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Welcome to In Circulation

Kenneth Soehner
July 2, 2014

Florence and Herbert Irving Reading Room, Thomas J. Watson Library

Florence and Herbert Irving Reading Room, Thomas J. Watson Library

«The Thomas J. Watson Library is the research library of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Very much like the Met itself, the library is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of its kind. How many books do we have? We estimate that between Watson Library's collection and those of smaller libraries throughout the Museum (such as the Robert Goldwater Library, Robert Lehman Collection Library, Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library, and the other departmental libraries), the Museum's libraries hold more than one million volumes. We also offer a broad range of online resources and a rapidly expanding digital collection

The library is open to researchers of college age and above; registration is required—see our portal for details.

The popular image of a library is often one of a quiet setting for reading and writing. We certainly offer quiet and comfortable facilities for our steadily increasing number of researchers, but the library is also an active and dynamic site where collections are built (more than twenty thousand books were added last year), works are digitized (more than one hundred thousand page views per month), researchers are welcomed and assisted, and a wide range of library services is offered. The posts you will see weekly on this blog will inform you of some of this activity, and will highlight the work of the library's exceptional staff. (We also keep in touch with readers and friends through our Facebook page.)

When one of my colleagues suggested "In Circulation" for the name of the blog, I hesitated. "Circulation," for a librarian, means the circulation desk, and I wondered if a big piece of furniture was the right image to promote. But then I thought about how busy our circulation desk is every day. Even though our books don't leave the Museum, the number of circulation transactions has tripled in the last five years, as books are retrieved for readers and checked out for their use. Acquaintances are surprised at such activity and often ask, "Isn't it all online?" The answer is an emphatic no, not in this subject area. In fact, there are more art books published internationally than ever before, and as a consequence we are adding more books to the collection than ever before.

The best news is that the collection receives unprecedented use. We are committed to providing access to the library's incomparable collection, and it is uplifting to observe an ever-increasing number of books in circulation. It means that research, scholarship, and intellectual inquiry are active and thriving, and that we are serving a fundamental role in this process. In the end, I can't think of anything more positive than the collection of a great library in circulation.

I also wondered if some readers would associate the title In Circulation as somehow related to the circulatory system. Specialists and bibliophiles would think of William Harvey's On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals, and others might think that In Circulation related to the newest fad in aerobic activity. Then it occurred to me that these associations are also suitable. The library provides the lifeblood for research and scholarship. The library as the heart of a research institution may be an overused metaphor, but it does illuminate the key function the library plays in the life of a community concerned with research, scholarship, and making sense of data. Information in many languages and subjects is constantly flowing, and the ideas and publications generated by the library's many researchers bring vitality to the field of art history and related subjects.

I hope you enjoy In Circulation and share my excitement in learning about the Museum's great library, its vast collections, and the extraordinary work of its staff.

Kenneth Soehner

Kenneth Soehner is the Arthur K. Watson Chief Librarian in the Thomas J. Watson Library.