A Success Story: An Interview with kYmberly Keeton, Independent Publisher & Art Librarian

What is the name of the employer/institution you work for, and your current position?
At this time, I am in transition and applying for jobs in art librarianship and museums. I currently work as a self-employed Independent Publisher/Art Librarian. My company name is entitled: bookista media group. In my current role, I design and create personal library digital and physical spaces in churches, cultural centers, and residential homes.

In like manner, I teach two online art courses as a Certified Online Scholar Instructor in conjunction with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. I publish a monthly African American online art reference journal and digital exhibition space. Additionally, I write for an online magazine entitled, Ms. XFactor and serve on various professional committees in ALA, ACRL, and SAA. #mywebsite here.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into the field of art librarianship?
I am an African American writer, librarian, and creative-mixologist. I graduated in 2014 from the University of North Texas with a Master’s of Library Science and obtained a graduate certificate in Digital Content Management. In 2008, I received a Bachelor’s and Baccalaureate Degree in English-Creative Writing from the University of Houston with a minor in African American Studies. Thereafter, I was a awarded a Graduate Certificate in African American Studies. The uniqueness about my graduate education, which led me to art librarianship, is that I am also an artist and trained curator.

In 2000, I began my professional career in museums as a Poetry Curator at the Arlington Museum of Art in Arlington, Texas. I then went on to become a Resident Literary Artist at the South Dallas Cultural center and taught in underrepresented communities for BIG THOUGHTS! as an Arts Integrationist. During my career, I had the opportunity to work as a Gallery Assistant at Richland Community College and as an Gallery Assistant/Art Docent at the University of Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum. Through these experiences, I have obtained extensive training through internships, workshops, taking courses, and shadowing others in the arts, librarianship, and education to have a balanced perspective and methodology about the arts.

When I decided to become a librarian I made sure that to look at all of the art institutions that would allow me to complete my practicum in a library setting. I completed my graduate practicum at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Hirsch Library and helped develop the Houston Museum of African American Culture’s website platform and blog. I also had the opportunity during my graduate career to create ART_library deco, an African American online art reference journal. Today, it is a resource updated monthly, available to the global community, and embedded in libguides in academic libraries, and is used as a resource in secondary education.

What brought you to your current position?
I have always wanted to work in an artistic institution that housed a library. I decided to take a leap of faith; go out for my dreams and walk away from a position that I was in that was not creatively fulfilling. After thinking long and hard about my decision, I decided to apply for jobs that are tailored to my skill set in art and design librarianship as well as in curating, teaching, and archiving.

Through this process, I had the opportunity to take on my first entrepreneurial project for a historical African American church in Jefferson City, Missouri this summer. I designed and created the Dr. Carolyn V. Atkins Reading Room at Quinn Chapel A.M.E.; I archived four-hundred books, created a library management system, and designed the physical infrastructure. While creating this entity, I realized that it is important to always have a side hustle in librarianship and in any profession.

What does a typical work day look like for you?
At this juncture, I am curating an online poster exhibition in partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture entitled, “A Place for All People: Introducing the National Museum of African American History and Culture” a commemorative poster exhibition celebrating the opening of the Smithsonian’s newest museum that opened in September 2016. Based on the inaugural exhibitions of the museum, the posters highlight key artifacts that tell the rich and diverse story of the African American experience.

ART_library deco online exhibition space was chosen alongside a host of cultural institutions in the United States to share this body of work with the public. “A Place for All People” is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in collaboration with the museum. The exhibition will debut on the ART_library deco Exhibition Space platform on December 1, 2017 through February 28, 2018.

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market?
Honestly, I believe that you should apply to as many places as possible in your area of expertise. Do not be afraid to go out for what you want in this profession. In like manner, keep at professional development. Attend free online conferences and enroll in open access or moocs that will help with or introduce you to a new set of skills that will help you in the future. Be positive and maintain your health. Remember that you are not alone. Feel free to read my take about my own journey more in depth here.

What were/are some challenges for you as an art librarian? Are these related to larger challenges in art librarianship?
The lack of opportunities for African American art librarians, curators, and archivists is dismal to say the least in our profession. Regardless, I feel that it is imperative to apply for what you know that you can do to best serve the greater community and for your own professional goals.

Tell us something fun about yourself! What do you do in your spare time? If you could take a trip to visit any library in the world, what would it be?
I get a kick out of shooting pool, traveling the globe, and chilling in my design studio. If I could visit any library in the world it will be the presidential library of Barack Obama.

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