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Judy Sahak

Interview conducted by Grace Reckers, Scripps College '17


When looking for additions for your collections, are you looking for a particular piece to fill a gap in your exhibit, or do you do a broad search and choose whatever strikes you as a "good fit?" 

Let me begin by describing how a collection is developed. One starts with a policy sometimes very detailed and written down, But more often a fleshed out outline. It is based on the current collection developed over a long period and current needs. For example, Denison s artists' books collection was built on the fine print collection built over the years by gift and purchase. There is a genre called artists books in the fine print tradition. Of course I acquired books produced in a variety of methods, but always looked at the elements of fine print in thinking about a particular book. For example, most outstanding fine printers maintain high standards of production, I would  even say perfectionism in the product, at least a mindfulness of The finished product. One other major element of Denison 's Collection development policy is that we do not collect one of a kind, one offs.(Sometimes rules are meant to be broken!) One major element of the policy is to collect books by women. Another is to support the curriculum. Still another is to support the interests of book arts and printing students. Underlying much thinking when acquiring a book is how well the book is made and how well it will stand up under handling and viewing. As you know the use of the collection is one of the Paramount objectives of having the collection. 

Do you have a particular audience in mind when creating your collections? Is there a certain group or identity that you think might connect best with your collection?

As I alluded to above, one specific audience are book art students. I often selected a book because of its format, shape, or other production elements. I wanted a student to look at it and say "I can do that!" I did not want to encourage students to copy or appropriate, but be inspired by. Over the last decade, I was also thinking about students in writing 50 classes for example or other classes that dealt with social justice and issues dealing with social change. That was a broad spectrum of issues including race ethnicity and identity.

How did your process for choosing books for the collection change during your time at Scripps?

I had the privilege and the fun of being at Scripps over a 40 year period. In the 70s, individuals were establishing their own presses publishing their own writings and experimenting with forms, colors, shapes, materials. As the years passed the production of books changed considerably and I think the collection reflects that. In the 70s I found out about books in reviews in book arts journals that thrived then.

Such as fine print, I received prospectuses sent in the mail, people talked about their books and their friends books, and from the 80s on word we had a succession of book artists Who were drawn by the Scripps College Press and two exposed me to their books and their friends books. I also made a special effort to buy books produced at other teaching presses and artist visited with their books. Perhaps most important during the last 20 to 25 years were dealers who brought around a variety of artists books. Such as Vamp & Tramp, preceded by California. The dealers have done more than anyone to publicize and provide access to a large variety of artists books. Another way of a acquiring books is through standing orders of book artists whose work is consistent and significant.

Did different events or trends at Scripps influence which books you chose?

I cannot point to any specific event particularly dealing with identity and social justice that lead me to acquire particular books, but the whole entire fabric of events undoubtedly had a great effect. I can definitely say that the evolution of the curriculum certainly has affected collection development particularly in issues dealt with in writing 50 and in the core. Certainly issues that students were passionately involved with over the years such as gender identity, sexual identity, race and diversity, same-sex marriage, immigration, war and many many more influenced  the collections.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when collecting items? How did you overcome them?

Frankly, the availability of funds was always the biggest challenge. One just had to make do and be smart about selection. Also, the availability of books on certain topics was a challenge. I made it a habit to let the various dealers such as Vamp & Tramp, Booklyn, and other individuals know what I was interested in.

Did you have any role models or mentors in book collecting? How did you become interested in the practice?

Well frankly, it was part of my job and I enjoyed it. Unfortunately there were other aspects to my job and I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to spend with the books.I think that the world of Book Arts is very small. Over the years through various evolving organizations that eventually became the College Book Art Association, I knew other librarians and collectors, we communicated openly and sharingly. Those other professionals,colleagues and friends were a great influence over the years. Especially important are people like The Huberts, Betty Bright, and Johanna Drucker.

How would you describe the Scripps collection at Denison compared to collections at other institutions?

Scripps has had the great good fortune of many generous donors over the years who have been responsible for gifts of books from 5000 years ago to the present as well as gifts of funds to acquire current materials. The collection is characterized by an enviable depth and breath over 5000 year. With an emphasis on the last 7 to 800 years. This gives students resources to compare techniques, genres, and much more specifically, attitudes of a society about specific issues over a period of time. The artist book collection is quite sizable, I always considered it a regional resource for other institutions and their students as well as those here in Claremont. 

Did you ever invite authors of your collected books to come to Scripps? What was that experience like? How did you choose who to invite?

I have had a very good advantage of a close association with the Scripps College process which has brought many book artists to Scripps over the years. On occasion they have had special sessions at the library which is always fun. Many of the authors represented in the collection are local and have visited from time to time on an informal basis. I have on occasion had a book artist come to campus, but most have been in association with the Press. 

How did you go about looking for books that pertained to race and identity? What sorts of forums do you use to find these books?

As I have said in earlier questions many of my sources are dealers, individual artists, and colleagues. Over the years more and more of them have handled books dealing with race and identity For many years it seemed that few artists of color produced books. One exception is Clarissa Sligh whose work I actively sought. Another source has been other collegiate presses and the students there who have produce books about race and identity.

Do you think it’s important to have a wide range of genres in a collection? Why or why not? 

Absolutely. The audience using these books, being inspired by these books and feeling affinity with the books is broad, diverse, with many varied intellectual,cultural, and social interests. the resources available to them, to be effective, must reflect these interests. It's as simple as that.