LRC Collection Development Policy

The Betty Boyd Dettre Library & Research Center (LRC) provides resources to support research regarding the history and achievements of women working in the arts. 


Collection Purpose

The Betty Boyd Dettre Library & Research Center (LRC) at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) provides resources to support research regarding the history and achievements of women working in and through the arts, including, but not limited to, visual artists, designers, performing artists, critics, writers, collectors, patrons, and museum professionals. The collection is international in scope and represents all time periods. The LRC serves the museum’s curatorial and educational staff, as well as outside researchers and casual museum visitors.

Mission: The mission of the Library & Research Center is to collect and provide access to selected materials documenting the history and achievements of women in the arts, thereby supporting research, discovery, and knowledge creation.

Our vision is a world in which women artists are nurtured and celebrated on the basis of their talent and achievements without gender barriers to recognition.

History of the LRC

The museum’s founders, Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay, understood the importance of creating a research center within the museum for the serious study of art by women. Krystyna Wasserman was the founding museum librarian and led the library from its beginning until 2003. She oversaw the creation of a widely respected collection of artists’ books, presented exhibitions, and managed the Library Fellows program.

In 2012, the LRC received a major endowment gift from Betty Boyd Dettre, NMWA charter member, Mississippi State Committee member and past president, and NMWA Advisory Board member. The LRC was renamed in her honor. The gift provides important funding for staff and resources to facilitate scholarship on women artists.

Subject Scope

The following is a general description of the scope of LRC collections, though full holdings are diverse and varied to reflect changes in the museum’s programming, popular interest related to women in the arts, and the local context of the LRC.


All time periods are reflected, though the majority of the collection is twentieth century.


All geographical areas are collected. The collection is strongest regarding artists from Western Europe, Mexico, and the United States. It is weakest in African and Asian art—areas with less historical focus on individual artists.


Works on painting, sculpture, prints, photography, time-based media, and book arts are emphasized. Publications on decorative and applied arts are acquired on a highly selective basis, with a focus on silver and pottery. Works about performing arts are also acquired selectively.

The LRC acquires publications that are of historical importance to the recognition of art by women. Thus, documentation of major feminist exhibitions, conferences, art projects, and publications by major feminist art critics are actively sought for inclusion in the collection. Publications that support research in subjects of women’s history, material and popular culture as they relate to women, philosophy, and literature are also included.

Material by transgender and gender-nonconforming artists who identify or once identified as women are collected.

Material on male artists is limited to inclusion of those who have maintained close working relationships with women artists or whose influence as teachers or companions was important to the artistic development or accomplishments of women. Reference books, art historical surveys, general books and group exhibition catalogs which include both men and women are acquired if a substantial portion of the publication’s content comprises information on women artists, or that material includes information on women artists that cannot be found in any other source.

Categories & Formats


The LRC places primary emphasis on collecting monographs on artists held in the museum’s permanent collection as well as artists featured in loan exhibitions. Additionally, monographs are collected on women artists not represented in other area art research libraries, thereby expanding holdings related to contemporary and international artists. Books are selected for their visual and/or scholarly content.


The LRC subscribes to a small number of magazines and journals in print format as requested by curatorial staff. Back issues of periodicals are kept, not bound.


The LRC does not keep auction and sales catalogs, with the exception of special request or as included in artist files.


The LRC has a substantial collection of vertical files, many of which are cataloged and barcoded for circulation.


Individual artists’ files include ephemeral material, images of artwork in the form of slides or digital images on storage media, and other content often difficult to find in the research process. Files are cataloged, but do not circulate.


The LRC actively collects rare books, periodicals, zines, and other unique printed material that features artwork by women. Rare and unique materials are collected that help tell the story of women as creators, patrons, collectors, historians, designers, critics, and tastemakers.

Special Collection Highlights include:

  • Virginia Woolf novels by Hogarth Press featuring book jacket design by Vanessa Bell
  • A significant collection of publications by Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová (1894–1980), considered the first female graphic novelist
  • Presentation bindings designed by women during the 1800s


The LRC has collected artists’ books by women since 1985, even before the opening of the museum. The collection, comprising nearly 300 books, represents a wide variety of techniques, materials, and themes. Books by women are collected that are exceptional in their visual content or structure.

Collecting Guidelines


Books by or about artists in NMWA’s permanent collection or featured in loan exhibitions are collected with priority. Additionally, books by or about women artists that are not found in other local area art research libraries (including the National Gallery of Art Library, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum or American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery, and George Washington University’s Art & Design Collection from the Corcoran) are also collected with priority. Typically, the LRC does not seek out for purchase catalogs on women artists who are not in NMWA’s collection, have not been shown at NMWA, and which are in the library collection of another local area art research library, with exceptions made at the discretion of the director of the library. This policy protects shelf space, budgets, and staff effort from duplication of resources, and it benefits from strong collegiality between art research libraries in Washington, D.C.


Gifts to the collection are added using the same criteria of value as purchased materials. Gifts are accepted with the understanding that the LRC has complete discretion over the option to retain. The LRC receives some publications through gifting by galleries and exchange with museums.


The LRC acquires primarily English-language resources. Other languages have representation in the collection with a large portion being Western languages. If a publication is available in more than one language, English is preferred.


In most instances, the LRC acquires only one copy of any given publication. Additional copies of selected titles may be acquired where heavy use is expected. Three copies of all NMWA publications are collected.

National Museum of Women in the Arts