A day in the life of an art librarian

I think it’d be fun, and hopefully helpful, to share what we do on a day-to-day basis. If you have an art-library-related job — whether you’re a “librarian” or not, full time or part time — please give us a glimpse into your daily work life by leaving a comment below. It’d also be useful to read about jobs that aren’t necessarily in art libraries, but provide experience useful to art librarians, such as general reference, instruction, rare books, cataloging, or database/IT positions.

Is a watercooler forbidden or provided? Do you attend meetings? Do you spend more time with books, computers or people? Are you supervised closely? Do you boss people around? Do you commute? Do you work in library-like silence? Do you wear a boa to work or just gem-encrusted glasses? What’s the most repetitive task you do? Do you have any idea what the show The Office is about? What’s the most creative or theatrical role you play? And, of course, what are your favorite things about your job?

If you want to know something, please suggest questions! Be as creative you’d like; bullet points also accepted! No word min or max either. Just remember — your boss might read this! :)

Happy New Year!


  1. I love this idea!!

    First I spent a half hour catching up on email from vacation, and then I checked in approximately 150 books from our after-semester backlog. Routing them took quite a while since I also helped several patrons with circulation problems. This has been especially challenging since we just went through an upgrade of our system. Next I worked on finishing evaluations and pay raises for the workers I supervise, and also talked with my boss about my annual performance review. I then replied to about 10 patron emails that requested renewals and claimed books were returned. I spent another half hour trying to catch up on professional literature – ack I’m woefully behind!! Then I checked in more books since my colleague noticed they were overflowing out of the bookdrop. I finally closed the reference room right before 5 p.m. and headed home!

    More in terms of our “corporate climate,” there was a plethora of organic and European chocolates in the workroom – woo hoo! Since the library is especially deserted this week I’ve been rockin’ out to my new Ok Go album on my iPod shuffle. Today I had the luxury of driving to work since the university has relaxed parking regulations during the semester break, but usually I bus it in. My favorite part of my job is working with wonderful patrons – I got to help two professors and some GAs today, and I can’t wait ’til the students come back so I can help them with reference questions!!

  2. At Fitch, technical services and public services are one and the same (i.e. it’s a one person show).

    In the mornings, I usually receive and process periodicals, reshelve, houseclean, & take research requests. In the afternoons, I’m usually tied up with research. Once a week, I take a full day to work on the Resource Library’s Article Digest (basically I vet info from various RSS feeds that I think would be pertinent for our company).

    Fitch Resource Library’s patrons are usually either graphic designers or retail strategists. Graphic Designers are usually looking for visual materials to help them create new interior design prototypes. Retail strategists are usually looking for consumer insights. Most of my research revolves around the latter. However, both allow me to practice reference interviewing techniques.

    Fitch does many things to help keep a motivated workforce. On Fridays, various divisions sponsor breakfast, and sometimes a department will sponsor a “Lunch & Learn” (events in which lunch is provided and the host describes anything from new work to new services — I did one when I created the Resource Library’s Web site)

    The thing I enjoy most about working at Fitch is seeing my work synthesized into the creation of user-centric retail environments, products, and services.

  3. I second this idea. Fabulous! Sorry this is kinda long, since I don’t have a normal art librarianship position and I am in a rambling mood.

    Well, I don’t have a traditional art librarianship position, but I use almost everything I learned at IU from BJ. I am a reference librarian at MINITEX Library and Information Network, a fancy name for an organization for Minnesota and the Dakotas that does ILL, Document Delivery and Reference for the region. My job consists mostly of answering reference questions and training. I am a librarian’s librarian, meaning the reference questions I get have been funneled through local channels of librarians and get to me if they need additional research, or their collections lack breath. I am the resident “antique roadshow” person, as many questions come in from patrons that bought or found something and they want to know if it is valuable, and sadly I have to tell them I can’t find any info on the person. I also do training on 15 databases that the state pays for to librarians across Minnesota, which is always fun to get out of the U of MN and meet the librarians who are on the front lines…. By far the best part of my job. I also write for our monthly newsletter, Reference Notes, and assist in maintaining our Reference Services blog.

    So, today is an interesting day for me. I get an ergonomics review at 9am from the U’s ergo person since I have been having some issues, I also have to learn how to hook up my plantronics wireless headset finally- it has been sitting on my desk for 4 months now, and it is about time I play around with it. I have a webinar (online training session) to do on how to retrieve statistics from our major vendors for databases. In the meantime I have two reference questions that I have the material to answer, so I just need to formulate my responses and get them to the library that sent the request. The rest of the time will be spent on creating training sessions.

    About the environment here… I am in cubical land… I miss having my own office, but at least I can roll around to talk to my colleagues (amazing how fast you gain 10 pds when you are at a desk job!) We have and promote IM in the office for communication. Very casual dress here, for example, my colleague is a coach and he can wear wind pants to work… I could wear jeans everyday (unless meeting or presenting to librarians) if I wanted to as well. Gotta love that!

  4. Sorry it took me awhile to get back to this. We have been busy since the beginning of the quarter. The more classes offered, the busier we become scanning, cataloging, and making sure the projectors in the classroom are behaving. As Assistant Director, Visual Resources Collection, University of Chicago, my primary responsibility is cataloging, so I spend a lot of time at the computer every day. If you do this, make sure to get a good chair! (no, I don’t actually have the Aeron Chair:(.) The Visual Resources Collection (VRC) has very nice, big windows, so I can enjoy the overcast sky as I sit.

    We catalog our data in Filemaker Pro 8.5 using VireoCat version 2. VireoCat is a relational database built by a visual resources professional, Susan Jane Williams. Sometimes I write scripts in Filemaker to automate data entry. We use Cataloguing Cultural Objects (CCO) as a guide for cataloging. My favorite part is choosing subjects that describe the images from the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Some of my favorite subject headings: foot, sea monsters, revenge, European bison. As I catalog, I look up descriptive information that I don’t know or was not provided with the image to be digitized, such as style-period. For this we usually start with the Grove Dictionary of Art or the museum/repository’s website.

    Besides cataloging, I do a lot of tech support in the classrooms. In some ways it’s similar to fixing a faulty part on a spaceship while the entire world is watching, except in a much more comfortable — and possibly stylish — outfit, and under slightly less pressure. I try to smile and look smart when the students in the classroom tell me how to make the classroom technology work… I also teach professors and students (usually one-on-one) how to use digital resources like ArtStor and presentation software like PowerPoint. Soon I will be teaching people how to use LunaInsight, our new image delivery system. Sometimes I also help professors find images — this can be very difficult, but fun.

    I spend a little bit of time supervising the students who create our digital images (scan books), file slides, provide entertainment, and tell me I’m an old lady. I also contribute to ArLiSNAP and check email frequently — sometimes keeping up with VRA-L can be time consuming but always informative! Every day is a little bit different, and even cataloging is quite varied. Some days I spend all day looking at Islamic manuscripts, and other days I catalog Chinese handscrolls or pages from Wired Magazine. I love the fact that I am constantly learning and looking at something new. There are also opportunities to contribute to publications, collaborate with other departments on campus and with other VR professionals, and to attend conferences. I do rejoice that I rarely have to attend meetings of the University Humanities Division staff. Gretchen, VRC Director, periodically goes to Art History faculty meetings. And finally, yes, we do have a watercooler, although a lonely one — the Art History office is a much better place to stop and chat. Otherwise I see most of the teaching faculty while sitting at my desk. It is a lovely purple cubicle-island in the corner of the slide library.

    If you have any questions about what a visual resources curator is or does, please feel free to ask me. I’m sure there are things I do that I didn’t mention here.

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