Closed Stacks

Image Resources and the Future of Artistic Research Practice During the Covid-19 Pandemic

  • Maggie Murphy UNC Greensboro
Keywords: studio artists, information behavior, image resources, image research, print books, art books, digital image collections, image databases, visual resource collections


Decades of research on information behavior of studio art and design students, faculty, and practitioners has emphasized the importance of image resources, in a variety of formats, to their creative processes. Artists have traditionally sought out images in library print collections, following their curiosity and browsing through books, magazines, and catalogs for fine art reproductions, photographs, illustrations, diagrams, charts, maps, advertisements, and other graphic forms in all subjects. Artists' preference for browsing the library stacks for serendipitous inspiration from visual materials in print books also highlights the importance of the library itself as a vital and generative site for many artists. However, this year’s new studio art students, just beginning their formal practices in college in remote or hybrid environments, will not have the same opportunities as the emerging artists before them to freely browsing through books, looking for images and ideas. A survey was conducted to provide a snapshot of art information professionals’ experiences and perceptions of studio art and design students and instructors’ use of image resources in different formats during the Covid-19 pandemic. While survey participants reported continued use of print books and physical materials as image resources by studio art and design students and faculty pre-pandemic, during fall 2020 usage of print and physical materials for image research was down, while demand for digital images was up—even though students and faculty do have at least nominal access to print collections and library stacks at many institutions. The question remains, though, about what the long-term impact of this period may have on the information behavior of studio art students going forward, since this is the first truly global pandemic of the digital age. While digital alternatives for image research, particularly those that focus on fine arts images, do not provide the same opportunities for serendipitous exploration and making interdisciplinary connections between personal interests and visual elements from books in subjects outside of the visual arts that artists continue to prefer, it may be that emerging studio artists who do not have formative experiences browsing library stacks in the wake of the pandemic may continue to engage in image research digitally. Further research on the image information behavior of emerging artists will be needed. 

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