Introduction to the Website

During the pandemic lockdown, we have been working hard to upgrade this website. Since its inception in 2006, David Paton has been largely responsible for developing it into the primary website on South African artists' books, including the history and research on the subject, creating one of the most informative and fascinating sites on artists' books. The launch of the website coincided with the opening of the exhibition Navigating the Bookscape: Artists' Books and the Digital Interface at the 2006 Aardklop Arts Festival in Pochefstroom.

The website as it existed was of course not just a listing of the South African artists' books in the Centre but a comprehensive survey of all the South African artists' books which David could locate. Since then, research projects concerning the book-as-an-artwork, book arts exhibitions and their catalogues as well as related textual research, have been uploaded and we will continue to increase the database when we acquire or become aware of any more books or research in this area.

In 2014, the site was positively peer reviewed by Sarah Bodman, Senior Research Fellow for Artists' Books, Centre for Fine Print Research, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK; Elizabeth James, Senior Librarian, National Art Library Collections, Word & Image Department, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK; Deirdre Lawrence, Principal Librarian, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York City, USA; and Monica Oppen, Director Bibliotheca Librorum apud Artificem, Sydney, Australia

In 2018, the website won the Digital Humanities: Best Visualisation or Infographic category at the prestigious National Institute for the Humanities and Social Science (NIHSS) annual awards ceremony.

In 2019 we opened the Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts (the Centre) within the envelope of Wits Art Museum (WAM) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg and subsequently decided that the website would be expanded to become the website for the Centre. This has entailed a rebranding to include all the items at the Centre, an increase from approximately five hundred South African artists' books to more than thirteen thousand books in total.

The Centre is not a lending library - although exhibition loans are considered - but all books may be perused or referenced by appointment at the Centre by students, staff and the public.

The exhibition space at the Centre will display an exhibition of artists' books except when transitioning between exhibitions or when the WAM is closed.

The upgrade incorporates the database of the library catalogue for the Centre, thus including books in several categories other than artists' books, all of which may be searched individually or all aspects at once:

South African Artists' Books
/SAAB/ Approximately 500 items
Books are differentiated between those in the collection and those researched but not in the collection.

South African Art Monographs
/SA/ Approximately 2,300 items

International Artists Books
/IAB/ Approximately 6,000 items

International Art Monographs
/AM/ Approximately 300 items
International Art Monographs only include artists whose work is included in the category

Books about Artists Books
/AB/ Approximately 3,700 items
(The Bibliography). This category includes books about Book Illustration.

Reference Books
/REF/ Approximately 200 items
Books related to the book arts (e.g. typography, printmaking, binding etc.)

Popular Culture
Including such subjects as comics, graphic novels and popular culture.

General Books
/GB/ These include Special Collections and books not otherwise classified.

The Centre has become the general library for WAM, thus the inclusion of South African art monographs, many dealing with artists whose artists' books are in the collection, and some of which are also available in other libraries on campus, but which will be particularly useful and available to Museum staff in closer proximity.

The database allows for a very comprehensive cataloguing of each book in the collection. The word 'book' is used in the widest possible sense and includes such items as broadsides, book-shaped objects (BSOs), portfolios, zines etc.

The following details are included where possible:

Title, subtitle, publisher, place of publication, date of publication, ISBN or ISSN, number of pages, size, inscription, edition size and number (e.g. #7/50) and notes.

What is usually referenced as 'author', we call 'producer' while adding a 'relationship' to the person involved. This allows for multiple producers to be listed. For example, the relationship may include: author, book artist, binder, compiled by, curated by, edited by, illustrated by, introduction by, photography by, preface by, selected by, and many others.

Other aspects of the book are also shown:

  • Item type (structure): altered book, flipbook, pop-up, shaped book etc.
  • Binding (container): designer, spiralbound, slipcase, wooden box etc.
  • Medium: vinyl, DVD, metal, glass, plastic, fabric etc.
  • Technique: letterpress, collage, etching, monoprint, pochoir etc.
  • Theme (subject): trees, feminism, war, polemics, etc.

Although all South African Artists Books have been photographed, most International Artists Books have not. A decision has been taken not to delay the introduction to the public of the upgraded website while realising that it is a work in progress. As many books were catalogued many years ago, they will all be checked for consistency and missing fields populated.

Should any viewers have any questions about our website or any specific item in the collection, please contact the Special Collections Librarian and we will attempt to help. If you find any incorrect information, we would appreciate being informed.

Please let us know what you think of our upgraded website and how you believe it could be improved.

Jack Ginsberg & David Paton


© Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts (JGCBA). All rights reserved.