Report Back from ARLIS/NA 2019: Two First-Timers Share Their Thoughts

Greetings ArLiSNAP-ers! Many of us volunteers are back at work after attending the ARLIS/NA Annual Conference in Salt Lake City, UT. A few of us were first-timers, and Courtney and Autumn got to thinking that some reflections might be useful or interesting to those students or new professionals who haven’t had the chance to attend yet.

Courtney Hunt is Art & Design Librarian and Assistant Professor at The Ohio State University. An early career librarian, Courtney graduated with her M.S.I.S from University of Tennessee at Knoxville in 2017 and an M.A. in History of Art & Architecture from Hunter College-CUNY in 2013. She is a feature post writer for ArLiSNAP.

Autumn Wetli is Consultation Coordinator at the University of Michigan Libraries. She is newly graduated (2018) with her M.L.I.S. from Wayne State University and is a feature post writer for ArLiSNAP.

View of the mountains from The Grand America Hotel.

Photo by Courtney Hunt. View from one of the meeting room terraces at The Grand America Hotel, Salt Lake City, UT.

First up, Autumn asks Courtney a few questions about her time at ARLIS/NA 2019:
This question is pretty generic, but I’m curious! What was your favorite part of ARLIS/NA?

My favorite part of ARLIS/NA this year was meeting like-minded people who empathize with the challenges of my particular job. I work as a solo librarian at the Fine Arts Library at The Ohio State University, which is a branch library. In addition to me, the librarian, there is a full-time staff member who has been with the institution for 25 years (who is great), as well as student workers, but I don’t always get to chat with others doing liaison or collection work during my day-to-day. And even when I do, many of my colleagues have a very different focus in their position, even though much of our work overlaps. It was really really really great to connect with people whose jobs and subject expertise parallel what I do. I also really enjoyed the reception at the Natural History Museum of Utah (wine, hello). I also liked your poster on DIY publishing and Riot Grrrl ;) .

What inspired you at conference? Is there anything you’re excited bring back to your own library or work?

I was really inspired by the last session of the conference I went to, which was the SIG meeting for the Critical Librarianship Special Interest Group. Jenny Ferretti and Andrew Wang did an amazing job facilitating crucial conversations we all should be having. I was in a breakout group about crit lib and library spaces, and we had a really wonderful conversation about being “space ambassadors” and what that could mean. It inspired me to take a close look at the space I steward and come up with ideas to make it welcoming, inclusive, and safe for everyone.

I was also really inspired by the session on teaching with artist(‘s, s?-inside joke from the session…which is it??) books. We have a small collection of artists books at my library, as well as a pretty big one across the oval in our Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, and instructors are really eager to share those with students–to let them know they’re there. I wanted ideas for how to teach with them, and I got them! So I’m really excited to bring that back to my own library.

Powerpoint Slide of Natural History Museum of Utah.

Photo by Courtney Hunt. A Slide from Natural History Museum of History Executive Director Sarah George’s lecture on the architecture of the museum.

How did you get involved, interact, collaborate with your colleagues at this conference?

Well, I volunteer for ArLiSNAP, first off, so I had a built-in community of people that I was regularly meeting up with semi-spontaneously. That was cool. The way I got involved with ArLiSNAP was to email the  group when there was an open position (which we have several of RIGHT NOW). Breanne got back to me really quickly, and I was in! I want to plug ArLiSNAP as a pretty low-stakes way to get involved with ARLIS/NA, especially for new professionals who might be working at a library but not an art library yet (I was doing general collection development when I started volunteering).

I’m also serving on the Professional Development Committee for ARLIS/NA, a term that began at the conference this year. I got involved with that by applying when the call went out on the listserv. There’s an open spot on the committee still so if you’re interested email me (hunt.877 at, and I can put you in touch with the chair!

I also interacted with my colleagues by getting social! This is not always an available option for everyone. People have different levels of social anxiety or a pretty set capacity for networking in one day. But I find it really beneficial to get to know other art librarians “off the clock” so going out for drinks and talking in a more casual way about our jobs was super beneficial and enriching to me.

Get on the listserv! It’s active but not overwhelming and really helps to stay plugged in to what’s going on in the association.

View outside the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Photo by Courtney Hunt. View outside the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Pitch attending the conference next year! What makes you want to go again?

Yay! Yes! I do want to go again! There are many reasons. I think now that I’ve been once, I know what to expect, and I also know that art librarians are the BEST. It’s honestly the people and the sharing more than anything else that makes me want to attend again. Of course my committee work and the fact that I’m a tenure-track librarian also make me want to go again, but even if I wasn’t TT I’d want to be involved. Next year though I’ve got to step up my wardrobe game, cause y’all are some stylish librarians!

Now it’s Autumn’s turn!
Hey Autumn! You were awarded a travel grant for the conference! That’s awesome, congratulations! For our readers…what was the process for applying for that? Any requirements? Were you happy you applied?

Thank you so much! I applied for this award when I was still a student and it is intended for current students or individuals who have recently graduated. I was shocked to receive it! I applied really not expecting anything to come of it, as I expected there to be a lot of applicants and I’m not currently working directly in an art librarian/art library position (though it is my passion!) The application process was extremely manageable. Applicants needed to answer 3 questions:

  • Please describe why you are eligible for the selected award.
  • Please describe your specific interests and expectations of the conference.
  • Please provide a brief list of your employment history, education, and professional activities.

I’m pretty sure you needed to submit a resume/CV and references, too. I can’t remember the exact application deadlines, but I believe it was sometime in November or December, so keep an eye out next year, y’all!

I know that you recently graduated with your MLIS and you are a current staff member at University of Michigan — do you think that anyone who works in a library might find value at ARLIS/NA? What was most worth it to you?

Honestly, the conference refocused me and that was probably what was most worthwhile about it. I’ve been feeling a little bit lost since graduating and unsure what to do with my future, career, etc. Going to ARLIS/NA just solidified the thoughts spinning around in my head, that a career in the arts and libraries is really what I want to keep pursuing in my future, no matter the obstacles or difficulties. Even if I don’t specifically end up as an “official” art librarian in a future job, I want to keep incorporating my passion for the arts into my work a much as I can and pursue my own research in the field.

View from the highway of the mountains.

Photo by Courtney Hunt. View from the highway of the mountains.

How did you get involved, interact, collaborate with your colleagues at this conference?

It was really great to meet so many ArLiSNAP volunteers in-person! I’ve been volunteering on and off since 2017, so it was really nice to talk in real life. I enjoyed the ArLiSNAP meeting, which gave us a chance to talk a little bit about what we do and connect with attendees who may be interested in joining the org. I said it at the meeting and I’ll say it again, ArLiSNAP is a good way to get involved. Everyone is really supportive and friendly! I also presented a poster at the conference and I got to chat with a lot of different people about my work. Through my poster presentation I even made connection with someone who I actually ended up having a lot in common with! It was cool. I also made this trip with a couple of my University of Michigan colleagues who I’ve always been friendly with, but it was really nice to get to connect and know them better.

Pitch attending the conference next year! What makes you want to go again?

I agree with you that it’s really the people and sharing that made the conference so great and what makes me want to go next year and every year after! As someone not working as an art librarian or in an art library, the conference allowed me to connect with others who share similar passions and interests to my own. This isn’t something that always happens so easily in your own job/institution/etc., ya know? Attending the conference sparked so many different ideas in my head and made me realize that I need to pursue the projects that I am passionate about when I can, even if this means initiating them/taking charge/going solo. I’m lucky in that I have quite a bit of flexibility in my institution to turn my passions into projects at work. Before going to ARLIS/NA, I was feeling pretty burnt out. It really revitalized me to be surrounded by such a great community!

Also, I want to add that visiting Spiral Jetty was an amazing start to my conference trip! It was a lot of fun and very relaxing and meditative.

We hope that was useful for you readers! For those of you who haven’t attended the annual conference before, is there anything you’d like to know other than what our feature writers mentioned? Hit us up!

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