How Do You Catalog A Book Made Of Cheese?

American Cheese book by Ben Denzer

Image: Ben Denzer

As part of the Whitney’s Andy Warhol exhibit, the gift shop is filled with items Warhol probably would have found pretty amusing: a $400 Brillo Box pouf, a DIY time capsule (which, much like his, is basically just a cardboard box), and, displayed under glass, a beautiful little book inspired by his piece “192 One Dollar Bills.” Made by artist Ben Denzer in an edition of 192, each book is a bound volume of 192 real one dollar bills, priced at $384.

Clearly Denzer is a genius, so I looked into what else he’s done. All of his work is delightful (look at these tape sculptures! the books of fortune cookie fortunes and napkins and artificial sweeteners!), but one piece that stands out is his book that binds together 20 wrapped slices of American cheese — particularly because there are a few libraries that own copies.

Jamie Lausch Vander Broek, the lactose-intolerant Librarian for Art & Design at the University of Michigan, described how and why she acquired a copy of the cheese book in a piece for Saveur, noting that it wasn’t exactly a popular choice:

“Some people—especially librarians, particularly book catalogers at other institutions—were mad when I bought the cheese book. This surprised me. I thought that people would laugh, or crinkle up their faces in bewilderment. Their anger reminded me of reactions to color field paintings; people seemed divided between ‘I could do that,’ and ‘that’s an insult to books!'”

So how was it cataloged? The record at the University of Michigan lists it under these Library of Congress Subject Headings: “Artists’ books — New York (State) — New York — 21st century,” “Food in art,” and, the best, “Cheese — Specimens.” Because the book’s cover doesn’t list the creator, and because there’s no title page on the first slice, there’s a note about where the Main Author entry came from: “Artist information from publisher website.” I particularly like the Physical Description field: “20 unnumbered leaves.”

The book’s WorldCat listing also shows it in the collection at Tufts (where it’s listed as “Not Loanable”) and the artist’s site also notes that Baylor University holds one of the 10 created copies (where it’s apparently being processed — but, isn’t the cheese already quite processed?).

It seems unlikely, but I am hopeful there’s an interlibrary loan possibility for this book. I should have a bit of time to find out, since, as the head of  conservation at U of M told the librarian there, “American singles are basically shelf stable.”

–Mary Bakija, INFO-653-01

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by Hugh McLeod

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Pratt Institute School of Information
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