Noted art collectors with a special interest in the book arts, the Sackners have a highly informed perspective on this growing field of scholarship. As a Penn Library Overseer, Ruth Sackner understood the unique contribution the Library could make to the field--with the resources to build the appropriate collections. The Sackners created this fund, enabling Penn's Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts to build on its collection of contemporary artists' books.
The Ruth and Marvin Sackner Fund for the Arts of the Contemporary Book allows Penn to develop its own special collection of contemporary artists' books that address these emerging research and curricular needs. The fund positions Penn to build over time a carefully crafted collection that documents leading cultural currents, an important resource for the community of scholars at Penn.
One of the most significant developments in the evolution of the book as an artifact and as a document took place in the 1960s as artists explored in new ways the potential of the book both as art and as cultural commentary. The new availability of relatively inexpensive techniques of reproduction made art available and accessible in ways never before possible. At the same time, artists and writers began experimenting with the text as a material artifact, exploding conventional notions of language and developing alternative conventions of communication that manipulated words, images, and symbols in bold and imaginative combinations.
As documents of contemporary culture, these books are of prime importance, particularly at a moment when the very eclipse of the book as a vehicle of texts is being forecast by many. Indeed, the rapid proliferation of computer technologies among students and faculty, far from eroding interest in the book, has created a whole new subculture of people interested in designing and publishing their own books. Scholars in major universities like Penn are coming to see this literature no longer as marginal, but as central to programs of literature and cultural studies. And research libraries increasingly find themselves confronted with new demands for new types of materials, previously outside their acquisitions nets.