Meet an Art Librarian: Career Interview with Emilee Mathews

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into the field of (art) librarianship?

I went to Indiana University for an MA in Art History, starting in Fall 2008. Initially, I had only planned on getting the MA and to figure out what I wanted to do after that. But, in the meantime, I was in a class called Research Methods in Art History, and I met a bunch of people who were in the Art Librarianship specialization and others in the Dual Degree program, which offers masters in both Art History and in Library Science. I started considering this as a career path, never having realized before that this was an option. The clincher was that the ARLIS/NA conference was in Indianapolis the coming year (2009), and I got to meet local art librarians, and volunteered at the conference and met many, many more art information professionals from around the country. Everyone was so kind, helpful, and down to earth, I felt like I had found my “people.”

 

What “keeps you busy” these days in the field? What projects are you working on?

Just a few months ago I wrapped up teaching an online course in art librarianship for Indiana University, which I taught in Spring Semester 2018. It was a super intensive development process, as when you build an online course, you have to fully establish what you’ll cover, what the students will be exposed to, and how they’ll demonstrate proficiency in the topic way before the class actually starts, which means very deliberate content creation and development. A big part of it was recording around 30 interviews with art librarians in the profession, as well as art historians, curators, and artists. So now, I’m considering how to expose that content to reach a broader audience, since the interviews were so insightful and rich.

Spinning off of the knowledge I developed on designing online classes, I’m working [on] writing a monograph for Primary Research Group on this topic. I’ll be interviewing fellow practitioners to better understand best practices for developing online content. That is planned for publication in February 2019.

And one more project I’m hard at work on is participating in the State of Academic Art LIbraries Report Task Force, spearheaded by members of the Academic Libraries Division with help from the Museum Libraries Division and the Public Policy Committee. So far, we’ve scanned the literature for trends, created a survey to gather key information from fellow ARLIS members, and identified institutions that we want to feature as case studies. It’s been eye opening to see the trends I’ve experienced locally at the positions I’ve held, and see how widespread a lot of these developments are. I will say, the thing I’m most excited about in the report is gathering strategies for advocacy from colleagues. There are so many great stories that people have been telling, I think it’ll help everyone be more strategic in communicating their value once we publish the document and give people so many great examples to inspire them.

 

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market?

Remember that what you bring to the table is unique and valuable, no matter where in your career you are. For those just starting out, you need to know that many libraries are more than willing to help foster an early career person, and see what you bring as useful. If you are getting phone interviews, it is likely that they are willing to help mentor you in the profession. However, as you progress through the interview process, watch for what types of training, orientation, and mentorship they have built into the onboarding process. Ask questions about how other early career people have been supported. Don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions even after the onsite interview. Make sure to establish relationships among your library school professors and any practicing librarians you can – whether working part time in the library, or in an internship, a formal mentorship program, or what have you – so that you can benefit from their perspective and their network of relationships. They likely will have information about the institution you’re interviewing with that you would not necessarily be able to determine from just a day’s worth of interacting with people – or, they’ll be able to pick up on cues that you might miss.

 

What accomplishments in the field of art librarianship are you most proud of?   

In addition to the things I talked about above, I’m proud of being on the Strategic Directions Committee for ARLIS the last three years. That committee works super hard and comes up with amazing ideas. Basically, our charge is to look for ideas for what the society should become, try, or do, and present these options to the Executive Board. Already several things we’ve recommended have started to be put into action. It’s really satisfying to give back and to make a positive difference.

 

If you could go back in time and do part of your career or education over again, is there something you would have changed? A class you would have taken? A missed opportunity?

So many things! In library school, I wish I had taken the seminar in Intellectual Freedom that Ron Day offered, or the Digital Humanities classes, or the hands-on conservation practica. But the cool thing about being a librarian is that there’s a real acknowledgment of the importance of continuing education, and there’s lots of support for that. I also think one of the most important aspects of this profession is learn how to be an autodidact. The only guaranteed thing about librarianship is that you’ll constantly need to adapt and grow along with the profession.

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