The Bloomsbury Design Library is an exclusively digital resource that brings together key publications, like the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, the Encyclopedia of Asian Design, and the World History of Design series, with additional content forms, including a database of museum collections, an exhibitions archive, and other research and learning tools, such as bibliographic guides. Part of Bloomsbury Publishing’s Digital Resources initiative, first launched in 2017, the Bloomsbury Design Library is an ambitious project that has the potential to become a central resource for researchers, teachers, and students of design all over the world.
As well as the aforementioned volumes, the library offers access to over seventy-five eBooks. These titles, which are authored by noted experts, span a range of disciplines and topics—from design history and theory, to architecture, craft, and even design futures. One of the most significant features of these eBooks is the ability to search each one using keywords, a useful tool that effectively helps to expedite the research process. A search for the word ‘global’ in Design and National Identity by Dr Javier Gimeno-Martínez (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), for example, returns 143 hits located in ten chapters. Selecting one of these results takes the user to full chapters in which the searched term appears, though perhaps somewhat counter intuitively the original search term is no longer highlighted within the text.
Additional benefits of these digitized publications entail fully linked tables of contents that redirect users to a selected book chapter, full colour illustrations, and live links embedded within entries, particularly in bibliographies, which lead users to online sources and repositories located elsewhere. These links increase the breadth of the Bloomsbury Design Library, providing immediate access to external sources that scholars may wish to consult quickly, though the project’s administrators will inevitably face challenges around monitoring and updating these links due to the generally transient nature of web-based material.
The book content in the Bloomsbury Design Library is complemented by other kinds of material, such as designer biographies, a history of design timeline, and sections highlighting specific museum collections and exhibitions, all providing useful basic reference points for researchers. The ‘Designer Biographies’ section, for instance, features short profiles of selected designers, with each entry comprising a brief opening text summarizing the designer’s career and activities, followed by listings outlining details such as institutional affiliation, gender, and nationality. The design directory could be a valuable resource for curators, teachers, and students, especially those embarking on a new research project. At present, however, this section—itself a collation of abridged extracts from the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design—is still limited in its representation, mostly spotlighting male personalities associated with Europe and North America. Curiously, the encyclopedia’s original entries on designers from Korea, such as Ahn Sang-soo, Noh Nora, and Min Chul-hong, have not yet been added to the resource, suggesting that it is still undergoing expansion.
The interactive timeline, meanwhile, could benefit from further development. Best browsed in full-screen mode, this is classified by century and decade, as well as by the following five themes: Culture and the Arts, Society and Politics, Technology and Science, Economics and Trade, and Ideas and Philosophies. These taxonomies demonstrate a welcomed attempt at situating design history in its wider political, social, cultural, and economic contexts. But a clunky format (clicking on ‘Read More’ on an entry, for instance, often redirects the user to another publication featured in the design library, requiring constant back-andforth navigation), alongside broken images and seemingly randomly selected entries has, unfortunately, resulted in a tool that is not as user friendly for scholars as it could be.
These shortcomings hint at the broader challenges of a digital initiative like the Bloomsbury Design Library: ensuring that the project website can be intuitively navigated, allowing for easy access to materials. Though the Bloomsbury Design Library demonstrates a clean website design, its navigation categories are somewhat confusing. Items on the homepage, which are listed under a subcategory called ‘Explore’, reappear in the website’s menu bar under ‘Browse Contents’, while the menu’s own ‘Explore’ option offers an entirely different set of categories (‘Period’, ‘Place’, ‘People’, ‘Disciplines’, and ‘Schools, Movement and Styles’). The layout, therefore, can be unclear for first-time users, though this issue can be quickly resolved of course via improved website structure.
Other sections of the digital library, such as ‘Museum Collections’, ‘Exhibition Archive’, and ‘Research and Learning Tools’, were sparsely populated at the time of writing. Though speculating from the few materials published, these areas of the website could become essential tools for future scholars and curators. The ‘Museum Collections’ section, for example, currently showcases two institutions—the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York, USA, and Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen, Denmark. As with ‘Designer Biographies’, these profiles open with a short text outlining institutional history, as well as information about the museum’s collections.
The entry on MAD, furthermore, is accompanied by an illustrated selection of collection objects, which the user can explore further. If such material were to be compiled for an expanded list of design museums from around the globe, the Bloomsbury Design Library would become a hugely significant resource, not only offering an encyclopedic list of global design museum collections, but also allowing for their direct comparison. The ‘Exhibition Archive’, meanwhile, is a similar endeavour to the ‘Museum Collections’ section, though at present only two exhibitions affiliated with Designmuseum Danmark are listed.
Finally, the library’s ‘Research and Learning Tools’ area contains specially commissioned resource packs for teachers, students, and researchers, including lesson plans and bibliographic guides that draw on materials in the Bloomsbury Design Library. Only one lesson plan and one bibliographic guide have been uploaded at present: both focus on modernism in Scandinavia, and have been skilfully collated by Dr Charlotte Ashby, author of Modernism in Scandinavian Art, Architecture and Design (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017). The lesson plan is especially comprehensive, with its suggestions of core texts, questions for discussion, homework exercises, and links to external content (including to museum databases). This is offered alongside an extensive literature review and bibliography that refreshingly lists titles not necessarily published by or affiliated with Bloomsbury.
The Bloomsbury Design Library’s current offerings make it an excellent place to start a research project for students, academics, and curators alike, providing access to a wide range of resources that cover design, crafts, and visual arts from 1500 BCE to the present day. Teachers, moreover, can use these materials to assign course readings at no extra cost to students, which illustrates another key benefit. The digital library demonstrates a solid foundational framework which Bloomsbury can now build upon: there is much scope to improve website usability, as well as to expand content to explore design in geographic contexts other than Europe and North America (the Encyclopedia of Asian Design is a good step in this regard). Also, lacking at present are works by authors of more varied backgrounds, including people of colour, whose voices are distinctly under-represented. Addressing this should, perhaps, move to the top of the priority list for Bloomsbury Publishing.