Hack Your Art Librarianship Program: Wayne State University

I recently graduated from the Master of Library and Information Science program at Wayne State University’s (WSU) School of Information Science. I didn’t tailor my classes and coursework to follow a distinct art librarianship path, but the program offers a lot of flexibility for motivated students. 

The MLIS program at WSU has six required courses for all MLIS students:

  • INF 6010 Introduction to the Information Profession
  • INF 6080 Information Technology
  • INF 6120 Access to Information
  • INF 6210 Organization of Knowledge
  • INF 7040 Library Administration and Management or INF 7310 School Library Media Programs
  • INF 7996 Research for the Information Profession

Beyond this, students can tailor their electives to meet their individual interests. The school offers an Archives Specialization and a further Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration, which requires courses beyond the 36 credit MLIS. It is important to note that while the MLIS can be completed entirely online as a distance program, some of the archival classes are only offered in-person on the school’s campus. Even if a student is unable to attend in-person, there are a variety of electives offered online and a good deal of flexibility within assignments to pursue an interest in art librarianship.

In Digital Curation & Preservation, I focused an annotated bibliography project on issues of documentation in preservation of digital artworks. In Metadata in Theory and Practice, our final assignment had each student curating a collection of items of their own choosing. We created appropriate descriptive and administrative metadata for each item, digitized these items, and created a digital collection through Omeka. The professor for these two courses was Dr. Jean Beaudoin. While I didn’t end up pursuing this opportunity myself, Dr. Beaudoin let know about the possibility of creating an independent study with her related to my interest in art librarianship or assisting with her research on museum informatics.

Numerous classes offered the opportunity to focus specific assignments on issues and topics of a student’s interest. In Archival Administration, each student picked an archival collection of their choosing, located anywhere in the world, to focus on for small assignments throughout the semester, culminating in a final paper. For an Advanced Online Searching assignment we had to create an online pathfinder or reader resource on a topic of our choice. In several classes I was tasked with writing research papers involving a specific topic, such as a problem in the archival field or related to reference, which I believe could easily be adjusted to incorporate an interest in art librarianship.

While no practicum is required from graduating from WSU’s MLIS program, credit is available for applicable internship opportunities and this provides another avenue for students to pursue a focus in art librarianship. Practicums are worth 3 credits and can be completed during any semester. A practicum requires 135 hours at the work-site and attendance at three online meetings. A practicum is strongly recommended for students who do not have practical experience in the field and I think this could be particularly beneficial for those who want to gains hands-on experience in an art library. Students local to Detroit can find opportunities at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the College for Creative Studies, or other museums/institutions in the metro area. Opportunities for volunteering with archive or digital content projects are available to students and are routinely updated by the Archives Program Coordinator Kim Schroeder. The School of Information also supports an Alternative Spring Break program. Students apply for one-week internships at various organizations in the U.S. Many of these past internships have been assisting with projects in archives and museums.

Overall I had a good experience in Wayne State’s MLIS program. As someone who has been working as staff in an academic library since 2013, and who continued working full-time while pursuing my degree, the opportunity to do so remotely was a huge benefit. Wayne State and the School of Information Science also offer a variety of scholarship opportunities for new and continuing students. To get the most out of this program a student should be proactive, motivated to learn, and pursue their own particular interests and research.

If you have any questions about the MLIS program at Wayne State, please feel free to reach out to autumnwetli@gmail.com or comment below!

Hack Your Art Librarianship Program: Pratt Institute

This post was contributed by Anna Holbert, Carissa Pfeiffer, and Karalyn Mark.

Anna, Carissa, and Karalyn will all soon be graduating from Pratt Institute in May 2018 with MS degrees in Library and Information Science, and Advanced Certificates in Archives & Special Collections. Additionally, Karalyn will also receive a second Advanced Certificate in Conservation & Digital Curation, and as a dual degree student, Anna will receive an MS in the History of Art & Design.

During their time at Pratt Institute, they have each had opportunities to hold fellowships and internships at several arts institutions.

Currently, Anna is a Pratt Fellow at the Thomas J. Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Key projects and activities include gift comparison and cataloguing, as well as the creation of a reference database for decorated publishers’ bindings. Previous internship opportunities have also been completed at several other libraries within local New York arts institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Carissa is currently employed as an Archives Support Aide at the New York Transit Museum, and she holds a fellowship in the Frick Art Reference Library, where she assists with web archiving efforts for the New York Art Resources Consortium. She has also interned with The Barnett Newman Foundation as a Pratt student.

Karalyn holds a fellowship in the Thomas J. Watson Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she is overseeing a digitization project of early photography trade catalogs and technical manuals. Previously, she served as a Library & Archive Work Scholar at Aperture Foundation.

The Basics

Since its creation in 1890, the Pratt Institute School of Information is notably the oldest continuous Library and Information Science program in North America, surviving Columbia University’s program which existed from 1887 to 1992. Accredited by the American Library Association since 1924/1925, Pratt’s School of Information has also been an iSchools Associate Member institution since 2016.

(If you’re interested in finding out more about the school’s history, a finding aid and several digitized records have been made available online thanks to ongoing efforts by students in the Management of Archives class in recent semesters!)

The MSLIS degree requires the fulfillment of 36 credits, with 12 designated for foundation courses meant to offer knowledge necessary for all information professionals regardless of program focus. Those courses are

Information Professions, Information Technologies, Knowledge Organization, and Information Services & Resources. Students can test out of Information Technologies if they have pre-existing knowledge in web basics, markup languages, and databases, and those who test out may put those additional three credits toward an elective of their choosing.

One important point to address first is that it’s not an inexpensive school, and New York is not a cheap place to live. (Graduate tuition for the School of Information is less than the MFA, though.) The three of us have managed to balance working and interning throughout the course of our time at the Information School. Thankfully, class times made this possible: classes are Monday through Thursday, mostly 3-5:50 PM or 6:20-9:20 PM, with a couple sections of core classes offered earlier in the day, from 11:30 AM – 2:20 PM. The 6:20-9:20 classes are easiest for students who are also working full-time, but it’s difficult (though not impossible) to get through the entire program taking only evening classes. Another major practical benefit is that only a few classes require the purchase of textbooks. Most reading materials are made available through Pratt’s online subscription databases or on course reserve at the Manhattan Campus Library. We probably don’t need to remind any prospective librarians of this, but taking advantage of other area libraries, ConnectNY, MaRLI, and Interlibrary Loan is, y’know, a good idea.

Pratt’s main campus is located in Brooklyn, but most classes in the LIS program are taught at the Manhattan Campus on 14th Street. A few courses are taught off-site at libraries around New York City (more on this below!) We recommend checking in with the Pratt Institute SI Office regarding off-campus course meeting times and locations.

Generally speaking, courses at Pratt are small in size and typically consist of 11-12 students per class (according to a recent tweet). We’ve enrolled in classes with as few as 6-8 students, often in formats that emphasize discussions and project work. These smaller class sizes definitely allow for increased opportunities to ask questions, contribute, and get to know your professors as well as your classmates, who may well become lifelong mentors and colleagues. From what we’ve seen, alumni of Pratt tend to remain involved well past the time they graduate, and we’ve gotten the opportunity to know several through guest lectures and professional panels.

It’s possible to do plenty of research before selecting courses each semester. In our experiences, many professors don’t send out syllabi prior to the first day of class, which can be a little anxiety-inducing. (Or is it just me?) Between meeting with your advisor, talking to a librarian at the Manhattan Campus Library, and checking out the syllabus archive, you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of what you’ll gain from specific classes and instructors before you sign up.

The facade of Pratt’s Manhattan campus building, where most LIS classes meet.

Tailoring the Program to Art Librarianship

Pratt School of Information doesn’t specifically offer a track designated as “art librarianship,’ but there are plenty of art librarians who have graduated from this program! This is thanks in part to being part of an art and design school, being located in New York, and having a few other specific tracks that are especially useful for anyone considering this route.

There is an Advanced Certificate in Museum Libraries, which emphasizes courses relating to museum collections and services. Students interested in museum librarianship can also take additional elective LIS courses from within the curriculum for the MS in Museums and Digital Culture; while those interested in being a librarian at an art & design school can pursue a program concentration in Academic/Research Contexts. Some classes are offered more frequently than others. Browsing Pratt’s online syllabus archive is a good way to see what typical semesters have looked like in the past and what each class entails.

For those interested in exploring the crossroads between art and information, or in pursuing careers ranging from curation to art librarianship in academic and museum contexts, the MSLIS/MA History of Art & Design dual degree may be a good fit. History of Art & Design courses are most typically held on the Brooklyn campus, with the exception of the occasional design class at the Manhattan campus. It is up to the student how course fulfilment will be divided, with the flexibility of taking LIS and Art History classes simultaneously.  

Although many full School of Information faculty members are not focused primarily on art librarianship, Pratt employs several excellent visiting professors who are practitioners in museum libraries and art and design school libraries. A major strength of the program for aspiring art librarians is the ability to learn from and work with people at world-class cultural heritage institutions. In Fall 2017, each of the writers of this blog post were enrolled in–and loved!–the Art Librarianship class (LIS 667), which is essential to any Pratt students seriously considering pursuing art librarianship as a career. This course is a survey of the practice of art librarianship from the perspective of a museum librarian, and is currently taught by Kenneth Soehner, Chief Librarian, Thomas J. Watson Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Topics covered in Art Librarianship include professional standards and competencies, collection development and organization, special collections, the art book trade, reference services, copyright, digital art history, and others. Through lectures and research projects, students develop a familiarity with the resources of an art library, including print and online reference sources: indexes, collection catalogs, databases, catalogues raisonnés, trade literature, and visual resources. Our class frequently met at the Met’s Watson Library, and throughout the course, students made use of the Watson Library’s collection, print, and digital resources. Members of the Library staff presented a series of guest lectures on the history of artists’ books, digitization initiatives, pest management, exhibitions, and development. We also visited the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Library for a tour!

The entrance of the Thomas J. Watson Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the Art Librarianship class usually meets.

Other electives to check out include Art Collections: Research & Documentation (LIS 629, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Rare Books & Special Collections (LIS 689, held at the New York Public Library and Pratt Manhattan). Each of these involve hands-on interaction with materials in the context of their own collections. Other classes that are similarly haptic include Conservation Lab, which takes place at Brooklyn College, and Management of Archives & Special Collections, which has taken place at various locations over the past few semesters.

Whichever LIS classes you take, projects tend to be open-ended enough to pursue your specific interests within them, and professors truly encourage students to do creative things–apropos for an art & design school like Pratt. Even institutions that may not be specifically partnered with Pratt provide an excellent opportunity to compare libraries, interview practicing librarians, and discover paths to emulate. We’ve done cataloging projects focused on the collections of the Center for Book Arts, Data Librarianship projects using the Met’s open access collections data, and collaborated with the Brooklyn Public Library Special Collections on an audio digitization project (check out the online exhibition!)

Internships, Practicums, and Professional Development

Internships are not required for the general LIS program, but they’re the best way to truly take advantage of NYC’s status as an art hub and to get involved in the professional world of art librarianship as a student. At the end of the day, this is really where the program shines. There are so many opportunities for ensuring that you’re not leaving with only a degree but also with experience and connections.

Although not a requirement for the general program, internships are required to earn any of the Advanced Certificates. For a certificate, you must also enroll in a Practicum course, which meets only a few times throughout the semester, and mainly entails developing a paper or online publication about the work performed during your internship. Pratt offers several fellowships that provide funding which can be put toward tuition and to fulfill the work experience requirement for the practicum. Students also have the option of applying internships and fellowships found independently toward the Practicum course.

The student listserv is an excellent resource for finding out about opportunities, which in NYC are competitive and often temporary, but also abundant and in many cases (thank goodness) paid. Since Pratt is an art and design school, graduate assistantships in the libraries of either campus are also a good work option for aspiring art librarians, and these opportunities get posted to the listserv as well. (Recommendation: adjust your settings to receive messages as a daily digest, since the student listserv is really active!)

The listserv is also the best way to find out about meetings, workshops, and events led by student groups. Pratt has student chapters of ALA, SLA, ASIS&T, and SAA, all of which have been active during our time in the program. We’ve traveled to Washington, DC and taken bookbinding classes at the Center for Book Arts with Pratt ALA, attended a weekend workshop on the history of artists’ books, listened to panels of former students describe the paths they took after graduation, and attended a tour of The Mertz Library & Archives at the New York Botanical Garden with SAA @ Pratt. Upcoming this semester are workshops on Wikidata for culture data, digital privacy, mapping, and more.

A copy of Otto Brunfels’ Contrafayt Kreüterbüch nach rechter vollkommener Art … on view in the Metz Library Rare Books Room. This is the first German ed. of Herbarum vivae eicones, and the imprint is Strasszburg, Hans Schotten, 1532-1537. (Call no. QK41 .B75 1532)
A recent two-hour Saturday workshop introducing students to the history of artists’ books, with John Vincler. (Original post: @PrattInfoSchool)

Beyond Pratt, if you can swing it, student memberships in regional professional organizations are also good opportunities for networking and workshops. ARLIS/NA is, of course, recommended! (Shoutout to all the alumni we met at the Pratt Happy Hour at the annual conference!) ARLIS/NA’s New York chapter hosts several tours and events throughout the year. The New York Metropolitan Library Council (METRO) also offers good options for supplementing your classes with workshops in specific topics and for networking within specific interest groups.

As seriously as you take your papers, projects, and internships, it’s important to leave some time to enjoy the plethora of incredible galleries, museums, libraries, archives, and historical societies throughout the city. Any aspiring art or architecture librarian will find plenty to inspire their mission. And feed your other interests! Whatever you feel passionately about, chances are NYC has an annual festival, a center, and a vibrant community for it. This city has a reputation for grinding people down, but it has equal potential to lift you up, if you keep your goals in sight and stay attentive to your needs.


Between the three of us, we’ve been quite pleased with Pratt’s MSLIS program. Whether our initial reasons for choosing the program were geography or a specific interest, we’ve found that there’s a solid breadth of course offerings and electives to round out our education. The Library Science program itself is small, and it’s very easy to become ‘at home.’ Pratt not only opened our eyes to our options, but also helped us gain practical experience and professional connections. We’ve particularly benefited from internship and fellowship experiences during our time as graduate students, and we’re grateful for how hands-on our experiences have been.

We would love to chat about our time at Pratt! Feel free to reach us via any of these platforms:

Hack Your Art Librarianship Program: The University of North Texas

This Hack Your Art Librarianship Program post is contributed by Cassie Swayze. Cassie is a recent graduate of the University of North Texas and is interested in the convergence of fine arts, digital technologies and long-term preservation solutions. She currently resides in Austin, TX and can be found on Twitter @castleswayze. When she isn’t blogging or library-ing, she can be found reading longform articles and swimming in lakes, creeks and streams around Central Texas.

The University of North Texas (UNT) Information Science school is an ALA accredited program located in Denton, TX. The program requirement is 39 credits including the practicum and capstone courses. Incoming students can choose to major in either MS-Information Science or MS-Library Science. I received my degree from UNT this fall (just two short weeks ago), and elected to complete the MS-LS degree. Although, program staff strongly encourage me to pursue an Information Science degree because it is more versatile. However, my career objectives are focused on employment in either a fine art museum environment or humanities archives and the Library Science track was a better fit for my personal goals. This post will focus on the MS-LS program but you can read more about the IS track on their website [http://informationscience.unt.edu/].

The MS-LS can be completed online or in-person, or a combination of online and in-person. I live and work in Austin, and the UNT program is based in Denton (about an hour north of Dallas), so my program was primarily completed remotely. However, there were students in my cohort who completed a mix of online and in-person coursework, and it is feasible to tailor your experience depending on your location. I also encountered students in my cohort located across the country from California to Maine. Each region is assigned its own cohort but students interact with each other primarily through their program of study (more on that below). For example, one of my fellow students was located in the Bay Area and completed a wide variety of internships from area museums to the Internet Archive. There are advantages and disadvantages to pursuing an online experience. I elected to complete the majority of my coursework remotely because I did not want to relocate from Austin. I was also fortunate to obtain my degree debt free because I was working full-time and attended as an in-state resident.

Students enrolled in the MS-LS can select from seven different programs of study to tailor their degree experience. Students may also complete the general program of study for librarianship. Your selected program does not appear on your transcript or diploma but serves as a guideline for course selection. Students pursuing the online program are encouraged to speak with their advisors throughout the program and advisor approval is required before enrolling in courses each semester. I chose to speak with my advisor via telephone prior to each semester and emailed past instructors seeking advice about coursework selection. I was quite nervous about the level of involvement from faculty and program staff prior to enrollment, but everyone was readily available to advise and answer my questions. I only visited the advising office in person one time in two years (which was really different than my undergraduate experience)! Beyond the program of study guidelines each student must complete and pass three required courses: Information and Knowledge Professions, Information Organization, and Information Access and Knowledge Inquiry. The three core courses require in-person attendance at a two day institute either in Denton or a city based in your cohort\’92s region. These core classes were the only time I interacted with students outside my program of study and I found it refreshing to hear perspectives from student librarians, music librarians, metadata specialists, cataloguers, health informatics, etc.

Additional mandatory requirements include two guided electives selected from a predetermined list with the assistance of your advisor. Finally, all students must complete an 120 hour practicum. There is an option to waive the practicum if you have been or are already employed in a library or related organization (archive, museum). Although I qualified for a waiver, I chose to complete the practicum because it was excellent work experience and an opportunity to develop workflows using the applications and databases I learned about throughout my coursework. One big advantage to the online coursework is that the practicum can be completed anywhere. The UNT LIS program maintains an active graduate list serve where local and national organizations advertise opportunities for practicums and employment opportunities. The Dallas Museum of Art’s reference library and the Southern Methodist University (SMU) art library recently advertised practicum opportunities on the list serve, and the Amon Carter Museum of Art in Fort Worth occasionally posts advertisements for students in the local area.

I chose to complete my practicum with the UNT Special Collections Library and worked directly with the Portal to Texas History digital library describing records and performing metadata creation. Although my practicum was not in the fine arts I worked at the Blanton Museum of Art throughout my program. I was also able to perform processing duties at the Harry Ransom Center humanities library and collaborated on digital projects with staff at the Blanton Museum while enrolled. These experiences certainly made my online degree program feel worthwhile and diverse, but UNT LIS students must be proactive in seeking out opportunities themselves. I also joined professional organizations (student discounts!) and attended webinars whenever my schedule allowed. One big difference between an in-person versus virtual experience is that students have to be motivated about networking and internship opportunities. I was able to develop my resume while enrolled at UNT without relocating or pursuing financial assistance, which was ideal for my personal/family life. The UNT LIS department also offers scholarship assistance to enrolled students and has a lengthy menu of scholarships available. I was told during one of the core institutes that the department frequently has funds leftover from unclaimed scholarships.

The program of study selected by students provides guidelines for the remainder of the required credits for the degree plan. Although I entered the program intending to pursue art librarianship my interest pivoted to archival studies and digital humanities once I was enrolled. The program relies heavily on project-based learning and I was able to tailor my research to arts communities and user groups. In my personal experience, metadata and cataloging coursework at UNT accounted for visual arts resources and their unique traits. I was able to use any project-based learning to examine LIS issues in art museums. Frequently I used these opportunities to examine digital scholarship in fine arts environments.

During my second semester, my advisor recommended enrolling in Introduction to Digital Libraries, which was offered as a five week course during the truncated May-June term. The course was taught by Dr. Jeonghyun Kim and introduced me to digital curation, which was my academic focus throughout my program. UNT also offers a Graduate Academic Certificate (GAC) in digital curation, although, unfortunately the offerings required for the curation GAC did not align with my academic schedule. Instead, I completed the GAC in Archival Management & Imaging Technology with special focus on born-digital and digitized archives, and explored the integration of digital libraries and digital exhibitions into preexisting arts communities. I enjoyed my coursework in digital curation immensely and was able to apply the principles to my archival studies. Art museums and art libraries, especially in academia, are more committed than ever to preserving born-digital records and digitizing existing collections. The digital curation coursework was the most valuable information I encountered at UNT and Dr. Kim was one of my favorite instructors. I continued to encounter the standards and principles taught in my digital curation courses in nearly every other class throughout the program. Beyond digital curation, I focused on archival studies in humanities repositories and art museums. My coursework was mostly taught by adjuncts who are professionals in the field, and their real world advice was extremely valuable.

The degree plan allows students to pace themselves according to their personal and financial capabilities, and I elected to complete my degree in 24 months. Full-time workers are encouraged to take no more than six credits (two courses) per semester but there were colleagues in my archival cohort who enrolled in nine credits. Personally, I took nine credits during each summer term and it was very challenging to maintain the pace while conducting in-depth research. I completed my practicum while enrolled in both guided electives, each of which focused on metadata creation. There were many late nights trying to puzzle out an assignment about VRA Core or MODS while juggling my description duties for the Portal to Texas History. I would not recommend agreeing to this many obligations while working full-time; it was very challenging to remain focused and manage my personal schedule beyond school/work.

I have nearly a decade of experience in the fine arts, working in galleries, nonprofit arts organization, and art museums. The decision to pursue art librarianship was a longtime dream and felt integral to my personal career goals. However, there are salary limitations to librarianship (as most of you reading understand!), and I could not justify pursuing a degree with large out of pocket costs. Like the LIS program offered by San Jose State University, the UNT LIS degree is designed to advance students’ careers who are already employed full or part-time. Faculty and staff possess an understanding of working professionals unique needs, and I found that most faculty (and definitely the advising office) are compassionate towards remote students’ specific limitations. Throughout my program I met and collaborated with students employed in libraries, archives and museums, and they brought unique, real world experiences to our discussions. I really enjoyed the diverse perspectives because learning about librarianship and archival studies in theory is quite different than in practice.

The online program relies heavily on Blackboard discussion forums and GoToMeetings for lectures so a dependable Internet connection and reliable computer hardware is necessary. I returned to graduate school after seven years in the workforce so there was a slight technology learning curve for me. I also enjoyed pacing myself and my work load throughout the program. My time management and organizational skills improved ten-fold and I mastered effective online writing and communication skills. There are several other excellent LIS programs in Texas, but I would recommend pursuing the UNT program if you are a working professional seeking to expand your skills. If you are already employed in a library, art museum or humanities archive, the MS-LS or MS-IS provides an opportunity to gain academic credentials and expand your skill set without committing to full-time coursework.

Hack Your Art Librarianship Program: University of Wisconsin, Madison

This Hack Your Art Librarianship Program post was contributed by Ellen Faletti. Ellen is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin Madison Information School. She is interested in art and museum librarianship, especially at the intersections of provenance, digital humanities, and database management. Outside of school, Ellen enjoys biking, running, and yoga. Twitter: @LN2891

The Master’s Program at the University of Wisconsin Madison Information School is an accredited ALA program. A Master of Arts in Library and Information Studies can be completed either on campus or online. The Master’s Program is completed in 39 credits; required are 3 core classes, one technology course, one management course, a practicum, and an e-portfolio. Courses are taught by both academics and professionals in the library field – both on campus and online.

The possibility of becoming an art librarian is what encouraged me to seriously consider and apply to library programs. While the UW-Madison iSchool does not offer an art librarianship track, there is the option of doing a dual degree program in both the iSchool and the Art History program. This takes at minimum 3 years, and you must be admitted into both programs. While I am not in the dual degree program, I have been able to take classes and cater them towards my interest of art librarianship. This has meant choosing topics in my courses that deal with art databases, books as objects. Art librarianship can be a mix of both archives and academic librarianship, both of which are strong tracks in my program.

I have had the opportunity to take a book history course, and I do know that an art librarianship course is offered every 2 years in the program. My program also offers 5-week, one credit classes which can cover different topics in librarianship. I have taken 5 week classes on Linked Data, Digital Image Archiving, and Special Collections.

The iSchool does allows students to take up to 3 courses in other fields that can count towards the degree. Knowing most art positions require a foreign language, I started German, and am currently in the first semester of a two-semester museum studies course.

A 120-hour field placement is required. I took this as an opportunity to work in the art museum on campus conducting provenance research and also creating a manual for the museum’s database. The program also offers a library instruction practicum. The iSchool does encourage us to work outside of our practicum and school as well. University of Wisconsin has over 40 libraries. I have worked at a general library, the map library, law library, and am currently working at the art library and the art museum. The university’s Special Collections, Digital Collections and Wisconsin Historical Society also hires LIS students. While it is important to gain practical experience, I also want to emphasize the importance of taking care of yourself physically and mentally, and that students should not feel compelled to do all the things.

Overall, I would recommend the UW-Madison iSchool. I feel supported in all my endeavors, and have built meaningful relationships with students, faculty, and staff. As a Wisconsin resident, it was hard to justify going to an out-of-state school, and I believe the education I am receiving at UW-Madison is valuable and a great fit for me.

Hack Your Art Librarianship Program: Indiana University, Bloomington

This post was contributed by Andrew Wang. Andrew graduated from Indiana University in 2017 with an M.L.S. and an M.A. in Art History. He is currently the 2017/18 Kress Fellow in Art Librarianship at Yale, dividing his time between the Haas Arts Library and the Yale Center for British Art. Some of his interests include zines, comics, modern and contemporary art, the history of Latin American art, critical librarianship, and queer theory.

Indiana University’s Department of Information & Library Science offers an M.L.S. program with a specialization in Art Librarianship, as well as a dual degree program with the Department of Art History. The programs were recently re-vamped following the appointment of a new Department Chair, with brand new requirements starting fall 2017. Though I completed the dual degree program, I’ll discuss the requirements of both programs. At the end of this post I’ll also share some anecdotes from my peers, as well as my own personal experience.

Art Librarianship Specialization
The Art Librarianship Specialization is designed to steer students toward a career in art librarianship by incorporating relevant coursework into the general M.L.S. program. The Foundation courses required for the M.L.S. include:

· User Services and Tools
· Representation and Organization
· Perspectives on Librarianship
· Elective (from a list of mostly computing/tech-focused options)
· Internship in Information and Library Science

In addition to the Foundation requirements of the M.L.S. degree and 9 more elective credits (courses to be chosen with the Specialization Advisor), the Art Librarianship Specialization requires the following courses:

· The Book to 1450
· Humanities Information
· Internship in Information and Library Science
· Art Librarianship

M.L.S./ M.A. Dual Degree Program
The dual degree program is designed to be completed within 3 years, so there is noticeably less flexibility in terms of course selection and scheduling. On the M.L.S. side, students are required to take the following in addition to the Foundation courses (see above) and 3 elective credits:

· Humanities Information
· Internship in Information and Library Science
· Art Librarianship
· One of the following: Information Architecture for the Web; Online Searching; Indexing;
Digital Libraries

Dual degree students are required to complete 30 M.L.S. credits total, instead of the 36 credits required of Art Librarianship Specialization students. Both are required to complete 2 internships (6 credits, 360 total hours of onsite work). To fulfill the M.A. in Art History requirements, students must complete a Master’s Essay and have reading proficiency in at least one foreign language, as well as 32 course credits in various areas of art history, including two required courses: Historiography and Theories & Methods.

Reflections and Recommendations
With so many recent changes to the program, it’s difficult to say whether the specialization will adequately equip students to enter the field of art librarianship specifically. During my time at Indiana University (2014-2017), my peers often felt that the specialization was lackluster and that it didn’t foster many of the skills that future employers would expect from us. In some cases, some of the required courses weren’t offered for the entire duration of some of my peers’ enrollment in the program, and they often had to arrange for alternate options with their M.L.S. advisors.

The past few years were particularly tumultuous for the specialization due to the high turnover rate of the position of Head of the Fine Arts Library, a position that has also historically assumed the position of adjunct instructor and advisor for the specialization. Though I worked under two amazing advisors/Heads of the Fine Arts Library during my time, their departure from the university left a gaping hole for many of the students who had just started the program. After a semester without an art librarian advisor, the LIS Department recently appointed a new advisor and adjunct instructor to oversee the specialization: Emilee Matthews, Research Librarian for Arts & Visual Studies at UC Irvine (and former Interim Head of the Fine Arts Library and graduate of the dual degree program at Indiana University). This new appointment should help steer the re-designed curriculum.

It’s important to note that many of the opportunities I was afforded during my program are no longer available to current and future students. The Fine Arts Library closed in May 2017 to accommodate major renovations for the adjacent Eskenazi Museum of Art, which will also be temporarily closed for the next few years. Some of my most significant experiences during my program involved working at both the Fine Arts Library and the Eskenazi Museum of Art as a Graduate Supervisor and a Graduate Assistant in the Curatorial Department, respectively. They provided invaluable experiences in supervising, managing workflows, public services, curating, records management, and many other opportunities well beyond the scope of M.L.S. coursework. New students will still have related local resources available (e.g. the Lilly Library and the Glenn A. Black Laboratory for Archaeology), but will be missing out on some exceptional resources that cater specifically to emerging art librarians (i.e. an academic art library and an art museum).

I would personally recommend pursuing the dual degree program if you want to be an art librarian. M.L.S. programs in general only provide you with the bare minimum requirement found in most librarian job postings: an M.L.S. degree. You should structure your own program according to the requirements and preferences of your ideal career, but many art librarian job postings express a desire for candidates with art or art history graduate degrees. I want to stress that it’s not necessary, but it has certainly helped me better communicate with patrons in my current position. Two considerations to keep in mind for the dual degree program are: (1) the M.L.S. and M.A. degrees must be awarded simultaneously, and (2) you will have to submit separate applications to each department. The benefit of receiving both degrees in 3 years rather than 4 (the time it would take if you pursued them separately) was well worth it for me though. Not to mention my affiliation with the Art History Department helped me secure my assistantship, which thankfully provided me with a fee remission. Enrolling in the dual degree program doesn’t guarantee funding, but you’re likely to find more job opportunities outside of the ILS Department.

One of the biggest issues with the M.L.S. program (Art Librarianship Specialization or not) is that the requirements don’t really cover many of the responsibilities you’ll eventually encounter in your career. You’ll have to be strategic about the elective courses you take. In my case, for example, Digital Humanities proved extremely useful. I recommend consulting someone who has the job you want, and choose your electives accordingly. If you have a specific interest in museum librarianship, visual resources, or special collections, for instance, you’ll have to pursue part-time jobs, assistantships, or internships. Those fields intersect with art librarianship, but are not necessarily a major part of either the specialization or the dual degree curriculum. The M.L.S. program also doesn’t require knowledge of a non-English language, something I would highly recommend any art librarian-in-training to pursue.

As with any M.L.S. program, Indiana University’s has its pros and cons. It is far from perfect; it could work on student, staff, and faculty diversity, on administrative communication skills and transparency, on its required coursework, and on its financially inaccessible internship model (paying for credits for unpaid work), to name a few issues. Students, especially those in the Art Librarianship Specialization track and in the dual degree program, will have to take it upon themselves to pursue external opportunities to build a firm foundation for their career. I’m hopeful that the new specialization advisor and the future Art, Architecture, & Design Librarian will provide a refreshed environment for aspiring art librarians. Their mentorship will be just as important than any assortment of courses you take. My last piece of advice for those considering or those recently enrolled in these programs at IU: be proactive about participating in both local and national organizations. Join the Society of Art Librarianship Students (SALS) and be an active member. Join ARLIS/NA and ARLISNAP, go to conferences, tour libraries, meet librarians, present a poster, curate your presence online, etc. Bloomington can be isolating, so tap into regional resources in Indianapolis, Louisville, St. Louis, and Chicago. I’m always open to chat more if you have any questions!


Call for Hack Your Art Library Program submissions!

Hello all!

We are looking for people interested in blogging about their Art Librarianship program or what they’ve stitched together to formulate their own!

Here is a rough outline of what we are looking for in a post: general description of your program, requirements for the art librarianship track or how you are formulating your own focus, what classes are offered, information on faculty, your personal experience as a student, does the program offer internships/hands on experience, and finally, would you recommend this program.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in contributing to, please email autumnwetli@gmail.com. Thanks!

Hack Your MLIS Program: Visual Resources Librarianship

Hi Arlisnappers! After a yearlong absence, I am back on the blog as a feature post writer and excited to be a part of the ArLiSNAP team once again. I recently graduated with my MLIS and I currently work as the Director of Visual Resources at the University of Georgia.

In April 2014, I shared my tips for hacking your MLIS program to focus on art librarianship. Now I’m back with a better-late-than-never follow-up on how I hacked my MLIS program to prepare for my career in visual resources librarianship. We have discussed how to plan your coursework so you are prepared to manage digital collections before, and this post will focus specifically on what you need to manage visual resources collections.

Visual Resources Center, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Image courtesy of Courtney Baron.
Visual Resources Center, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Image courtesy of Courtney Baron.

What is visual resources librarianship?

Visual resources librarianship is a bit different from art librarianship, though the two fields require similar skills and educational backgrounds. I have worked as a full-time visual resources professional for one year now, so I have a good idea of what the profession involves and what is required to do the job successfully. That being said, each position is unique depending on the needs of the institution. Visual resources professionals historically functioned as slide librarians, usually in art/art history departments or libraries. Now, we primarily manage digital image collections, though slide collections still exist at many institutions, and assist faculty and students with their image needs. We may also manage public visual resources spaces that range from digital scanning and projects labs to libraries with circulating materials.

Become involved in VRA

The Visual Resources Association (VRA) is smaller than ARLIS, but equally as welcoming. Hands down, this is the best way to get – and stay – connected to the field, especially if you are one of the few people in your program interested in art and visual resources librarianship. Not only do you have access to a large network of art and visual resources professionals, but you can also follow news, concerns, and trends on the VRA listserv. I encourage you to be active on the listserv as well since name recognition can help you in your job search later on! Seriously – my predecessor was very active, and I get asked about him all the time. If you have been involved with ARLIS but haven’t yet ventured into VRA, there is a joint conference next year in Seattle, WA, so it will be an opportune time to check out both organizations and annual conferences. There is also a similar group to ArLiSNAP called vreps – visual resources association emerging professionals and students – that you should join. The VRA Bulletin is the journal of the association and each issue contains a wealth of information about current issues and practices in the field.

Focus coursework and projects on visual resources topics

As I said in part one, the best way to ensure you are getting a similar education to a MLIS program that does offer an art librarianship track is to see which courses they require and which electives they offer. I also recommend looking at similar tracks, such as digital content/asset management or archives. I recommend courses on the following topics, since they relate to visual resources: humanities information services, digital libraries, descriptive cataloging and metadata, database design, digital humanities, and digital archives. Basically, looks for classes that focus on metadata, technologies, databases, and managing or curating digital archives, libraries, and other collections. These classes will give you an overview of the information you need and you can focus your projects and papers specifically on arts and humanities topics.

Independent study

In part one, I discussed an independent study on art and visual resources librarianship that I designed as an elective in my MLIS program. If you would like more information on that, I’m happy to share my syllabus and course projects in a later post.

This time, I’m focusing on what you can do independently outside of coursework to build some of the skills you need to work in visual resources.

Photography, Photoshop, and Lightroom 

Knowledge of photography, especially editing software, is very helpful for managing image collections. I still have a lot to learn about photography, but I have heard that ShootFlyShoot has fantastic photography classes. Why is this important? So you understand how the images you work with are produced, and you can produce images if required. Some visual resources positions require original photography of works of art, either from works in museum or galleries, or from faculty and student work. I do not produce original photography in my current position, but I do a lot of scanning, and knowledge of photographic editing techniques is essential. I use Adobe Photoshop, and recommend Photoshop Classroom in a Book to learn the basics of using Photoshop. The book has a disc with tutorials and sample images to practice editing. Adobe Lightroom is a simpler and easier way to edit images and is preferred over Photoshop by some visual resources professionals.


Just like a library book would be lost without a catalog record, images would be lost without good metadata. I believe that metadata is perhaps the most important part of managing image collections. After all, what’s the point of having a collection if your content cannot be easily found? Just as there are cataloging standards and formats for cataloging books, archival materials, etc., these also exist for visual resources collections. Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO) is a content standard for visual resources collections (comparable to RDA) and VRA Core is a metadata schema used to describe images (comparable to MARC). If you have access to Adobe Bridge, you can download the VRA Core panel and practice creating metadata for images. It’s also essential to be familiar with the Getty vocabularies, which are now available as Linked Open Data. The vocabularies will give you the structured terminology for art, architecture, and other materials and are essential tools for the proper cataloging of images.

Image resources

Working in visual resources doesn’t just mean managing image collections. There is a reference and instruction component. You must be able to help others find and locate images using subscription databases, institutional image collections, and free resources on the web. The most popular subscription database for images is Artstor Digital Library. If the institution where you attend school or work does not have a subscription, you can still check out the website or YouTube videos to learn more about how the database works and how to use it. There is a section with free guides, including subject-specific guides, and studying these is an excellent way to increase your knowledge of this resource.

Visual resources professionals manage institutional image collections or archives. These collections can include images from faculty and student image requests, images from digitized slides, images purchased from vendors, and images related to institutional history. In order to properly manage these image collections, you need to know how digital asset management systems work. A broad knowledge of DAMs is important, because there are many different systems out there. The most popular DAMs for visual resources include Artstor’s Shared Shelf, Luna Imaging, and Madison Digital Image Database (MDID). These can be high cost for some institutions, so in-house solutions are also popular.

You also need to know how to locate high-quality and accurate images on the web. Libguides are an excellent way to compile these resources, and many institutions have great libguides on locating images for you to browse and study. My personal philosophy behind libguides, or curating image resources in general, is this: quality over quantity. Your job isn’t to know all instances of where to find images of the Mona Lisa. Your job is to know where to find the best images of the Mona Lisa.

Copyright and fair use

You also need to know how the images you manage, or how images available in subscription databases or on the web, can be used. This is why copyright and fair use comes into play. For general information on copyright law, look at Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators: Creative Strategies and Practical Solutions. For copyright information related to the visual arts, your best resources are from the College Art Association. Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use among Visual Artists and the Academic and Museum Visual Arts Communities was released in 2014 and and the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts was released earlier this year. Study these documents and know them well.

Get experience – if you can

Some institutions don’t have a visual resources collection, but those that do usually need help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a visual resources professional and ask if you can volunteer, intern, or even just visit the collection and learn more about what they do and what a typical day is like for them.

So this is what I recommend doing as a library science student if you are interested in visual resources. If other visual resources professionals are reading this, I’m curious to hear what you also recommend!

Hack Your MLIS Program: Art Librarianship

This is part one of a two-part series on how I’m hacking my MLIS program to study art librarianship and visual resources. I’m focusing on general art librarianship today and will cover visual resources specifically next time. We have discussed what to do if your program doesn’t offer an art librarianship track before, as well as learning metadata on your own, but I thought it would be fun to share some of the specific things I’ve done to learn more about art librarianship in a program that doesn’t offer an art librarianship course or track.

Become involved in ARLIS

Hands down, this is the best way to stay connected to the field, especially if (like me) you are one of the few people in your program interested in art librarianship. Not only do you have access to a large network of art professionals, but you can also follow news, concerns, and trends on the listserv. I encourage you to be active on the listserv as well since name recognition can help you in your job search later on! Check out your local ARLIS group. I have really enjoyed being a member of ARLIS/SE and had a blast at the 2013 conference in New Orleans. I am excited to attend the 2014 ARLIS/NA conference this year and expect I will find even more advantages to my membership in ARLIS.

Focus coursework and projects on art library topics

The best way to ensure you are getting a similar education to a MLIS program that does offer an art librarianship track is to see which courses they require and which electives they offer. I also recommend looking at similar tracks, such as digital content/asset management or archives. I’ve studied art librarianship and archives tracks to come up with the following classes my program offers as suitable options: humanities information services, digital libraries, descriptive cataloging, advanced cataloging and metadata, database design, preservation, rare books and manuscripts, and archival theory and issues. I should mention that one of the benefits of my program is that you have the flexibility to take what you want; you are not required to pick a track.

The courses listed above should give me a general education of the topics art librarians must know, but I take it one step further by focusing my projects on art library topics. I’ve explained to my professors that art librarianship is where my true passion lies and they understand my desire to focus on these topics. Class projects have included working on East Asian painting for my collection development class (which I took during an informal internship with the art bibliographer at the university where I work), designing an information class on Manet/impression and creating a selector’s guide on modern art for my humanities reference class, and a preservation plan for the works on paper collection at a museum (based on the real works on paper collection at the Georgia Museum of Art – I worked with the Head Registrar to get the information I needed) in my preservation class.

Take an independent study

I am actually taking an independent study on art librarianship this summer. My advisor is overseeing the course but I am responsible for designing the course outline: reading assignments, projects, etc. My program allows independent studies, but only if they do not offer a similar course. I encourage you to find out if this is an option. I am going to study art librarianship course syllabi to get an idea of what students do in an introduction to art librarianship class. I do plan to specialize my class a bit since I’m hoping to get some inspiration and preliminary research done for my capstone project. I hope this will be the push I need to read through some of the art librarianship books I’ve acquired, such as Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship by Joan Benedetti, The Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship by Amanda Gluibizzi and Paul Glassman, and The Twenty-First Century Art Librarian by Terrie Wilson. I will follow up with ArLiSNAP in August once I’ve completed my course.

Study art

Don’t forget that art librarianship is all about, well, art! It can be easy to let our love of art slide by in favor of studying metadata or creating libguides for our classes. I encourage you to take studio art or art history courses if you are allowed. Unfortunately, I am enrolled in an online MLIS program and, though I work in an art department, I can’t add an additional class to my schedule. Other options include volunteering – or even just visiting! – at museums, going to gallery openings, or studying artist books and art history materials at home or in the library. Since I have a background in classical art and archaeology, my passion has always been ancient art, but I’ve tried to choose less familiar (to me) artists and period of art for my projects just to expand my knowledge. After all, when I am an art librarian, I must be able to assist patrons or scholars with their interests and specialties.

So this is what I’m doing to study art librarianship in my MLIS program. Are you also in a program without an art librarianship track? If so, what are you doing to hack your program?

The “Art” of Job Hunting or How We Got From There to Here

ArLiSNAP Feature Post Writers Sarah and Courtney, both fresh from the job hunt process, describe their experience job searching as an art librarian and interview each other about the process in the hopes of starting a dialogue for all new job-seeking art librarians.

A white coffee mug with “begin” written on it on a wooden table

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Sarah’s Experience:

I decided to get my Master’s degree in Library Science while working in a paraprofessional position in an academic performing arts library, and I took on an archival studies concentration in order to broaden my post-graduation job possibilities. Leading up to graduation I began applying for local music librarian positions, but after graduation in May 2017 I broadened my job search to include research, instruction, and collections jobs outside of the arts and in other parts of the country (and abroad). I had a few job interviews but, in my first few months with my Master’s degree, did not succeed in finding a position that was a match for me.

In October 2017 I had the opportunity to interview for a librarian position in an art museum, and it showed me a new path that I could take in my job search, beyond academic work. This motivated me to learn more. I joined ArLiSNAP, began a volunteer position at an art museum, and began taking webinars to teach myself more about art museum library collections and cataloging. After seven months, my volunteer position turned into a part-time paid fellowship, and shortly after that I was offered a full-time position as a cataloger for a museum library.

My experience showed me that art librarianship is an extremely competitive field in which one must be willing to learn and engage with other art librarians and researchers. The job hunting process is very involved and can be very discouraging (even causing anxiety and depression for which we should not be afraid to seek help). It was very helpful for me, personally, to relieve stress by speaking with other job-hunting librarians about their experience. I also made the most of the paraprofessional job I was in by asking my supervisor to teach me new things and taking on new and different responsibilities. Ultimately, my personal experience was one which taught me to “go with the flow” because your job search may take you in directions that you never would have considered as long as you are open to learning new things.

Courtney’s Experience:

I worked as a paraprofessional in a public library first, and then a community college library, as well as taught (adjunct) art history for 3-4 years prior to going back for my master’s in library science (technically mine is an M.S.I.S.). Currently, I’m not working as an art librarian, but as a collection development librarian, which I think has tons of potential for working in visual arts subject collections. There is a lot of overlap in collection work with art librarianship that I hope to use to my advantage later in my career.

I began applying for jobs in all academic libraries, some in art libraries, before I had conferred my degree. Honestly, I was living in a really expensive part of the country at the time, and I was really anxious to move up in the library world, as well as find a more fulfilling position in line with my interests.

The day after I earned by degree, I had the chance to interview in person at a large research university for an Art and Design Librarian position, which I did not get. It was a fantastic experience though. It really gave me a taste of what interviewing at academic libraries in general is like, and it also gave me insight into aspects of art librarianship that I hadn’t learned in school or at my job at the time.

Though I didn’t get that job, I realized that I could look for other jobs in academic libraries like the one I have now, and that I could interview with confidence because I had done it once. I realized that even though art library jobs are really competitive and hard to come by, I could develop skills I had less of (collection work in this case–I have a background in teaching, so reference and instruction are covered for me) and then look for art library jobs again in a few years.

I definitely agree with Sarah about going “with the flow,” because librarianship is so interdisciplinary. Even if you don’t get an art librarian job right away, the experience you gain doing other things will help you get there. AND, every position is tailorable! You can make relationships on campus that keep you in the loop in the arts world (some tips for which I wrote about here), which can be reflected in cover letters and CVs.

Photo by Evie Shaffer on Unsplash

Sarah Interviews Courtney:

What do you think is the hardest part of breaking into the art librarianship field?

So far for me, the hardest part is just not having worked in specifically an art library. I have a lot of experience in libraries at this point, but it is mostly paraprofessional. When I interviewed for an art and design position, I feel like I answered interview questions well and that my presentation was good (with great responses/questions!), but that to leadership, I probably didn’t have the level of experience on the job or serving on committees for national associations that they were looking for.

Do you think art librarians should be willing to apply for jobs in other parts of the country?

I think that it is a privilege to be able to do so. I moved for my current position (which is not an art librarian position) and would have moved for the position at the larger university. However, there are layers here: willingness/confidence/privilege to negotiate terms of a contract that would account for moving costs, a big enough bank account to cover the costs of moving whether or not your moving expenses are covered (reimbursement often takes forever), having a support system that can help you both mentally and physically with the act of moving, etc.

So, my answer here is: your job prospects will widen if you are open to moving, but many people would really be hard up to make a move prior to a “professional” librarian salary (which often isn’t even that high).

What has been your experience as an academic librarian preparing for a career in art libraries?

I am constantly trying to find new ways to stay connected with the visual arts. I go to galleries and museums and talk to the curators there. I’m lucky, because the Halsey Institute is right down the street, and one of their curators is a friend of mine from my first round of grad school! But I do a lot of reading articles and just generally trying to stay up to date with what is going on in art libraries.

Professionally, I think about research that relates to my job now and how it could be adapted specifically for art libraries. For instance, I’m currently working on assessments of our architecture and art history collections, and this has led to taking a deep look at the programs they support and the faculty who run them. I’m hoping that this work and the relationships I build will help develop any skills and knowledge I lack.

I think that volunteering for ArLiSNAP also counts as something I’m doing to prepare. Being a feature post writer is forcing me to think of issues in field and keep up with what other art librarians are doing.

Thinking back to your Master’s Degree program, is there anything you would have done differently to broaden your job possibilities?

I maybe would have tried harder to do a practicum in an art library. I did a practicum in collection development and instruction, the former of which helped me get my current position, but because I was a) pregnant and b) working full time, the convenience my practicum was key. One thing I did do was try to align what I was taking with library degrees at different schools that had a cultural heritage or art library “track” (mine didn’t specifically).

What has surprised you about the job searching process in this field?

I feel like I’ve been pretty prepared by colleagues and professors on the intricacies of applying for jobs in academic libraries, which includes subject specialist and art librarian positions, so I haven’t been surprised by much. However, for those reading this who haven’t been through it, in person interviews in academic libraries are like running a marathon. All day, grueling, but invigorating (sometimes) processes that require you to be “on” all day. I actually loved interviewing at that big university library even though I didn’t get that position, because I was able to engage with members of the campus community who came out to meet me at the various meetings. We talked a lot about issues in the field, and I genuinely felt like there was no “right” answer. I already knew I wanted to be an art librarian before interviewing, but I left realizing that it really is my career goal. Not every job interview is like that (maybe most aren’t?), but I guess it surprised me how at ease I felt with it. Probably because I am a subject specialist (M.A. in Art History), so I had a lot of feelings about fine arts collections, as well as their applications in teaching and research.

Do you have any words of wisdom for those interested in working in academic libraries?

Get experience, somehow. Any way you can. Volunteer if you can afford it, try to get a part-time job as a paraprofessional if you haven’t finished your degree…but just try to get that experience. It sucks, because I feel like academic libraries should give new professionals more of a shot. At my last job, I was on a hiring committee where we really tried to keep that in mind and look at those who had related experience + their MLS (which was required by HR), but unfortunately at most places, they are really looking for that library experience. Also, I think experience counts for more than the degree in a lot of cases. We interviewed super new “professional” librarians who had lots of library experience in staff positions over people who just had their MLS.

Also, when you interview, remember that you are also interviewing THEM. Try not to be scared to advocate for yourself and ask hard questions. When I interviewed, both for the art and design position as well as my current place work, I was a pumping mother of a baby under a year old. I had to request facilities in which to do that. They were accommodating, but if they hadn’t been, I would have known that I didn’t want to work there immediately. You want to be comfortable and happy where you work, so ask the hard questions.

What advice can you give to those trying to cope with the disappointment that inevitably comes with job hunting (and which for new professionals may be especially unexpected)?

Ugh, it’s hard. Try not to be discouraged! When I didn’t get the job in that fine arts library, I was crushed. I didn’t think I’d get a second interview, so when I was invited on campus, I was elated–how could I, as a new professional, get a job like THAT? I tried to just be proud of myself for getting there, but after my interview I was convinced I had a good shot. Later on, when I found out who did the job, I was seriously even prouder of myself, because that person had years of experience and also was involved in national associations (which I didn’t have the chance to do). I felt so happy I got as far as I did — you need to celebrate those victories, because they’re all learning experiences. So chin up and move on! It’s 100% their loss!

Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

Courtney Interviews Sarah:

I’m repeating your question, because I’m curious: What do you think is the hardest part of breaking into the art librarianship field?

I think the hardest part(s) is(are) a combination of having the right skillset, finding the institution willing to take a chance on you, and not getting too discouraged by rejection. When combined, I think these things indicate (correctly) that the job search can be a long and challenging process for any new professional. But, it is worth it for anyone who truly loves art scholarship and collections.

How was your interview process different at an art museum library versus an academic art library?

It was completely different! Just as you mentioned, all of my academic library interviews were day-long affairs which typically involved a presentation that I had spent weeks preparing in advance. However, the art museum library interviews were typically only a couple of hours long and did not involve presentations. I interviewed for one position in an art museum library that was affiliated with a college, and that interview was structured more like an academic library interview. Another significant difference is that academic jobs typically involved multiple interviews with several members of the institution’s library staff, faculty, and administration, whereas museum library interviews were typically one-on-one or smaller groups.

Did you interview anywhere for a position you would not have accepted after you interviewed? What would the factors leading you to that conclusion?

Within weeks of finishing my MLIS, I interviewed for a position that I knew was not right for me. It was a step in the right direction (a professional title, a higher salary), but it involved responsibilities that were outside of my interests. I had initially applied for this job because it had a performing arts element, but when I learned more about the position, I realized that it did not have enough of an arts element to compensate for the other responsibilities that I was much less interested in. I was able to say “no” to this position because at the time I had a full-time paraprofessional job and a financial support network. However, if I had been in a financial or career position where I felt I was struggling, I would have definitely pursued that job. I think there is something to learn from any job you take, and even if it’s not your dream job, you can use it as an opportunity to learn and apply skills to your next position.

What are some of the things you feel are most important to do for someone trying to break into the field?

Relating back to your first question, I think that there are a few things art library students and new professionals can do to prepare themselves. This field is so competitive that students in art librarianship-focused MLS programs should be willing to cater the program to the skills they will need (i.e. taking the opportunity to do research in art librarianship or classes on visual resources or choose a concentration in digital media). I would encourage students to check out the ArLiSNAP “Hack Your Art Librarianship Program” blog posts for more advice on this.

For MLS graduates, one must be willing to continue learning through webinars, volunteer work, professional organizations, and networking. Once you have a good-looking resume (full of relevant volunteer work and continuing education), it’s all about applying to positions where you think the institution would be willing to hire a newbie. If you think you’re a good fit, apply. Use your cover letter to tell them why you’re a good fit even though you’re new-ish to the field! Lastly, you may find yourself applying to dozens (and dozens) of jobs without any offers. Keep pushing on. If you can, use your joblessness as an opportunity to take on more activities to boost your professional development, and take advantage of services like mentorship and resume reviews at ARLIS/NA and ArLiSNAP conferences! As long as you are able to push on, try not to give up because the next opportunity could be right around the corner at any time, and you don’t want to miss it!

Do you feel your master’s degree aptly prepared you for your position? For the job hunting process?

My program took around 2.5 years mostly part-time, and I think even if it had taken 3.5 years it would not have been long enough to prepare me for all the different facets of librarianship and art librarianship that I am interested in. Fortunately, it was a very career-minded program (in the online SOIS at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee – highly recommend!) which taught me practical things like how to analyze job descriptions and plan for a future in rapidly digitizing library environments. I also did not know when I was in this program that I would eventually become a cataloger. I have always preferred working with the public to sitting behind a computer screen. If I had known then that cataloging is much more than staring at a computer, I probably would have taken more cataloging courses, which might have prepared me to apply to cataloging positions right out of grad school. But, in the end, I feel that my program was well-rounded and did the best possible job of preparing me for job hunting.

Do you have any words of wisdom for those working in other types of libraries (school, public) hoping to get into academic or art libraries?

Yes! Any job in the library field (or art or museums) is a step towards working in art librarianship. The best possible thing you can do is make opportunities for yourself. Whenever you see a job posting for a position you are interested in but don’t think you are qualified for, save it and use it to help brainstorm ways to learn the skills you would need to be qualified for it. If you are working in a school library, try to include art books and topics in your library lessons. If you are working in a public library, ask your supervisor if you can curate a display of books about local art/artists. Start (and hopefully finish) projects that will look good on your resume, and don’t be afraid to get involved with professional communities of art librarians (ArLiSNAP is the perfect place to start!) and to ask questions about breaking into the field. You might start by posting your questions here, in this thread :)


Job hunting is so stressful! There’s no getting around that. And added to the stress is the passion that many art librarians feel for their subject specialty and profession. It can feel alienating to be in a position that is separate from what you’d rather be doing. But, as with most things in the library world, every experience leads to another.

If you have any questions for Sarah or Courtney, or would just like to share your own experience, please feel free to post in the comments section here!

Photo by Anna Sullivan on Unsplash

Tips For the Non-Art Librarian (or Notes From the Field)

This post is in the vein of the Hack Your Art Librarianship Program series from awhile back, but has been tailored to reflect what some people may be experiencing professionally–working in a library but not an art library or as an art librarian. 

My ultimate career goal is to work as an art librarian. Even though I have this fancy new volunteer position as a feature post writer for ArLiSNAP, I’m not there yet. Currently, I work as the Collection Development & Assessment Librarian at a medium sized liberal arts college in the southeast. I’ve worked at a public library, and now two academic libraries, both in “paraprofessional” and “professional” positions, but never has it been my J O B to liaise with art faculty, perform collection development specifically for a fine arts collection, do instruction primarily for fine arts or art history courses, or any of the other number of things art librarians do.

However, I have forced myself my way in to some of these roles, and I’m going to offer tips based on my experience on how to do that now.  Before I get started, I will say that I had the advantage of teaching art history at the community college where I worked, so I had a bit of a foot in the door, but I think these tips will help anyone who is interested in the visual arts get involved on their own campus.

In my last position, I started as a reference specialist. Later, I worked as an instruction librarian at the same place, but I started before I finished library school. This meant that I was not a L I B R A R I A N, but I was allowed to staff the reference desk, assist students with their research needs, and get to know the campus staff and faculty as much or as little as I wanted to. I’m a gregarious sort of person, so I found myself on a number of committees and BAM I was “liaising” whether I meant to or not.

Here are a few personal tips I have for those who are gaining experience working in an academic (community college) library, but are not officially getting the experience they want to develop the skills necessary to become an art librarian.

1. Roam Around! All too often, we academic library professionals (and I use this term broadly, because I believe that staff members are professionals) are siloed in the library. Stuck there. Like, “Oh! You’re out of the library” style confusion when you’re not there. If [you’re able to] take a break and walk around, you get to know people, which helps you form connections that you can use later when you get a great idea for programming or the collection that relates to the visual arts, even if that isn’t technically your job (but don’t do SO MUCH that you are working outside of your pay grade…that is important. I will repeat it later).

This one can be difficult. Maybe you’re an introvert or the culture at your place of work doesn’t invite casual conversation or even allow leaving the library during work hours. I get that. But if you’re able to, I say take a break and maybe a little walk.

I would also like to add on here: if you find a librarian or faculty member who is friendly, turn to them with questions when you have them. One of my colleagues helped mentor me through library school and is now one of my closest friends. She’s not an art librarian, but she is an excellent librarian and was supportive of my goals. You just never know who is going to make an impact for you.

2. Get to the know the collection. In my position as reference specialist at a community college, I spent over two years getting to know the collection generally. But I also took the time to specifically get to know the art section. Because I walked around it regularly, touching the books, tidying up, and helping students find materials for their research, I often had ideas to share with the collection development librarian about how to improve upon what we already owned (she was very supportive of this, again, I was lucky). Through getting to know the area of the collection I loved the most, I straight up inserted myself in the collection development process. When a faculty member came to her to ask for some reinvigoration in the art history print collection, our CD librarian came to me to help. I was able to gain experience doing collection development as well as collection development in the art section. This also gave me knowledge of publishers of art books and helped me to get a feel for what is being published in our field right now. I realize not everyone will have this opportunity. But either way, the more you know about your collection, the more expertise you will have fine arts print collections when you go for an interview at an art library or as a subject specialist in an academic library.

3. Join some committees. This connects to the Tip #1 ^. Maybe this one is just an extension of #1, but I think it’s important. Here’s where I remind you though – if you feel joining committees is above your pay grade, do not do it. Don’t let them exploit you. Don’t let someone tell you it is your job to serve on some planning committee just because they don’t want to do it if it is not actually in your job description. Especially if you’re not being paid as a “professional” librarian. 


If you, like me, are looking for a convenient way to make yourself known on campus and get the library involved in event programming related to fine arts, joining a committee might be a good starting place. First of all, it is an excellent way to get to know other staff and instructional faculty on campus. When you work together with people for weeks, they’re more likely to say hello when you pass them later. They might even answer your email when you ask if they want to combine forces on the next gallery exhibition and have the library be involved.

For me, Tip #3 is all about how I can insert my own agenda into what is already happening on campus. Having some events to celebrate Multicultural Awareness Week? Why not exhibit some artwork made by students in the library? Etc. It’s a good way to get connected.

4. Make friends with the Fine Arts and Art History faculty. Even if they aren’t on that committee you just joined, THESE ARE YOUR PEOPLE! They are the people who went through programs like you in undergrad/grad school, or saw the same Cezanne show you did last weekend. It will not only make your job more pleasant, but also making connections with them comes in handy when you have plans for art in the library. They can collaborate on exhibitions and programs with you, and they definitely want to be involved with the collection. They know it too, because they are the ones that use it.

In my case, I got to know our printmaking professor by asking him to lend the library display pedestals for an art show of biology inspired raku fired pottery during a special event week at the college. Later, I used the same pedestals to promote his printmaking courses which are often under enrolled. He saw the value of the library as a mutually beneficial relationship, and I did too. Hence, a professional relationship was born!

At that point in my time in that position, I was unable to teach library instruction (not enough master’s credits) or do “real librarian” work, so what I felt I could do is enhance our library through partnerships with art faculty. It help me feel unstuck to work on projects like this.

Photo of a neon sign that says art
Photo by Ian Williams on Unsplash

5. Continue to go see art. This one is so important. Actually, I’ve gotten away from it a little too much. So this one is also a reminder for myself. REMINDER: If you love art, GO SEE ART. It will lift you up when you are down, and it will remind you when you have your head in the academic sand that there is a purpose to your professional trajectory. When I was writing my thesis for my first master’s degree, we had a workshop where a former student came by and told us this same thing. She said something like “Stop writing sometimes, and go see some art. That’s why you’re here.”

Likewise, dear reader, that’s why you’re HERE. That’s why I started reading the ArLiSNAP blog in the first place, and now why I’m volunteering as a feature post writer. I love art. I love the messy process of artmaking (by other people, not me personally, though I do love a darkroom and also to fling paint at things when I’m feeling frisky). I also love the messy conversations we have ABOUT art and the various elements/social conditions that inform it. I love researching art and facilitating that research for other people. But all too often, I get caught up in the “what are the steps to become an art librarian” professional to-do list and forget what is most important, which to take it in.

So there you are! I hope that these are helpful for you, or lead you to think of other new ways you might be able to get involved on campus in different arts initiatives or with the art department. Good luck on your journey!