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Goldwater Library Collection Development Policy




The Goldwater Library is the principal repository in the museum for research materials on the art and material culture produced by the indigenous inhabitants of three geographical regions: Africa south of the Sahara; North, Central and South America; and the Islands of the Pacific Ocean. “Art and material culture” is understood to comprise the physical evidence of a culture in the objects they make or made. Preference is given to objects that demonstrate individual creative expression or virtuosity.

Within these geographical regions the library’s holdings reflect the particular strengths of the department’s object collection. Highlights of the object collection include decorative and ceremonial objects from the Court of Benin in Nigeria; sculpture from West and Central Africa; images of gods, ancestors, and spirits from New Guinea, Island Melanesia, Polynesia, and Island Southeast Asia; and objects of gold, ceramic, and stone from the Precolumbian cultures of Mexico and Central and South America. Works on the art and culture of these art-producing regions are collected in depth.  (More highlights can be found on the department’s page on the museum Web site.)

The library was founded in 1957 as the Library of the Museum of Primitive Art. The library collection was deeded to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969 as part of the Nelson Rockefeller bequest. The Library re-opened in February 1982 on the Rockefeller Mezzanine, simultaneous with the opening of the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing. It is named for Robert Goldwater (1907-1973), founding director of the Museum of Primitive Art, art historian and African art scholar.


Constituency of the library is the staff of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas (AAOA), and other Metropolitan staff, lecturers, and volunteers and outside researchers. The library is administered and maintained by staff of the Thomas J. Watson Library, including acquisitions, circulation and stacks maintenance. The library shares its space with the department’s separately administered Visual Resource Archive, including the Archives of the Museum of Primitive Art.

Goldwater Library materials can be requested through Watsonline for use in the Watson Library or in Met staff offices, or for use at outside institutions through Interlibrary Loan. Appointments to work in the Goldwater Library can be granted at the discretion of the curatorial department.


The Library’s holdings largely reflect the scope of the AAOA object collection. Additional copies of titles that fall within the Goldwater Library collection scope may also be acquired for the Watson Library or one of the other libraries in Metropolitan Museum. The presence of a title in another Met library should not necessarily prevent the acquisition of a Goldwater Library copy where the item has a demonstrable value to the curatorial research staff of AAOA.

While the following guidelines are intended to guide the general practices of Goldwater Library acquisitions, its full holdings displays a valued diversity that reflects a history of exhibitions and scholarly projects by curatorial, educational, and conservation  staff that have generated purchases that, at times, fall outside of the scope of the museum’s collection (and, indeed, outside of art-specific research). Therefore, there will be instances of museum staff-driven suggestions and requests that expand on these parameters, and will only add to the richness of the full Met libraries’ holdings.

Time scope

With few exceptions the library collects on cultural production from the earliest times to the present day, including modern and contemporary art. Titles on site-specific works such as rock paintings and petroglyphs are collected, even though they are not represented by objects on display. For the present era the library collects titles on art in traditional media as well as works in Western-style media that is traditionally informed. The collecting emphasis for contemporary art is primarily African and African Diaspora, but may include Native American and Pacific Islander contemporary art selectively.

Core and Supporting Literature

Emphasis is placed on literature that addresses objects and their use. Object types range from small-scale objects (such as personal adornment) to architecture, from decorated objects of daily life to commissioned objects of vertu, from the transient (such as body decoration) to the intentionally permanent. It encompasses a wide range of materials (including but not limited to wood, stone, pottery, metal, textiles, bone, feather, skin, paper and sacrificial materials); and function (clothing and dress, utilitarian or ceremonial objects, burial goods).

Early contact literature and later description and travel literature, particularly photo-illustrated albums, are collected where the accounts focus on native populations, their culture and artistic expression, especially when these accounts are illustrated.

The library also selectively collects literature relating to:

  • An object’s manufacture, including the sourcing of the materials used, as well as the social significance of the object and its decoration
  • The contextual use of an object, including the role of the object in its society and culture as well as the ceremonies themselves
  • The history of ethnographic photography in these regions.
  • The history of collecting in the field and of the art “primitive” art market.

Through the selection of appropriate secondary literature the library supports the departmental acquisition of original photography, including nineteenth- and twentieth-century ethnographic portraiture, historic field and expedition photographs of architectural sites, locations, and peoples; and postwar and contemporary artistic and documentary photography. The library also works in association with the department’s Visual Resource Archive and the Archive of the Museum of Primitive Art to provide essential literature on the care and conservation of all manner of archival materials.

Influence of and influences on traditional art

The library collects works on the cultural impact of external influences on traditional indigenous art, such as Christianity and Islam, or colonialism. While certain media may be considered characteristic of a given culture, such as wood sculpture or jewelry, the library also collects literature on traditionally inspired works by native artists in media introduced from outside the culture, including photography, such as that of West African studio photography; and easel painting, such as the aboriginal painters of Australia. These artists may include those no longer living in their historical homeland It can also include recent works based on historical forms, created for indigenous use as well as those directed to the marketplace. The library also collects on the influence of “primitive” cultures on Western art, such as its influence on early modern European artists, or the popularity of Polynesian culture (“tiki”) on post-War American art and architecture.


The library collects materials on the archaeological record of native American cultures, primarily Precolumbian North, Central and South America, but also selectively for African and Pacific Island cultures.  The library collects very selectively on the migration and peopling of the Pacific Islands; and lithic-era African material culture, such as rock art and petroglyphs.

Reports of archaeological excavations are collected very selectively: for major art-producing cultures; and for sites from which objects in the collection were excavated. Excavation reports focusing on human remains, tools, and undecorated objects of daily life, such as potsherds or tools, are not collected.

Historical and legacy library collections

As the library originated as the research collection for a stand-alone museum, it collected general works on museology, including exhibition techniques and conservation; and library science literature. The library still collects very selectively on the conservation and preservation of ethnographic objects. The library no longer collects in the remaining subjects.

Historically the library actively collected practical and theoretical monographs and serials on anthropology, archaeology, history and ethnology, sciences that were once the primary literary sources for relevant art-producing cultures. While ethnological studies of individual peoples remain important, primarily for historiographical studies, the library no longer actively collects in this area. The library does not collect literature on the social and economic conditions of present-day native peoples.



The library makes every effort to acquire all current monographic titles that fall within the parameters of its collecting scope. Books are selected for their scholarly content. Collection catalogs of both public and private collections; and exhibition catalogs from museums, art galleries, foundations and other venues are all collected comprehensively. Collected essays and festschriften, and the proceedings of congresses and symposia are acquired if the general scope of the work falls within the library’s collecting parameters. Copies of unpublished dissertations are acquired when they directly relate to the current research of Museum staff at the suggestion and initiative of the curatorial staff.


The library subscribes to journals in both print and electronic format, both current subscriptions and archived content: online only when it is on a trusted platform; print and online when the online option seems stable, is IP authenticated, yet is not on a trusted platform; and print only if no electronic version is available or the online option requires a password or is unstable. Electronic serials are reviewed for purchase, monitored and paid for by the Watson Library on behalf of the Goldwater Library as a museum-wide resource. Recent print copies of current subscriptions are kept in the Watson Library Periodicals Room until they are bound, after which they are shelved in the Goldwater Library.

Auction and Sales Catalogs

The library acquires through gift or subscription auction catalogs in African, Native American, Precolumbian or Pacific Island art from all major market auction houses worldwide, and to selected secondary market arts auction houses. While many of these catalogs are also collected in the Watson Library, the Goldwater Library should be considered the primary repository for these subject areas.

In addition the library acquires through gifts individual sales catalogs from other auction houses. No effort is made to be comprehensive for these houses. Retrospective catalogs are also selectively purchased to support specific provenance research and new fields of research; to supply missing holdings; or when the individual catalog contents warrant.

Special Collections

The library actively collects rare books and periodicals, and other antiquarian materials. The library will collect an antiquarian title that is also freely available on the Web or is already available in the library through subscription digital collections if the original item: differs critically from its Web counterpart, such as manuscript annotations (for example, prices and buyers names in an auction catalog); has a significance apart from its contents, such as an association copy; or is specifically needed in the print version, as for an exhibition.

Reference Collection

The Goldwater Library collects subject-related reference materials extremely selectively. Responsibility for collecting reference titles of a broader scope falls to the Watson Library, which can take better advantage of electronic format reference tools where applicable.


  • Gifts are added to the collection based on the same criteria as purchased materials. Gifts are accepted with the understanding that the Library has complete discretion over the option to retain. The Library does not rely on exchange programs to acquire materials.
  • The Library acquires resources in all Western European and Asian languages for those subjects collected comprehensively. Materials in indigenous languages are very selectively acquired when the contents relate specifically to objects in the collection or exhibitions originated or hosted by the department. If a publication is available in more than one language, English is preferred. However, acquisition will not be delayed when a foreign language edition is published before an English language edition. The Library collects exhibition catalogs from multiple venues in various languages. If a foreign language edition has different content from the English edition or if the English translation is poor, an additional copy in the original language may be acquired.
  • In most instances the Library acquires only one copy of any given publication. Added copies of selected titles may be acquired where heavy public use is expected, or an added copy purchased for the Watson Library. At least two copies of significant works relating to AAOA should be collected.
  • New editions are acquired when they reflect significant changes and additions in comparison to the previous editions. The Library acquires reprints only if the title is new to the collection or if the Library’s original copy is in poor condition or notably of heavy use.


Other Collections in the Museum

The Goldwater Library actively collaborates with other libraries in the Museum to collect in selected subjects and cultures: the Thomas J. Watson Library for core texts and exhibition catalogs for sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, pre-contact Americas, and Native American art, as well as contemporary art by artists of African, Native American or Pacific cultural origin; the Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library for materials on fashion and costume; and the Nolen Library in the Uris Center for Education for works on art education and books on art for children. These and other departmental libraries in the Museum complement the holdings of the Watson Library and may make added copies of shared titles available to museum staff and visiting researchers.

Other Collections in the New York Metropolitan Area

New York City is also rich in other research libraries that both complement and supplement the library’s resources, including the Schomberg Collection of the New York Public Library, the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art Library, Brooklyn Museum Library and those of other museums. In addition to libraries in the New York metropolitan area, Watson Library offers Interlibrary Services whereby materials can be borrowed from other libraries for Museum research staff.


Decisions to withdraw specific items, like decisions to acquire new titles, are made within the context of the total collection policy, in order to maintain overall integrity of the collection. The nature of a special research library precludes the approach to weeding taken by academic or public libraries. The importance of art historiography as a research focus may oblige the library to retain superseded editions of art historical texts. Considerations for withdrawing materials include materials outside of the scope of the Library’s current collection development policy; excess number of duplicate copies; and obsolete materials such as directory and guidebooks.

Criteria to be considered for replacement include long-term value and demand; alternative coverage of the topic in the existing collection; and availability in an electronic version, whether in a digital collection, a freely available version, or as an e-book. If printed material has been lost or damaged, criteria for replacement should follow the same guidelines as acquisition of new material. Replacement copies may be ordered for badly damaged books when conservation is determined not to be appropriate.


Apart from a small selection of print serial volumes that are available electronically through JSTOR which have been sent offsite, all other Goldwater Library materials are kept onsite.