Meet the ARLIS/NA SIGs Series: Artist Files SIG

Meet the ARLIS/NA SIGS: An ArLiSNAP blog series introducing you to the ARLIS special interest groups

Co-Coordinators, Rebecca K. Friedman and Sara Ellis

How can students and new professionals get involved in your SIG? And/or are there any projects in progress that need support that they can provide?

Anyone interested in artist files is welcome to get involved! One good starting point would be to look at our website and contribute to our blog at Examples include: suggesting content to add to the SIG’s Artist Files Bibliography or writing a post for the Artist Files in Action Series, highlighting how artist files have been used or promoted in unique ways at your institution.

Our most important project right now is figuring out how to move the Artist Files Revealed (artist file directory) project forward, likely with help from ARLIS/NA. Keep an eye out for further details in the coming months.

What actions has your group taken to adapt to remote community engagement? What has worked well? What lessons have you learned?  

In April-May 2020, as other ARLIS/NA groups were also holding virtual meetings, the SIG hosted an asynchronous “meeting” using Miro, an innovative and collaborative whiteboard platform. Former co-coordinator Sam Duncan set this up for the group and, over the course of a week, we collected ideas around goals for 2020, potential improvements to the SIG’s website, ways to move the Artist Files Revealed project forward, cataloguing artist files, and digital ephemera. 

From your perspective, what are actions that can be taken within your SIG and the broader field of art information in order to examine the lack of diversity and develop networks of support for communities of color and specifically Black information professionals?

The SIG could make greater efforts to publicize the collections we have across our respective institutions that are especially diverse and unique. This includes assessing and highlighting the collecting efforts of members in recent months (knowing that print collecting and acquiring may have been impacted in general), and perhaps partnering with the Collection Development SIG to discuss new and targeted collecting efforts going forward, digital and otherwise (we could also involve the Web Archiving SIG and other groups).

How did you first hear about/join your SIG?

Rebecca Friedman: I’ve been a member for some time but have gotten more actively involved and interested in recent years due to the extensive artist files I manage at work currently.

Sara Ellis: I began by following the SIG’s initiatives through the ARLIS listserv. At the 2019 ARLIS Conference in Salt Lake City, I attended the panel “Better to Receive?: Approaches to Building, Managing, and Promoting Artist Files Collections” as well as the SIG’s annual meeting. At the meeting, the group was friendly and encouraged open discussion among attendees. It made me feel welcome to participate and this engagement has been valuable for shaping my work with the artist files collection at my institution.

How can we get connected with or learn more about your SIG? (primary platform for sharing etc.)

Check out our website:, which points to many relevant resources and publications (including best practices documentation), attend our meetings, and read our semi-annual reports. Also, keep an eye out for SIG announcements on the ARLIS-L listserv.

What is an emerging trend you see happening in your particular area of interest?

It would be interesting to hear what museum library colleagues might say on this front. There are very recent trends in librarianship in general due to the pandemic, like an increase in requests for digitization to fulfill research needs. Various institutions have digitized whole collections and have spoken about this work for ARLIS/NA (Beth Goodrich, from the American Craft Council, spoke at the virtual conference several weeks back, for example). It would be good to collect additional examples and revisit these conversations in the coming months. 

Ralph Baylor from the Frick Collection sent an email out to the ARLIS-L listserv last fall regarding results from an OCLC survey on sharing special collections materials via ILL. This initiative speaks to the potential of sharing digitized artist files across various institutions. The SIG could be a possible hub for moving such work forward.

At the present moment, there is an urgency for improving representation of BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and artists from other marginalized or underrepresented groups in artist files collections. As well, to try to document ephemeral material produced by artists whose creative output may fall outside of traditional publishing or dissemination practices but is just as essential for scholarly research. Perhaps the SIG could work on developing a toolkit, a set of best practices, or a similar initiative to support this, which would tie in well with ARLIS/NA’s Strategic Directions around diversity & inclusion and immediate Societal goals in this regard.

How have the members of your SIG been contributing to their field of practice or study in that area? 

Work with artist file collections may have taken a back seat to more pressing concerns and many of us are working remotely. Colleagues in general have worked on and/or managed metadata projects and the like from afar; we haven’t polled the SIG’s members but certainly could. The processing and/or cataloging of print collections is also likely on hold for many (as it is in Rebecca’s case, having taken in a large gift prior to the COVID shutdown). Digitization may be happening for some, though many may be dealing with limitations around copyright, time/staffing to support such projects, ways to sustainably host digital content, etc.

As you look ahead, what are your goals, vision, or dreams for your SIG for the next year?

Our main goal remains moving the Artist Files Revealed project forward, which revived a previous platform that was no longer stable nor accessible. It was determined that the Humanities Commons was not the proper spot for hosting the resource because it is not able to support the required features. Sam Duncan continues to improve the platform and the SIG needs to help create the long-term infrastructure to maintain the project and keep it sustainable for the long-term, if this is possible.

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