A Success Story: An Interview with Coral Salomón, NDSR Fellow at The University of Pennsylvania Fisher Fine Arts Library

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your current position, and how you got into the field of art librarianship?
Hello ARLIS/NA!,

I’m from Puerto Rico, but I moved to Boston when I was 18 to obtain my BA in International Relations. After that, I worked for a few years as a project manager in New York City’s translation industry.

I loved NYC’s wealth of cultural heritage institutions and as the years passed, I realized that I wanted to work within that sector. I stumbled upon Pratt Institute’s MLIS curriculum and decided that library school was the right fit for me.

I entered the field of art librarianship thanks to one of the cultural heritage institutions I admired from afar. I was fortunate to obtain a fellowship through Pratt at the Frick Art Reference Library where I was part of NYARC’s web archiving program. It was an incredible experience and I learned a lot from my supervisors, colleagues, and by working within the walls of The Frick Collection. Even though I’ve moved on to a different role, I feel a lot of gratitude towards The Frick. They made me feel like family since day 1 and gave me the confidence to pursue this specialty, even though I don’t have a formal background in the arts.

I’m currently the National Digital Stewardship Resident at the University of Pennsylvania Fisher Fine Arts Library. My yearlong IMLS-funded residency focuses on tackling issues pertaining to the preservation of digital artwork and art information.

You can read more about my project and my cohorts’ projects here.

What does a typical day at work look like for you? What work are you doing as an NDSR art resident?
My project has three components:
• Creating guidelines for a web archiving program focused on the arts.
• Providing repository recommendations for born-digital artworks and art resources produced at Penn.
• Writing a white paper on the acquisition and preservation of publications hosted on apps, YouTube, podcasts, and other untraditional digital platforms.

I’ve been interviewing a lot of people here at Penn to get a better sense of what are the needs of the community. A typical day might include interviewing professors in the fine arts department, curators, museum library directors or artists working on projects affiliated with Penn. I type my notes and then create a small summary of the conversations in a spreadsheet.

I’ve also been meeting with fellow Penn librarians and digital archivists to gather their recommendations and avoid siloing my work. Librarians, archivists, and new media scholars at other institutions have also generously offered me advice and discussed best practices in relation to my project.

So, my typical day involves a lot of listening and typing! Next semester, I’ll begin implementing some of the lessons I’ve learned during the past 4.5 months.

One achievement that I’m proud of is the mapathon for Puerto Rico disaster relief Penn Libraries hosted. I helped organize it, and while it doesn’t fall neatly within art librarianship, it’s an example of how libraries can rise to action in times of need. I was blown away by the student participation and the institution’s support.

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market?
My advice for current students is to seek out internships or part/full-time jobs in the field while they’re still in school. Internships make life financially difficult, so try to apply to ones that pay or to funds like the ARLIS/NA Wolfgang M. Freitag Internship Award which provide financial support to students seeking out unpaid opportunities.

For those on the job market: apply to your dream jobs, even if you think you’re not qualified. Keep on blogging, going to events, get coffee with people working in the profession, all those things your professors told you to do. Also, networking is not evil. I thought networking was terrible when I was younger, but now I’ve realized it’s just about reaching out to people that are cool and are doing admirable things within this line of work.

I know this is easier said than done, but don’t take job rejections personally. I’ve been surprised that I’ve connected with people (in a positive way!) who’ve turned down my job application. Always thank people and, if you get a human-generated rejection, ask what factors influenced the hiring decision. Sometimes people reply and you get really good advice–I got better at writing cover letters thanks to a kind rejection.

Remember, you are an awesome person and the market does not determine your worth! If anyone wants more specific advice, feel free to tweet me at @csalinphilly!

What were/are some challenges for you as an art librarian? Are these related to larger challenges in art librarianship?
The attack against net neutrality is a huge challenge. Art libraries are boundary-pushers in the effort to preserve and provide access to our digital cultural heritage, as demonstrated by our web archiving programs. This measure, which endangers the openness of the internet and threatens to increase the digital divide, imperils our work and the ability of the public to access our collections and materials. As librarians and archivists, an open and democratic web is vital to ensure we can provide information to all.

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, which would it be?
I really like to bike and luckily Philly is a great biking city.

I also enjoy exploring museums. This year I saw some really great exhibits, including the Whitney’s survey of Hélio Oiticica’s work and the Guggenheim’s Agnes Martin retrospective. I also enjoyed Philadelphia’s public art project, Monument Lab. The pieces were really thoughtful and offered a fun way of getting to know the city.

Someday, I would like to visit the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Cuba’s national library. Cuba and Puerto Rico were the last outposts of the Spanish empire in the Caribbean, and I wonder what tales of our combined history are safeguarded there.

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