Interview with an Art Librarian: Kim Collins, Emory University

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Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your current position?

I went from pre-med to Art History in college because that is what I liked – life is short. My dad told me most people change careers seven times in their life, but I have stuck with Art History this whole time – though in three different capacities (as museum educator, art museum librarian, and now academic art librarian). My current position is as a subject librarian that serves the Art History and Classics department at Emory University.

What drew you to this position and art librarianship in general?

When getting my Masters degree in Art History at George Washington University, I got a paid internship at the National Gallery of Art’s modern prints and drawing dept. I loved classifying and researching artworks. I worked additional jobs in the photo archive and then in the 20th century department (now known as Modern & Contemporary). It wasn’t until I was working in the High Museum of Art education department during the Atlanta Olympic RINGS exhibit that a library position to presented itself. The High Museum of Art part-time librarian left and they began looking for her replacement. With a friend’s advice – don’t hide your lamp under a bushel – in my ear, I marched into the head curator’s office and said, “Give me the job; I’ll get the MLA.” And I got the degree and the job.

What are your main roles/duties at your current position?

The more typical roles are collection development and management (which is my favorite part of my job) instruction, and research consultation. The more recent developments in my duties include Digital Humanities, Scholarly Communications, data management (ex. Digital Images), special collections, and marketing.

What is a typical day like for you?

My favorite part of my job is collections development, purchasing materials for the library, and collections management, figuring out how to fit all of our materials in the stacks. It’s the beginning of the semester, so I am also creating web guides and trying to work with faculty to set-up library instruction for classes that need it. I have taken to making a weekly To Do list that includes all my Subject Librarian stuff balanced with Humanities Team leader stuff and Service to the Library (task force on events/exhibitions, Comm for LSC, Blog Oversight Group, O&E) and professional development (ARLIS/SE is planning NOLA 2017, getting ready for Ft. Worth). There is never northing to do in this field. I also spend a lot of time mentoring other subject librarians on my team, as well as graduate student fellows.

What were/are some challenges for you as a new art librarian? Are these related to larger challenges in art librarianship?

It used to bother me (when I was a one-man show at HMA) that we do much behind-the-scenes work, and yet patrons only appreciate the tip of the iceberg. But it’s great when patrons appreciate the library in any capacity, so I learned not to mind too much.

What do you think are the most important issues facing art librarians today?

Permissions/Copyright – our IP Librarians likes to say, “Copyright kills dreams.” Students who are writing theses or dissertations cannot use images without permissions, but the cost of permissions is prohibitive.

Data Management – digital image metadata, etc.

Digital Art History – how does it become just another tool art historians use? How to guide students in this endeavor? It will become more mainstream so we need to teach people the skills and how to utilize new tools in their research and teaching.

Marketing – tell your story, the age of assessment and data.

What are the most important things emerging art librarians should know?

Relationships are HUGE – across your library, across your campus, across your field. Art Librarianship is a pretty small world. It helps to know colleagues (as well as faculty and students) who you can ask questions of or collect data from.

 

Just for fun – what is your favorite library? Work of art or artist?

I like IM Pei’s National Gallery of Art library reference library, mainly because of fond memories of the people who worked there when I was a library user. I also have fond memories of the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art Library when it used to be housed in the Old Patent Building. But, if I have to pick just ONE library – I’ll say the Library at Villa I Tatti, The Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, outside of Florence. Its founder, Bernard Berenson (1865–1959), described I Tatti as a library with a house attached, which I love.

As far as artists, I like conceptual artists who employ word-play and irreverence – Ed Ruscha, Bruce Nauman, and Jenny Holzer.

A Success Story: An Interview with Lindsey Reynolds

Lindsey Reynolds is the new(ish) Art Librarian at the Birmingham Museum of Art, in Birmingham, Alabama (http://www.artsbma.org). She’s graciously agreed to answer some questions for us here at ArLiSNAP.

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Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your current position?

I got my MLIS degree from the University of Alabama in December 2011. I was fortunate to receive the ARLIS/NA internship award that year, so I went to New York in the Spring of 2012 to intern with the New York Art Resources Consortium (MoMA, the Frick, and the Brooklyn Museum libraries). After that, I took an archiving job at an architecture firm in Atlanta. In mid-2013 I went back to New York to work at the Whitney as the Library Assistant. And last September I started as the Librarian at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

What drew you to this position and art librarianship in general?

I had frequented the BMA as a student and really respected their permanent collection. I enjoy being at a smaller institution – I’ve gotten to know all of my colleagues and get to work on more museum-wide projects. The museum has recently challenged itself to grow from a regional clearing house for travelling exhibitions to a nationally-recognized and locally relevant museum, producing our own exhibitions and providing a socially-engaged, creative platform for our community. I’m excited to be a part of that change.

What are your main roles/duties at your current position?

I have a few interns and volunteers, but I’m the only librarian at the museum which means I am responsible for both the library collection and the institutional archives. So far I’ve been getting familiar with the collection and doing some housekeeping. I’m planning a stacks shift for the summer, and am working on a records retention policy for the museum which will hopefully help to grow our institutional archive. I’m most excited to start acquiring artist’s books.

What is a typical day like for you?

My days vary tremendously, that’s one of my favorite parts of the job. Since I’m the only one, I can really tailor my day to suit my moods – some days I do a little bit of everything (policy writing, outreach, reference, acquisitions), other days I dedicate to one task (cataloging or processing usually), and other days I have so many meetings that I hardly get to sit down at my desk!

What were/are some challenges for you as a new art librarian? Are these related to larger challenges in art librarianship?

At first my biggest challenge felt like finding a job. Now that I’ve tried a few, I think one of the biggest challenges for me, and for museum libraries in general, is staying relevant and visible to my colleagues and to the public. It can be hard to push for more funding since libraries don’t typically generate income – I see it as an opportunity for creativity and collaboration.

What are the most important things emerging art librarians should know?

There are so many opportunities out there! Look around and find a career path that suits you (see the “New Voices in the Profession” panel at the ARLIS/NA conference if you need ideas!)

When you’re applying for jobs pay attention to where the library falls in an institution’s hierarchy – it can tell you a lot about the institution’s priorities and their commitment to the library/archives department.

Just for fun – what is your favorite library? Work of art or artist?

Oh geez – those are unanswerable questions. I’m pretty enamored with Etel Adnan’s work lately. I had never seen her artist’s books until the Whitney Biennial last year, and I think they’re great. I also really enjoy the things that the Office of Culture and Design are doing in the Philippines, especially the Manila Review. They are using publications as a platform for community engagement and are a great example of what social practitioners can achieve and keeping a sense of humor throughout it all.

Profile: Sheila Cork, Art Librarian at the New Orleans Museum of Art

Name: Sheila Cork
Job: Art Librarian at the New Orleans Museum of Art

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Walking into the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), one would hardly know that beneath the beautiful marble and tiled floor there is a Special Library, the Felix J. Dreyfous library to be exact. A set of inconspicuous doors lead the visitor down to the administrative offices and the library sits, waiting, on the other side of glass walls.

One woman, Sheila Cork, runs the show as the Art Librarian in a library that is home to over 20,000 titles (mostly monographs), 70 art-specific journal titles, and exhibition archives from 1911 – 2000.

“The biggest thing I found in my life… is to volunteer in something in your field. It will always lead to something,” she says when prompted for advice for young professionals.

Volunteering is how Cork found her way to libraries in the first place. Starting in 1985, Cork began to volunteer at her local library in England. She started with book mending and worked her way up to Circulation Services. When she and her husband moved to the United States, Cork realized that to continue advancing in the field, she would have to earn her MLIS degree.

While working in the Reference department at the Hancock County Library in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Cork studied to earn her masters degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. During the course of her studies, Cork was made the Head of Information Services at the library. Although she liked the promotion, she realized that it was “very administrative and not very ‘hand-on’.”

Seeking a change, Cork applied for the position as an Art Librarian at a “Fine Art Institution” according to the job ad. That “Fine Art Institution” happened to be the New Orleans Museum of Art. Cork and her husband moved to New Orleans in June 2005, two months before Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city.

“We were lucky…we only had puddles to clean up,” Cork said, thinking back to her first days on the job.

Since becoming the Librarian at NOMA, Cork has put into place a volunteer system, with 8 to 9 people (usually undergraduate students) who work 2 to 4 hours a week. She has coordinated the NOMA Book Club, discussion groups, author events, field trips, and programming. Her current projects include digitizing scrapbooks/ephemera and digitizing Works Progress Act project files.

When asked for any closing words of wisdom, Cork replied, “Be flexible about what you do. Be able to work with different people. And never be afraid to clean the windows.”