An art library open to all

What do Japanese comics, historic prints, Photoshop use, deck-building how-tos and Michel Gondry documentaries have in common? They’re all free and available to the public at Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s (MassArt) Morton R. Godine Library.

The Godine Library and all its resources, unlike most other collegiate libraries, are completely open and free to the public. All they require is presentation of a photo ID at the front desk.

“We have a vision of it being a learning commons,” said Paul Dobbs, the library’s director. That’s because MassArt is a state school owned by the public.

Dotted by bean-bag chairs and plastic tarps—remnants of recent work on the building’s roof—the library boasts large collections of material on and off the shelves. But it’s important to make it welcoming, Dobbs said.

“We’re glad to have something more comfortable for students to read and sleep in,” he said of the bean bags.

While the library’s square-footage is on the smaller end, its view is hard to beat. From the 12th and 13th floors of the Tower building at 621 Huntington Ave., the library has unobstructed views of downtown Boston that would command a high premium from a private owner.

Named after a former vice president, trustee, and foundation board member at MassArt, the Godine Library has far more books than it seems. As part of the Colleges of the Fenway consortium, the Godine Library has access to all the books in all the libraries of all the colleges that also take part in the organization.

That means the libraries belonging to Emmanuel College, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Simmons College, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Wheelock College—among others—are available to the public through MassArt.

That’s a few million books, free of charge, available to anyone who asks to see them. The library does have limits, though—the public cannot check out materials.

But for proof that the Godine library has the community in mind, look no further than the tutorial books: there are books that teach how to build children’s play furniture, how to build decks and how to insulate a house.

Clearly, the library has a greater readership in mind than college students.

However, for the more academically-minded, the library has access to dozens of article databases, like JSTOR, that compile academic and news periodicals, including local papers.

Along with their “huge photography section” and other in-house books, Dobbs told the Gazette, the library has many other draws for the community.

“The graphic novel section is very popular with teenagers,” Dobbs said. It includes classic titles such as “Sandman” by Neil Gaiman and “Watchmen” by Alan Moore, along with a sizeable manga—Japanese comics and graphic novels—collection. It is temporarily located in a niche under the staircase, surrounded by armchairs.

The video library—full of art documentaries, feature films about art and artful films—is ever growing, Dobbs said: “People started leaving us their collections.”

If a movie or image is in an unusual format like VHS or filmstrip, the library is fully equipped to handle it. There’s an out-of-the-way corner that houses machines rarely seen today, ready to deal with that microfiche. (Or tape. Or slides.)

The Godine Library is slightly older than the college it belongs to, which was founded in 1873. Walter Smith, MassArt’s founder, created the college partly to house the library, Dobbs told the Gazette.

As such, the library has over 100 years of art-related periodicals on the shelves, and is largely decorated with students’ work, both vintage and recent.

The library is pretty quiet during the summer. During a recent Gazette visit, a few high-school students sat reading graphic novels in a corner, but there was no one at any of the computers.

Dobbs and his team are using the down time to their advantage. By fall, he said, all the computers in the lab will be equipped with Adobe products like Photoshop and Illustrator.

They will continue to be open and available to the public.

The library is open 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays, and is closed on weekends until Sept. 6. More information is available at

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