Website Review: Designers & Books: The Best Kept Secret for Materials Selection and Professional Development in the Field of Design

By Casey D. Hoeve 

While it is no secret that the culture of Art, Architecture, and Design can be exclusive, librarians possess the subject expertise and tools to build satisfactory research collections. However, for librarians new to collection development responsibilities, selecting materials in these subjects can be an onerous task. The sheer amount of information can be overwhelming and deceptive, and a lack of professional networks can limit knowledge of artists, publishers, and exhibits.

In an age where fiscal responsibility is the paramount buzzword hampering libraries, it is essential to build collections wisely, purchasing what is necessary and under budget. But when so many other functions demand our attention during the day, few librarians possess the time to seek out new vendors and keep attuned to emerging trends. Ideally, a service that could condense this information would be an essential time saver and an excellent starting point for professional development.

Designers & Books is a website that seeks to aggregate discrete entities among design resources. The initial idea was developed by Steve Kroeter, for the purpose of providing a useful insight into the world of design. In a simple blog style format, various pages are devoted to intriguing commentary and useful lists librarians may wish to follow. These features are accompanied by information tools that enhance discoverability, such as viewing specific genres or books by contributors, and functions that help users create personal reading or purchasing lists for future utilization.

The website can be broken down into the following sections: Contributors; Book lists; Publishers; Interviews, essays, etc., and Videos, and Tools.

Each week, Designers & Books publishes a new interview with a major artist or commentator in the field of design. Interviews discuss literary works contributing to their thought processes and creativity as well as the artist's sources of inspiration. In addition to the interview, a profile is supplied which describes the artist's background, education, firm or educational institution, and some of their most notable accomplishments. Designers & Books also provides book lists generated by the artist on the profile page, so scholars can view their bibliography, inspirational book list, current reading list, and the artist's choices for notable books in 2011 and 2012.

Book lists
These comprise the most substantial portion of the website. There are several lists available, which can be both helpful and complicated. For librarians unfamiliar with the website, the List of Lists is the best place to start. This page indexes nearly every list on the website, enabling librarians to locate the most useful set of books for their scholarly purposes. The lists are divided into several categories:

  • Contributors' Lists: The most comprehensive book list is the 1,537 Chosen Books (which may be larger by the time you read this). This compilation describes every book that has been selected as inspirational by artists and commentators. Books by Contributors serves as a bibliography of sorts, detailing the books written by selected contributors and commentators. Current Reading lists the books that artists and commentators are presently perusing. The Notable Books List provides a useful yearly evaluation tool, for librarians to see the most recommended books by artists and commentators on the site. Currently, lists have been compiled for 2011 and 2012.
  • Publishers' Lists: The Publishers' Lists advertise forthcoming, recently published, and backlist design books from featured publishers - an excellent list for librarians searching for titles they may have missed through catalogs or approval plans. It is also a good way to see what titles are nearing publication, to keep abreast of future trends in design.
  • Booksellers' Lists: For those of us who do not reside in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, it can be difficult to keep informed about the inner workings of the design hubs in America. Luckily, the Booksellers' List provides a record of best-selling books from Rizzoli Bookstore (New York, NY), Hennessey + Ingalls Bookstore (Los Angeles, CA), Modernism 101 (Shreveport, LA), and William Stout (San Francisco, CA). Combining these lists with the publishers' lists and the artist and commentator recommendations, Designers & Books provides an invaluable source to determine demand from artists and book buyers alike.
  • Short Lists: The Short Lists contain an eclectic mix of selected artists and topics pertinent to the field of design. Specific examples include 9 Books from the Good Design Movement, 10 Children's Fiction Books Inspiring to Designers, 25 Books on Sustainable Design, and 21 Books of Manifestos. These lists help to isolate particular subjects for building high impact collections with a manageable number of books. For librarians seeking to purchase basic collections to support general coursework and research, this may be a good place to start. Additionally, the pre-curated collections may serve as time efficient way to create library exhibits and highlight particular collections.

An Innovative feature of Designers & Books is the Publishers' page. This section of the website lists the foremost publishers in art, architecture, and design, as well as a number of other notable publishers for librarians to keep in mind. Each publisher has a brief write-up, a list of featured books, and a link to their corporate website. Librarians searching for relevant design publishers, or attempting to setup a design approval plan, will benefit from this condensed information, with its utilitarian list of publishers from whom they should be purchasing materials.

Interviews, essays, etc., and Videos
The Interviews, essays, etc., section of the website contains an array of interviews and Q & As with artists and commentators. In addition to interviews, links are provided to essays that are recommended by contributors to Designers & Books. The Video section is the weakest portion of the website, containing the least information about design. It provides video interviews and reviews on design-related topics, but the small number of videos available hinders the usefulness of this website feature. If more content is added, this will surely become a wonderful source of professional development and inspiration.

Other tools included on Designers & Books are especially helpful for information professionals. The Subscribe feature alerts subscribers when new content is available, enabling librarians to approach keeping current with content efficiently. Each week, an email notifies subscribers about new designer lists. Updates can also be followed through Twitter, Facebook, or RSS feeds.

Designers & Books has also established a partnership with OCLC. Each book that is listed on the site has its own individual page, which includes a link to WorldCat holdings for the title, editions, and the author. With this feature, librarians can examine books for potential interlibrary loan opportunities, or check to see what types of libraries are purchasing selected titles.

Additionally, the website contains a feature known as My Reading List, allowing a visitor to select any book on the website by clicking the "Add to My Reading List" option, which will save the book for future reference. The list can then be emailed to yourself or others, thus providing a purchasing list creation tool, which can be generated by librarians or easily emailed by faculty and students to librarians.

Lastly, a search box is available to search the entire content of Designers & Books. While fairly basic, it does allow a user to search by "all," "people," "books," "publishers," "booksellers," and "interviews, essays, etc.," without using Boolean operators. Results are then separated by website section, allowing the user to locate the most relevant area for their search inquiry.

All in all, Designers & Books is an exciting website providing an extensive overview of hot topics and artists in the field of design. The one drawback of this site so far has been its lack of promotion. The OCLC Newsletter (" Traffic Partner") informed me of its existence, but I have yet to find any other entity publicizing this resource. Yet, for each librarian to whom I have emailed this website, I have received favorable feedback, heralding the usefulness of Designers & Books. Hopefully, this review will provide more exposure to site website as a valuable selection tool, and inspire librarians to participate in the discussion on the website.

Casey Hoeve is an Assistant Professor and Content Development Librarian for Arts, Architecture, and the Humanities at Kansas State University.

Works Cited
" Traffic Partner Designers & Books Connects Readers to Libraries." OCLC, 27 Dec 2011. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.