Bright Young Librarians: Ralph Baylor
I am the Associate Librarian for Public Services at The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library. This role offers in-person and remote reference services to the public and staff of The Frick Collection and Library. In addition I oversee the interlibrary lending program of the library, create public programming, and participate in outreach events teaching the public about the Library and its services.
The Frick Collection is an art museum and research center known for its distinguished examples of Old Master paintings and sculptures alongside a fine collection of decorative arts. The collection was assembled by the American industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) and housed in his former residence, one of the last gilded-age mansions on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
The Frick Art Reference Library was founded in 1920 by Helen Clay Frick, as a memorial to her father. While her father was still alive, Helen conducted research on his behalf, helping to inform many of his purchases. The documents she gathered and shared with him became the nucleus for the Library. The Library collections consists of over 500,000 books related to paintings, drawings, and sculptures by artists working in the Western tradition from the fourth through mid-twentieth centuries; more than 90,000 auction catalogs from over 1000 auction houses throughout Europe, the Americas, and Australia; and a Photoarchive collection of approximately 1,000,000 photographic reproductions and clippings of artworks. The Library is also home of Center of the History of Collecting, created to support the study of collections of fine and decorative artists in Europe and the United States from the Renaissance to the present day.
How did you get started in rare books?
I was working with rare materials throughout my graduate program as an intern in many New York City art institutions. These early experiences confirmed my initial inclination to work in an art museum library. My first job after graduate school was at The Center for Book Arts in New York City as their Collection Manager. A book collector was impressed with the cataloging I did at The Center and offered me some freelance work organizing and cataloging her collection. This led to still other opportunities to work with the early printed texts in The Hispanic Society of America. All the while, I maintained a part-time job at the Frick Library. After 18 months of juggling three jobs, I was offered full-time status at the Frick Library and slowly stopped freelancing as projects underway reached their completion.
Where did you earn your MLS or advanced degree?
I graduated in 2014 from The Pratt Institute with an M.S. in the History of Art and Design and M.S. in Library and Information Science.
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?
The Frick Art Reference Library auction catalog collection is a treasure trove of information that helps establish provenance. But I love that they also display hints of humanity. Many of these catalogs are annotated with prices and the names of buyers. Whenever I pull these to answer a reference question I enjoy thumbing through the pages looking for sketches and notes. I often find quick doodles of the auctioneer or thoughts on who to invite to an upcoming dinner party. These annotations remind me that the annotators were real people that often had to contend with boredom!
What do you personally collect?
I am collecting the complete publications of Fantasy Press. They were an American publisher specializing in science fiction. Fantasy Press was only operable for about nine years in the late 1940's through mid-1950's, but the books produced had beautiful covers and illustrations. The paper was of very fine quality too. I have had fun trying to get the full run, though a few are quite elusive.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I enjoy running and run several half-marathons a year. I also love to travel throughout Italy. I am learning Italian and hope to go back next year with the ability to hold a long conversation.
What excites you about rare book librarianship?
Helping people make discoveries using rare book and special collections is the most exciting aspect of this field. Being a reference librarian, I am admittedly biased, but I strongly believe in dropping barriers to access these types of materials. This in regard I feel like my role offering reference services and coordinating interlibrary lending let me see first-hand the importance of providing our resources to the public.
Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?
The future will continue to see librarians creating greater access to their collections. Gone are the days where one had to provide a letter of reference to prove they were worthy of access. Special collections present exciting opportunities for engagement with all people.
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you'd like to draw our attention to?
During World War II, the Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas of the American Council of Learned Societies was based at the Library. The staff here assisted committee members, preparing maps and lists locating art treasures and monuments across Europe. These events formed the basis of the 2014 file Monuments Men. The maps produced are still held in our archives and form a fascinating part of history. We also hold other objects from that era such as a World War II helmet distributed by the US Army.
Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?
The Frick Collection has many great exhibitions so my department focuses on programming. We currently have some exciting summer programs, including our first ever summer book club. We are reading Dominic Smith's The Last Painting of Sara de Vos and plan to host two discussions in July. The book is a great read and has quite a few references to artists in The Frick Collection as well as a couple of references to the Library.
[Image Credit: George Koelle]