Amid the excitement of the upcoming furniture market, The Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library may be the most interesting and fun to visit venue in High Point. With more than 4,000 furniture and design specific volumes, it is the largest and most comprehensive furniture specialty collection in the world—and now those volumes can be searched online worldwide.
The rare book collection contains volumes published since 1640. With the exception of Yale, it is the only library in America that houses the original works of 18th century furniture masters Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite, as well as a complete set of Diderot's Encyclopedia. (26 volumes published in the 18th Century.) Unlike Yale, the Bienenstock Furniture Library is open to the public. A special climate and humidity controlled room houses these rare volumes. An appointment with the curator is required to examine these books, and you must wear white gloves, but they are available to the public. The library also contains rare drawings and furniture details. It is a treasure trove of inspiration for anyone interested in design. The library opened 1970 and operates under an endowment from the Bienenstock family. Mr. Bienenstock began this collection in 1922.
Karla Webb is the full time Library Director. She manages the day to day operations and is leading the execution of strategic changes. “Mr. Bienenstock (library founder Sandy Bienenstock) had a primitive but practical way of cataloging the books,” said Webb. “Because books were acquired a few at a time over a 90 year period, and many were rare, out of print, or had not been cataloged anywhere else, he created his own system. This became even more problematic because of the nature of furniture and design books. Many are oversized and don’t fit neatly on the shelves of a compact library. That worked fine for years, but the collection has grown, and to make the collection more searchable and accessible, we decided it was time to have them cataloged conventionally.”
Every volume has been re-cataloged by a team of research librarians and interns from UNCG and High Point University. The process is being documented through an ongoing blog http://furniturelibrarycataloging.wordpress.com
/ about the day to day activities, interesting tidbits found along the way.
Applying the rigid Library of Congress strictures, each book is tied to an online database that can be searched by subject, author, and style or through wild card metatags. It was a time consuming and tedious process, but now allows scholars around the world access to this rare archive. You can search the database through the new BBFL website. http://opac.libraryworld.com/opac/home
“This project would have been impossible without the skill, dedication and knowledge of a team of interns. They have worked indefatigably for three months through the tedious process of examining each book, one at a time, and re-cataloging it properly so that it is searchable in an online database.” Mary Jane Conger, Head of Cataloging Department, Universities Libraries, UNC-G was involved in determining the best way to organize the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library’s collection and is supervising Maggie Willis, Project Coordinator.
Maggie Willis, a student at UNCG working on her masters Degree in Library Science spearheaded the project. When asked what was so special about a rare book, she replied: “It is the same as any other rare object with an added benefit. A rare book contains information and has a unique sense of history. By itself it is a piece of art. The covers, binding, printing and paper are captivating. Paging through these books is like entering a portal into the soul of genius and creativity.”
“In the process of re-cataloging, we discovered that several volumes were not recorded in any database. These are either very rare books or possibly one of kind items. This is one of the few, if not the only place in the world where design professionals, scholars, students, and the public can don a pair of white gloves and examine the works of the pioneer designers in our industry” said Willis. In fact, the collection has about 600 books that were printed prior to 1800. One of the biggest challenges is shelving oversized books. “This is a wonderful problem.” The library had a number of very large format books with extraordinary illustrations that allow the reader to see detail and be inspired.”
The library itself—the Grayson House which was built in 1923 and is on the National Register of Historic Places—has been renovated and outfitted with furniture to facilitate meetings and research. It plans to install an elevator later this year. “This is an extraordinary resource that is located conveniently across from the Adams Inn on Main Street. It is free and open to the public. We want people to visit and use it.” added Webb. The Vuncannon meeting space is available for classes and seats up to 35 comfortably. The facility includes a small catering kitchen with sink, microwave and mini refrigerator for light food preparation.
This is just one of many developments of the library. The building has been renovated; the library has established a new identity and a new comprehensive website will be announced soon. The easiest way to stay up to date on the developments of the library and how to apply for a scholarship is to “like” its Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/BienenstockFurnitureLibrary
About Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library:
The Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library—a worldwide center for research, design, and collaboration—holds the world's largest collection of rare and significant books on the history and design of furniture. Founded in 1970 and endowed by the Bienenstock family, the Library is devoted the advancement of knowledge about design, furniture, interiors, architecture, textiles, finishes, and constructions.
Significant among Bienenstock Furniture Library's 4,000+ holdings are contemporary acquisitions and an international collection of rare books published since 1640, including complete original works of Chippendale, Sheraton, Hepplewhite, and Diderot's encyclopedia. The Library operates a specialty bookstore selling significant contemporary works, out-of-print, and hard-to-find volumes. Most Library services are free. Bienenstock Furniture Library, located in High Point NC, is open to the public and welcomes professionals and scholars for research, collaboration, meetings, seminars, lectures, and events. Visit www.furniturelibrary.com
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