teachers are both arts teachers and creative writing teachers. Korenic also takes the collection on tour, to the Children’s Museum, for example, and to Alzheimer’s groups. Last year, an average year, she used the collection for 40 sessions with 400 people. Her development plans are to improve “accessibility and outreach,” do more preservation for the collection, and work with the ARLIS thesaurus to improve subject terms for cataloging.
She is also looking for unusual formats, unusual materials and works that push the envelope. She is looking to build minority representation, social justice, women’s issues, and works that combine art and other disciplines.
If you would like to browse the collection online, it can be found at https://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/ArtistsBks/
For a directory of artists’ book collections at other institutions, visit
Q&A with Lisa Abler
Position: I am an assistant scientist at UW-Madison.
Describe your current job: I incorporate many aspects of my library training into my lab job. Specifically, I have an interest in data management and curation. Our lab generates considerable amounts of data in the form of urinary function testing results and sample imaging…and we are just one small group. I work to help lab members and our collaborators with naming, saving and storing the data they generate, both to make those data accessible to the lab as a whole and to ensure we can relocate or revisit unutilized or incomplete data at a later date if desired or necessary.
My job as a scientist focuses on benign diseases that contribute to lower urinary tract symptoms such as urgency, frequency, nighttime urination, incomplete emptying, etc. My current project involves investigating the associations between obesity/diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea and lower urinary tract symptoms.
Previous professional endeavors: I have worked in the sciences for most of my career. I served as a lab technician for several years before attending graduate school to obtain a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology. Following graduation, I worked as a post-doctoral associate in my current lab before being promoted to my scientist position. The library aspect is relatively recent addition to my career.
Why did you decide to work in the library profession? Towards the end of my PhD training, I realized that I spent nearly as much time organizing my data as generating it, that I enjoyed researching answers to informational questions from my colleagues as much as I enjoyed answering scientific questions at the lab bench. That was when I knew library school was the right option for me, though I was always certain I wanted to utilize both my scientific and my library training in concert.
What is the favorite part of your job? My favorite part of my job as a librarian is the opportunity to organize and distill the things we learn in the lab and to make them accessible to the larger community. I think access to scientific discoveries is a foundation of the spirit of scientific research. My training as a librarian helps make that goal a reality. Also, lifelong learning is an inherent aspect of what I do.
My favorite part of my job as a scientist is that no two days look the same…and lifelong learning is an inherent aspect of what I do.
What is the least favorite part of your job? As a librarian in a laboratory setting, it is sometimes challenging to convince investigators that best practices for data management and curation are in their best interests, despite the added time those practices may demand. The current funding environment puts a great deal of pressure on investigators, and justification for why students and staff should be concerning themselves with things like metadata and file naming can be a hard sell.
As a scientist, there is ample reason “research” begins with a “re”…we end up doing a lot of things a lot of times before we get something to work. Sometimes that repetition can be frustrating, especially when a protocol you have used successfully on previous occasions is suddenly, and usually at a critical time, less than cooperative.
Do you have a role model as a librarian? I do not have any single role model. Instead, I look to the academic librarians on campus for guidance and inspiration. Since my primary focus is the lab, it can be difficult to stay on top of all of the advances in library field. But by maintaining interactions with people who are immersed in the field every day, I can learn a tremendous amount in a short time from the people who are thinking about these advances routinely, testing and applying them in search of those that prove most effective and efficient.
What is your favorite book of the last year? Admittedly, I have not read many books that were published this last year. Instead, I spent time reading older books I had on my bookshelves at home, and I reread a few titles that intrigued me the first time around. For example, I finally read Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which had been on my bookshelf for almost a year. I had a hard time putting this one down--the characters, the fantastic nature of the story and the “peculiar” photos all kept me engaged. Emma Donoghue’s Room was one title I revisited. Her story is so haunting, so heart-wrenching, so impactful…both times I read this book, I finished it in one sitting.
What is your dream vacation? When I want to get away, I envision a warm and sunny destination (sorry, Wisconsin…I love you, but not your winters) with plenty of activities to choose from: hiking, biking, kayaking, volleyball.
What are your hobbies? When I want to be active, I play volleyball or go for a run. When I want to unwind, I read.