Friday, March 23, 2007

Online Exhibit of the Week: The Pop-Up World of Ann Montanaro

Ann Montanaro is the head of Systems and Bibliographic Database Management at Rutgers University, which is all fine and good, but she's also something else. She's someone who has done something about which I (and perhaps many others) secretly dream: her personal library of children's books was made into a special collection of a major university library. And they named it after her! Wow! Now that's what I call immortality.

Montanaro's special interest in the world of children's literature is pop-up books. No big surprise there -- I know lots of people who collect them -- but Montanaro's expertise in the history of the genre is stellar. Not only did she publish a book-length bibliography of pop-up books of yesterday and today, but she also founded the Moveable Book Society, which not only produces a quarterly journal, but a biennial conference -- the perfect resource for anybody looking to collect these fragile yet fascinating works of art.

Pop-ups are one of the few kinds of literature that I find can entrance adults just as wholeheartedly as kids. There has been many a time that I've passed by my library's little shelf of pop-ups to find parents on the floor with their kids and One Red Dot, eagerly peering around the paper structures, gleefully lifting flaps and pulling arrows. I think it is both the transient nature of these books as well as the clever architecture that captures our imaginations: like a soap bubble or a butterfly, we all know that pop-up books don't last very long, and should be enjoyed whole-heartedly while they are around.

The collection on display in the online exhibit does a good job of giving a survey of pop-up books from the 1880s to the 1990s, with books organized into somewhat whimsical themes ("The Birds and the Bees," "The Beautiful and the Bizzare," "Man, You Gotta Move!") inviting armchair tourists to click through the collection at a leisurely pace. The books range from the charmingly Victorian to the bizzarre -- including a pop-up homage to the British royal family.

Each image is given a lengthy annotation describing the context of the book, the artist's other works, and what any visible tabs or flaps are for. Best of all, Montanaro has also contributed a brief history of pop-up books to the exhibit.

Apparently, this was the first online exhibit created for Rutgers, and it shows -- the design of the website is woefully dated, with an ugly grey background. Worst of all, the images of the books were all created with old-style film photography, then scanned to create JPEGs. Although the website provides detailed instructions on how to set your monitor to optimize clarity, the images still come off as grainy and blurred, as you can see from the images I have posted here.

The biggest oversight, of course, is the conspicuous abscence of the works of Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. Only one Sabuda book, The Christmas Alphabet, is shown in the exhibit, and the list of pop-up book websites does not include a link to the Sabuda/Reinhart workshop, which is arguably one of the best resources on the Web about contemporary pop-ups.

Obviously, these oversights are due to the fact that this exhibit hasn't been touched since its creation in the 1990s. So what? one might ask. It's only an online exhibit.

Yes, but there's something to be said for making collections like these accessible to the public, and that includes the online public. There's nothing wrong with the occasional update, folks. You know, at least one a decade or so. I wouldn't be surprised to see this website showing up on bilbliographies for college courses about children's literature, and if a resource is being used in that way, it deserves to be kept up so it can remain a good source of information.

Okay, okay. I'll just put way my pop-up soapbox for now. (Wouldn't it be handy to have one of those?)

1 comment:

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