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Adrian Salas

MIAS 250

Getty Research Institute: A Study of Access Policies


The Getty Research Institute (GRI) is the branch of the J. Paul Getty Trust devoted to
visual arts research and history. The Institute shares a campus, the Getty Center, in the
Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles with the other arms of the Getty Trust. These
other initiatives include the Getty Museum, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the
Getty Foundation. In Malibu there is also the Getty Villa which is primarily devoted to
antiquities research and exhibition. The GRI often works with these other branches, but
its focus is to support the art and art history scholarly community. The institutes main
public resource is its research library. The library holds over one million secondary
source books and periodicals covering art, art history, and areas related to these fields.1 In
addition there are photo study and microforms collections. The GRI also holds the
institutional archives for the Getty as a whole. The area of the GRI that is most pertinent
to study in relation to archive practice is the sizable special collections department. This
area contains many rare books and manuscripts, prints, artists books, personal papers and
archives, and use copies of videos and audio recordings in the Gettys collections.
The librarys services, which are often first encountered through a reference librarian,
are divided into several areas to serve the spectrum of researchers that patronize the
library facilities.2 The patron base and thus the levels of access that are accommodated by
the GRI are multitudinous. The GRIs library is open to many researchers, but it is not
unrestricted like a public library. Readers must register for their desired level of library
use, which are outlined in the Gettys online access policy.3 Access to the library and its
collections is divided into three categories of reader privileges. Plaza reader is the first
classification of library user. This is essentially open to anyone who can provide a
government issued photo identification at the refence desk which is located on the plaza
level. While this is the most open category in terms of who can register, it is also the most
restrictive as far as the privileges it grants. Readers only have access to the GRI Plaza,
which has the most limited amount of open stacks materials. There are two further levels
of the library devoted to research, L2 and L3, that remain off limits. These readers may
request general collections material from these other areas, but they must remain in the
plaza level reading room to utilize these items. Plaza readers are subject to the normal
library hours of 9:30am-5pm, Monday through Friday.
The more advanced level of access is stack reader. Stack reader privileges are given
to researchers who are affiliated with a scholarly institution or to independent researchers
whose projects or interests can demonstrate a need to use the Gettys resources.
Institutional affiliations are defined as graduate students, university faculty, and staff of
other museums. Undergraduates can be considered for stack reader privileges if they can
provide a letter of reference from a university professor. The big difference between
independent researchers and institutionally affiliated researchers is that an institutional
connection will effectively bypass the application process. While the paperwork that is
1

http://getty.edu/research/library/overview.html
Lind, Aimee. Personal interview. 30 Jan. 2014.
3
http://getty.edu/research/library/using/access/index.html
2

Adrian Salas

filled out by the researchers will be the same, an institutional connection will fast track
the applications approval. The next category of patron is extended reader. The extended
readers and stack readers have access to the same areas, but the extended readers are able
to utilize the library for longer hours (8:30am - 9:00pm Monday-Sunday). Extended
readers can also sign up to be put on the list for a reserved study carrel. To apply for
extended reader status a patron must demonstrate a need to use library collections for
advanced periods of time. Ideally an extended reader will already be a stack reader. Once
a reader is registered as extended or stack, they are issued an ID badge. This badge is
used by readers to sign in to the library when they arrive, and to sign out every time they
leave. Readers also must wear their badges while in the library so that library staff and
security can know who is authorized to be using the facilities. Additionally, readers with
badges are allowed to enter and exit the library through a separate doorway on the lower
L2 level. This is to allow for a more orderly flow of people in and out of the GRI, as the
main entrance on the Plaza level has recently been the subject of a gallery expansion, and
therefore is now mainly utilized by visitors going to see rotating exhibits.
The Gettys multi-tiered reader structure is an attempt to strike a balance between
openness and managing access in a way that will not over-tax the GRIs resources. The
plaza reader status is very open and does allow for almost anybody who can provide an
ID to utilize a portion of the GRIs holdings. This is much the same as other archives and
libraries, such as the UCLA Special Collections department4 or the One Archive at USC.5
The more advanced levels of access do present a higher threshold of entry, but this is not
unheard of at libraries with many unique holdings. The Huntington Library, for example,
has a even more stringent set of criteria for granting reader privileges, as they generally
will not consider anything less than doctoral students for reader privileges, and they
provide no options for even low level access to research collections.6 While it could be
tempting to ascribe motives of intellectual elitism to the Huntington and the Getty, it must
also be recognized that both institutions are both well known and home to many unique
collections. While both are better funded than many other archives, their resources are
still limited and subject to staffing and budget constraints. The access policies for both
institutions then are hopefully reflections of how both institutions feel they can most
effectively serve their targeted scholar communities, while still maintaining some
controls that would address appropriate staffing, conservation measures, and security for
the materials they keep on hand.7
There are no direct fees to apply to be a reader. Due to the Gettys unique geography
there is a type of backdoor fee though that is important to note. The Getty is located in a
somewhat remote location to the rest of Los Angeles, along the Sepulveda Pass corridor
that runs between the Westside of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. While
technically access to the site is free of charge, parking for the facilities runs $15 a day,
aside from Mondays when the museum section of the Getty is closed to the public.
Offsite parking in the area is prohibitive, and due to lack of sidewalks or adequate
4

http://www.library.ucla.edu/specialcollections/researchlibrary/charles-e-young-research-library-department-specialcollections
5
http://one.usc.edu/collections/conducting-research/
6
http://www.huntington.org/WebAssets/Templates/content.aspx?id=586
7
Ellis, Judith, ed. Keeping Archives. 2nd ed. Port Melbourne, Vic. : Thorpe in association with the Australian Society of
Archivists Inc., 1993. 275-279.

Adrian Salas

shoulders on the section of Sepulveda where the Getty is located, pedestrian access is
possible but very treacherous. Essentially readers are dependent on either public transport
or paying for parking. There are annual parking passes offered to stack and extended
readers but these can be relatively steep for researchers on a tight budget.8 Physically
accessing the Getty therefore can be quite a monetary consideration for all but the most
intrepid bikers, or those able to arrange for pickups or drop offs.
The aforementioned areas serve as the initial steps that readers must negotiate in
order to gain access to the Research Institutes special collections department. The GRIs
special collections material is searchable online through the Gettys discovery system,
Primo. This is essentially the Gettys version of an online public access catalog
(OPAC), where researchers can find and request materials. While there are numerous
open stacks items available across the librarys three levels, such as books and
periodicals, the majority of the GRIs holdings are in closed storage vaults both on and
off-site and must be paged by circulation and special collections reading room staff.
Using the special collections reading room is essentially a two part process, after a
researcher obtains their stack or extended reader privileges. Readers must determine what
special collections material they want to use based on the Primo records or the finding
aides that are located in the GRIs web resources (and hopefully linked from the relevant
Primo records). From Primo readers can then request the materials they want to have
paged. The other step that is just as important as selecting material is to make a
reservation for a spot in the special collections reading room.
Space and time in the reading room is very limited. Patrons wanting to use the
special collections room make their reservations by contacting the reference librarian on
duty, who then makes a reservation in the online calendar system. This calendar is
maintained on a networked Filemaker database. The reader is also given a sheet
containing guidelines for using special collections and an agreement to sign which lets
readers know that their personal items will be subject to inspection upon leaving the
library or reading room, and that the Getty does not necessarily have permissions or
copyright for any materials they may encounter and wish to use. The access policy states
that reservations should be made at least two weeks ahead of time. This step is very
important because special collection material can only be examined in the reading room,
and as such, it is very important for both staff and researchers to make as best use of the
limited time as they can in the reading room as it is only open from 9:30am to 5:00pm,
Monday through Friday. There are 12 spaces that researchers can use, spread across two
large tables, in the reading room. The reservation system is very key in making sure the
room can be used effectively for the largest amount of people. For instance, there is an
additional work space that can be used in a tight crunch, thus bringing the rooms capacity
up to thirteen readers. Alternately, if a reader is working with oversize materials, this can
require the use of multiple spaces and plans must be made accordingly. Some very large
special collections items, such as blueprints and architectural drawings can take up a
whole table. It is therefore paramount that a patron who plans to use special collections
materials strategize their visits, as just dropping in is not a very viable option to
conducting productive research.
There are several physical aspects to the reading room that are important to note,
aside from the number of spaces available for use. Much of this information is important
8

http://getty.edu/research/library/using/access/parking.html

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in regards to the security of the materials. The reading room is located in one of the main
hallways of the GRI on the L2 level and is viewable by all passersby due to having one
wall made of glass. The room itself is supervised by a reading room staff member who
sits at an elevated desk at the end of the room, which has a computer and security
monitors. This staff member also controls access to the room as the door is connected to
an electronic lock and alarm, that must be deactivated every time a patron leaves or enters
by a button behind the reading room supervisors desk or a staff members badge. The
door is locked for patrons coming into the room until they are buzzed in by the staff
member monitoring the room. Patrons leaving the room must get buzzed out by staff, or
they will set off a very unpleasant and earsplitting alarm when they open the door.
Readers check with the supervisor upon entering the room to be shown their assigned
spot.
After checking with the reading room front desk, patrons are asked to leave all
materials such as bags and personal items in a coat check area at the front of the room.
Patrons are also asked to wash their hands in the bathrooms located down the hall, before
starting their work. Gloves are only issued in special circumstances, such as working with
photographs which are not housed in mylar. It is believed that handling materials with
clean, bare hands is superior to using gloves in most cases, because the finer handling of
material that is possible due to the increase in tactility. Wooden pencils and notebooks are
provided for use at each desk. Readers are asked to not use pens or mechanical pencils as
these carry too much risk for breakage and subsequent harm to materials. Readers are
allowed to bring personal computers to work on at their space. Furthermore, readers are
allowed to bring cameras to their work area. Readers who do so sign a camera agreement
which states that any photos they take are for study and research purposes, and not to be
published. Also, it is made a point that they are not to use flash photography. This is to
both protect light sensitive materials and to minimize disturbances to other patrons. In
general the special collections reading room has a set up that is very in line with the
principles and guidance that is listed in archive literature and best practices.910
The reading room is also one of the main areas where direct fees are generated. For
patrons who do not wish to take their own photos for whatever reason, they can make
photocopy or scan requests for materials to be used for study purposes. These fees run
from $5 for 1-15 pages, to $10 for 16-35 pages. While 35 pages is the theoretical upper
limit of copies, their is the provision made to charge $5 for every 10 additional pages
copied after this. Usually this fee is invoiced after the completed reproductions are sent,
due to the fact that many items have to be evaluated individually to judge if they are in a
condition in which they can be safely copied. Pricing gets more complicated for imaging
requests. These requests take into account many factors such as who is the entity making
a request, and what is their intended purpose for the image.11 The fee also can be larger is
special handling is needed, or less if an image is already existent for an item. The patron
also will pay for permissions if they intend to use materials in some form of publication.12
These permissions can be somewhat tricky, because this is not necessarily the same as
9

Dearstyne, Bruce W. Researcher Services. The Archival Enterprise: Modern Archival Principles, Practices, and
Management Techniques. Chicago: American Library Association, 1993. 185.
10
Ellis, Judith, ed. Keeping Archives. 2nd ed. Port Melbourne, Vic. : Thorpe in association with the Australian Society
of Archivists Inc., 1993. 280.
11
http://www.getty.edu/research/library/using/reproductions_permissions/index.html
12
http://www.getty.edu/legal/image_request/fees_schedule.pdf

Adrian Salas

having control of an items copyright, so patrons must still do their due diligence in
researching an items copyright status or holder.
While the GRIs online discovery system, Primo, has already been discussed, it is
only one of several online access tools that the Getty hosts or utilizes. If one looks at the
Search Tools and Databases section of the GRIs website, there are eleven search portals
and databases that listed for use.13 On of these is the GRIs collection of inventories and
finding aids, which are encoded in Encoded Archival Description (EAD) and thus not
included in the MARC based Primo records. These finding aids are primarily for unique
archival collections that the GRI holds in special collections. Sometimes items can have
MARC and finding aid entries, which are not always co-located online. This can make for
a lot of difficulty for researchers, as this is not an intuitive set-up for multiple related
records. Another database is the Getty Research Portal, which is a Getty headed initiative
to federate records for digitized art history texts from across institutions that are freely
available to researchers online.14 There is also the Gettys Provenance Index, the
Bibliography of the History of Art, and the Open Content repository of restriction free
digitized images from the Gettys collections. On top of the twelve databases mentioned,
the GRI also hosts the Getty Vocabulary programs, authority control databases. And just
to complicate the Gettys digital research picture a little more, it just recently launched
the Virtual Library website.15 This web initiative makes many back titles published by the
Getty available online for free access. This is managed by Getty Publications, which isnt
strictly speaking part of the Getty Research Institute, but does publish works under for the
GRI.
These digital research initiatives can be seen as one prong in the Getty Research
Institutes outreach strategy. The Research Institute annually hosts dozens of scholars
who are stipended and given housing to work on study projects utilizing the GRIs
resources, over the course of anything from a couple weeks to over a year. In addition, the
GRI awards smaller grants to researchers who have study interests in the Gettys
collections. While the scholar and grant activity builds recognition for the Getty and GRI
in the realm of academia, they also engage in more direct promotional activities aimed at
other sections of the public. For instance, the GRI has a curated Facebook page, which
showcases items from the holdings.16 There is also the Gettys online blog, The Iris,
which has contributions by members of the GRI. There is also a GRI newsletter that is
emailed to subscribers monthly. In addition, the GRI participates in events such as the
Los Angeles Archives Bazaar, and the Gettys grad and college nights. Members of the
GRI community also attend professional conferences such as ARLIS and ALA. Perhaps
the most obvious, yet in some ways easy to overlook, way the GRI promotes its
collections is with its gallery space. This space is accessible to anyone visiting the Getty
and hosts rotating exhibits which are usually culled primarily from holdings in the GRI.
The digital realm plays an increasingly important role in providing access to the
GRIs collection of audio/visual materials, and in a way marks where the institution may
be increasingly heading in the future. Many of the unique AV materials the GRI holds are
in the special collections department. Of particular note is the Long Beach Museum of
Art (LBMA)video art collection, and various oral history style interviews the GRI has
13

http://getty.edu/research/tools/
http://getty.edu/research/tools/portal/
15
http://www.getty.edu/publications/virtuallibrary/
16
https://www.facebook.com/GettyResearchInstitute
14

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made and collected over the years. These collections, particularly the LBMA video,
present access challenges because good preservation practice makes access to originals
nearly impossible. In the case of Long Beach, this is because a majority of the collection
is on 3/4 U-matic tapes, which is an obsolete format. Additionally, just due to the nature
of tape, many of the videos are probably near the end of their expected lifespan. What this
means is that users must utilize access copies made of the tapes, so that the originals can
be conserved as best as possible.
The nature of these access copies has evolved over time. Originally the tapes were
transferred to DVDs, which were then held to be viewed by interested patrons in the
special collections reading room on portable players. Overtime this workflow has
evolved, and now the Long Beach tapes are digitized. A raw, uncompressed file is created
to be archived in a digital repository system. A mezzanine level file is also created at this
same time, to prepare use copies of tapes. While use copies still take the form of DVDs
for certain rare occasions, for the most part many of the Gettys unique video holdings are
being prepared for secure online access over streaming platforms. Many of the digitized
Long Beach holdings are now accessible online from the Primo catalog, where a user can
link to a video stream as long as they are accessing the resources from a Getty IP address.
This is the Gettys current method of approaching an access problem that many archives
with A/V materials face. The question then becomes how to best manage and make
available the digital resources that are generated by preservation efforts. This is a strategy
that seems to work very well for older video formats, because of the lower quality of the
original works, at least in relation to film. Given current technology, it is now possible to
make preservation copies that approach the full quality of the source material. With
proper content management strategy, such as a site specific link, it becomes possible to
provide increased access to A/V material, while still maintaining enough control to keep
it from becoming de-contextualized on the open internet.
The GRI is a very multi-faceted entity. Many of the different areas cannot be
mentioned in a vacuum, without other sections of the GRI or Getty to give them proper
context. The several levels of access that the GRIs policies try to accommodate, illustrate
an institution who in some ways tries to have things both ways: an elite academic locus
and an open community resource. This is not necessarily bad approach though. While it is
good for archives to be as open as possible to researchers, it does no one any good if there
is not enough resources to provide adequate access for the users that come in the door.
The GRIs access policies are designed to try and strike this balance, by allowing people
in the door but still laying down some thresholds to keep allotment of resources in check.

Works Cited
Dearstyne, Bruce W. Researcher Services. The Archival Enterprise: Modern

Adrian Salas

Archival Principles, Practices, and Management Techniques. Chicago: American Library


Association, 1993.
Ellis, Judith, ed. Keeping Archives. 2nd ed. Port Melbourne, Vic. : Thorpe in
association with the Australian Society of Archivists Inc., 1993.
Lind, Aimee (Reference Librarian). Personal Interview. 30. Jan. 2014.
Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust, n.p. Web. 2 February 2014.
http://getty.edu/research/

Adrian Salas