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Art History: Getting Started


Cara List's picture
Cara List
Art Collection
Deering Library, 3rd Floor
Northwestern University Library
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston, IL 60208


This guide is intended as an introduction the art & art history resources available at University Library. Any broad subject area naturally limits attempts at comprehensive discussion, and as an intrinsic aspect of humankind's creative aspirations, art is no different; it would be impossible for this guide to list every journal, every monograph, every artistic movement throughout history. Rather, by focusing on the resources available and addressing their different strengths, the guide can act as an effective introduction to the use of University Library as an aide to developing critical research skills that can then benefit independent scholarship.

Each section of the guide focuses on a particular type of library resource, as opposed to concentrating on a specific artistic medium or movement; the intent is to provide a general familiarity with different information sources that can then be applied as necessary, according to individual research demands. While some sources are more specialized by design and others more general, the research skills they help develop are universal.

Locating Titles in the Art Library

The purpose of library call numbers is to precisely identify a title's topic within a standardized classification system. Titles in the Art Library use two classification schemas, the familiar Dewey Decimal System and the newer Library of Congress (LC) system. Dewey numbers begin with a three digit classification number, followed by letters and numbers that identify the specific title. Generally, art books are in the Dewey 700-779 class and architecture in the 720s, though there can be exceptions.

Library of Congress call numbers begin with a letter and number combination, and are also followed by additional identifiers. Because the LC system uses an initial letter / number combination, it allows for a finer granularity in call numbers. As a result, while most art-related titles are classified as N### in the LC system, other combinations such as NA (architecture) or ND (painting) are utilized, and these can be further subdivided in the remainder of the call number. In practical terms, both Dewey and LC numbers can be thought of as an extraordinarily precise type of address.

Finally, titles in the art library come in three different sizes—regular, large, and folio—and those designations also play a role in locating a specific item. When reading an NUSearch catalog entry, then, it's important to note the call number, its type, and any size designation, as all three play a role in an item's place on the shelf. The physical layout of the art and architecture libraries accounts for all these variables and, while it is logical, it's not necessarily intuitive. Maps are available to help locate the different sections, and library staff are always willing to assist in finding items that may be difficult to locate. The good news is that it is consistent, and does get easier with time.