Simply stated, artists’ books are works of art in book (or book-like) form. An artists’ book may be a unique, one-of-a-kind piece but it might also be produced in an edition. It may be letterpress printed using handset metal type or photopolymer plates but it might also be printed offset, mimeographed, photocopied, written by hand, or created using online self-publishing companies. It might incorporate unusual materials like soap, food, or LEGOS. Sometimes it’s produced as a codex and will look like a book but it might also be a scroll, set of computer punch cards, or sculptural piece. This wide variety of form makes a single definition hard to come by but in almost every case, the appearance and production of the work is determined by the artist.
The twentieth century witnessed particularly varied and creative experimentation with artists' books culminating in an explosion of the medium in the 1960 and '70s with California a center of much of this production.
The collection of artists' books at Otis College of Art and Design began and grew significantly during the 1960s and 1970s due largely to the efforts of librarian Joan Hugo, a recognized expert in the field. The Otis Library's current collection is approximately 2,500 works. Among the holdings are books by important contemporary artists such as Ed Ruscha and Joseph Beuys as well as work by recent graduates of MFA programs in the book arts such as Sarah Bryant and Daniel Mellis.
The goal of the Otis Artists' Book Collection is not to create a comprehensive archive, but rather to provide a teaching resource available to artists and students. We encourage use of the collection by both members of the Otis College community and outside researchers.
Most of the artists' books in our collection are kept in Special Collections and may be used in the library only. Images of many of the artists' books from Special Collections may be viewed online in Otis Collections Online.
We do circulate artists' books that are sturdy enough to withstand life on the shelf. Check the Main Campus Book Stacks for call numbers beginning with N7433.4.
With the COVID-19 campus closures, access to Special Collections, including the artists' books collection, may not be possible. Please call the library (310/665-6930) for the latest developments.
Check here for more about Special Collections.
Books about artists' books are shelved in the Main Campus Book Stacks and have call numbers beginning with N7433.3 and N7433.35. These books are a good place to look for inspiration.
Books about how making books have call numbers that begin with Z266 through Z271.