Reflections from a First Time Attendee: 3 highlights from ARLIS/NA 2017

I’m Anna Van Someren, one of the over 70 first-timers at this year’s ARLIS/NA conference in New Orleans. My path toward art librarianship has been long and loopy. On the way, I’ve passed through art school, advertising, and teaching. While managing digital media projects at MIT, I became interested in library and information studies and decided to get my MLIS from Simmons College, with a concentration in Cultural Heritage Informatics. I’ll graduate this May! Right now I’m working on an arts inventory project at the Boston Public Library and a metadata internship at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Dare I specialize – should I even go to ARLIS? (Yes!)

I’ve heard bad things about the job market, and a specialized library job is even harder to find. Maybe I should just hope for a full-time job anywhere! But my dream job is to work as an art librarian. The people I’ve met through my local chapter, ARLIS New England, have been so kind, encouraging and generous with their time. And taking the Art Documentation class taught by the celebrated (and approachable, funny, inspiring) Ann Whiteside whipped my humble wish into a fevered frenzy. Working with art students, finding resources to inspire them!, I thought.  Collaborating with art professors, following their research, finding what they need before they even know it!, I trembled. Purchasing art books! … So I did it. I attended my first ARLIS/NA conference. And I am so glad that I did.

Highlight #1: The ArLiSNAP Career Development Workshop

I’ve been to things like this before – you get someone to glance at your resume, you maybe get an established professional to give you some vague advice while you stare at them, wondering desperately: How do I get to where YOU are? and What comes first, the crazy good haircut or the crazy good job?  But this one was different. It was three hours of creative, engaging, productive fun!

Ashleigh Coren took us through a three-part writing activity that to our pleasure and surprise, resulted in some pretty decent personal statements. Mine still needs some work, but I’m excited to use it on LinkedIn, in interviews, and pretty much everywhere. Then Breanne Crumpton moderated a great Q&A session with a panel of three well-established professionals: Kim Loconto, Kristina Keogh and Heather Slania. Here’s a pdf document summarizing their advice on cover letters, resumes and interviewing in our field. My question was “How do you address a gap in your resume due to staying home a year with your new baby?” The panelists agreed that employers notice such gaps, and suggested mentioning it briefly in the cover letter narrative. They also recommended that parents and caregivers attend the ALPACA meeting later in the day (see my highlight #2 below).

After fielding our questions, the panelists gave us personalized resume advice. We broke into small groups and took turns sharing our resumes and asking questions. This was especially valuable to me, as I’m moving from academia into librarianship; the expectations can really vary in different fields. I feel much more confident about my resume – or I will, as soon as I finish implementing all the new ideas!

  

Highlight #2: Art Librarian Parents and Caregivers SIG (ALPACA)

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this group, but liked the idea of meeting and hearing from other working parents in the field. The ideas generated in the discussion were exciting: research into federal and state family leave laws, for example. I had to leave early for another event, but this meeting had a deep impact on me later in the day.

I was talking with a friend who had also attended the ALPACA meeting. We talked about one of ALPACA’s main concerns: “work life balance”. My friend has a mentor who had once worked with her to unpack this idea of balance – which can sometimes feel like pressure to achieve the impossible. Does successful “balance” mean giving exactly half of your attention to your job and the other half to the rest of your life (your family, personal health, social life, and other activities)? In real life, that would be impossible on almost any given day! This mentor encouraged my friend to think about the effort of balancing one’s life over the long term. For a span of time, work may require more of your attention, and at another time in your life, circumstances may cause a shift in the direction of your energy. I was relieved to realize that maybe balance doesn’t have to mean two equal halves. Maybe we can find balance through flexibility, or in the slow swinging movement of our attention over many years.

Highlight #3: ArLiSNAP meeting

I was excited to attend this meeting. As you know if you’re reading this post, ArLiSNAP stands for Art Library Students and New ARLIS Professionals – and I’m trying to transition from student to professional. Perfect! Like every other ARLIS meeting I’ve attended, the vibe was welcoming and buoyant. I scribbled notes as fast as I could – “the virtual conference is online at the learning portal!” – “check out VRA job digest, VRA FB and twitter!” – “check out ArLiSNAP blog!” – “volunteer to write blog posts!”

  

Of course there were many other highlights in my conference experience, including sessions that gave me an inside look at the work art librarians do. I also had a beautiful walk down Magazine Street, saw a gorgeous sunset over the water, and ate delicious meals with dear friends. Turns out I love New Orleans!

Next year, NYC!

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