Reflections on Relocation: Insight From Personal Experience

Hello, ArLiSNAP blog readers! It has been a really interesting year in my personal career life, and I thought some of you may appreciate reflections on my journey to art librarianship.

Just about two weeks ago, I began working as the Art & Design Librarian at The Ohio State University Libraries. My family and I relocated to Columbus, OH after a short stint in Charleston, SC. As I mentioned in the interview fellow Feature Post Writer Sarah Bilotta and I conducted a few months ago, I’ve worked in libraries for about five years, as a staff member and then as a librarian. I also mentioned that I felt relocation is a privilege that many do not have access to. I have now relocated for academic library positions twice in basically the same calendar year, and I still feel that way, but I do feel it has been worth it (FOR ME). However, relocating for a job requires some knowledge of the way things work. I’m going to outline some of those in this post.

Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash.

First Stop: The On-Campus Interview

Many institutions will pay for travel expenses if you are offered an on-campus interview. This is not a rule, and smaller universities, colleges, and community colleges often just do not have the money to offer this. This obviously limits diversity in applicant pools who are actually interviewing and presenting at on-campus interviews, which is a big problem and harms the chances of real racial and socio-economic inclusion in our profession. Hopefully, when you get your on-campus interview, it will be somewhere that can (and will) pay for the costs of travel associated with it. I have had to turn down an on-campus interview because the school couldn’t pay for any expenses. And it is a huge bummer–you go through the Skype interview and get really excited for the opportunity, but then can’t make it on-campus because a) you don’t have much money in your bank account or b) you don’t have a credit card or c) you simply don’t want to put a ton of money on your credit card for a position you don’t know you’ll be offered.

Once you’re there, really use your time during the on-campus interview to ask questions about where you may relocate. Try to get to know your potential-new-place-of-work and what the city/town might be like to live in. This is your chance to take LESS of a gamble by digging into how people feel about the institution and locale. It can be difficult to read between the lines because people generally do not say bad things about their employer bluntly, but you can generally get a feeling about whether a place is going to be toxic or supportive. Basically, try to figure out IS the stress of relocation WORTH IT?

Research Research Research

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash.

I also used this cost of living calculator to research what my current salary would feel like in the new city, which helped me understand how a bump or decrease would feel based on my constant costs (rent, phone bill, car payment, student loans, etc.). To get a feel for what might be an appropriate amount to ask for in terms of salary, I looked into public records (many state institutions publish at least some of their faculty salaries) for similar librarian positions to make sure I was being offered enough and that if I asked for more, I wasn’t asking for an undue amount more. The Library Salaries Inequity Resource List is a good source for anonymized information regarding librarian salaries across the country. It is a living document, and changes as people add their salaries to it, and it is a great resource for comparison.

On to…Negotiation

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

The first time I relocated, I was offered a small sum for relocation. About $1,000. This was fine with me, because I had never relocated for a job, and I thought that $1,000 was better than $0. This is true; however, that $1,000 is taxed, which makes it look closer to $800 or less. Thanks to the new tax plan passed last year by Congress, that cost is no longer deductible when you file your taxes. Therefore, instead of using that money to actually pay off the debt on my credit card, I had to use it to get by, because, well, moving is expensive.

When it came time to negotiate for my next position, I was better informed. I did actual research into moving costs (see above). For instance, I knew I would need a moving company, because we were moving for the second time in a year, with a toddler, and uHaul just wasn’t gonna cut it this time. When I received my offer, I was able to negotiate based on my research findings, and we settled on an amount that was not exorbitant but actually covered the costs I needed it to. Don’t be afraid to hold off on accepting a position you really want so that you can do the research on the costs of moving to a new place. They expect that. It is ok.

All of this hinges on the idea that your potential-new-place-of-work is able to offer relocation. You may not receive an offer for relocation, but you should always ask. You never know, and if they want you badly enough they will find out what they can do.

So…when do I get paid? 

The answer to this question, unfortunately, is that it depends. Reimbursement culture in academic jobs is a real pain. Especially as a newbie starting out, it can be difficult to front costs for things like conferences and travel, not to mention relocating for the actual job, when there’s a good chance you won’t get paid right away. Depending on where you are going and how quickly things operate there, it can take a LONG TIME to be reimbursed. If you can avoid putting things on a credit card that will accrue a lot of interest, it will be better in the end. Again, this reflects financial privilege, no matter which way you slice it.

Some colleges and universities offer several types of relocation allocation. Direct pay, cash advance, and reimbursement were all options at my current institution, for example. Finding out information on each type of payment is crucial, since ALL of this income is taxable and could affect your first paycheck. For instance, if you hire movers that are directly paid from the university, the taxable portion of that paid amount will come out of your paycheck. That could be a major hit to many people.  It is good to know your options and how they play out in reality.

Conclusions

These are only a few things related to relocating for a job, but I hope that they can offer some insight for you in your own job search. When I was getting my M.S.I.S., people said I would have less of a  problem finding a job in an academic library as long as I was willing to move for it. I feel like this reality puts an undue strain on new professionals (and librarians from less privileged backgrounds in general) who may not be able or want to move to a new place. However, if you are willing to do so, you really should know what it is within your rights to negotiate for, and then what relocation reimbursement can look like. Feel free to leave questions in the comments! Since I am fresh off the relocation train, I’m sure I can help answer some. Good luck on your job hunt!

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!

A Success Story: Art Librarian Career Interview with Becca Pad

From artist to art librarian, Becca Pad shares her experiences and tips for embracing every opportunity in the field of art librarianship.

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

While getting my bachelors in studio art at the Maryland Institute College of Art, I spent a lot of time in the library browsing exhibition catalogs to learn about new artists. My original interest in pursuing art librarianship stemmed from a desire to surround myself with books and information on artists. After graduating from college, I completed internships at the National Museum of African Art and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Both of these experiences helped me decide to pursue a master’s in library science, with a focus on archival work in museums.

Working at the University of Texas Libraries as a graduate student in the iSchool showed me a different perspective on information science careers. I enjoyed the public services aspects of my job including working at the reference desk and staffing our chat service. I was fortunate enough to develop a mentoring relationship with the former art librarian at the Fine Arts Library and learning about her responsibilities and role solidified my decision to pursue academic art librarianship

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

This year I am the moderator for the Academic Division of ARLIS/NA. I am leading a project to create a report on the state of academic art libraries, which will be published in late January 2019. It is a great opportunity to help assess the current state of academic art librarianship and provide recommendations to help others at their institutions.

At UT Austin, one of my main projects this year includes refining my pilot program for integrating information and visual literacy into the freshman Art and Art history program. I am collaborating with the program coordinator and faculty members on this multiyear project. As a former studio art student, I am passionate about helping other studio artists use the library as a tool for creating new works of art.

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

It is important to have practical experience in the field. You can gain experience through internships or research assistant opportunities at your university or in your local arts community. There are many facets to art librarianship and field experience will help you determine what type of work is most rewarding to you.
My other advice is to be persistent in applying to jobs. The job market can be tough but continue to apply to opportunities as they present themselves; you never know where you could end up. During school, you can begin to review job applications and look at the requirements for different types of positions. This can help you select courses or internships that can prepare you for the position you really want.

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

I am proud of my work on the UT Fine Arts Library Task Force committee. The Task Force consisted of UT librarians, College of Fine Arts faculty, and student representatives. Using feedback from the UT Austin community, interviewing peer institutions, and looking at metrics (such as circulation data) we created a report about possible outcomes for the Fine Arts Library collections and space. I am happy to report that the Fine Arts Library collections remain in the branch library and our spaces are now updated.

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

I wish I completed language courses in college. It was not a requirement for me and I was interested in pursuing other areas of study. However, having language skills are useful for many aspects of art librarianship including collection development and assisting scholars with research questions. I am planning to enroll in language classes at UT Austin through the staff educational benefit. I may apprendre le français, lerne Deutsch, impara l’italiano!

A Success Story: An Interview with Nimisha Bhat

Nimisha Bhat is the Technical Services Librarian at the Columbus College of Art & Design in Columbus, Ohio. She is also an editor at The Librarian Parlor

You’re the Technical Services Librarian at your institution, but it seems like you do a lot more than cataloging! Could you tell us a little bit about your background in libraries and how you got to where you are now?

I actually studied to be an Arabic translator in undergrad before realizing that a path that most likely led toward working for the government was definitely not something I wanted. Having volunteered at a few libraries and my college’s archive, I thought library school was the natural next step for me. I attended Pratt Institute and had the opportunity to work in some of New York’s major museum libraries including the Met, the Guggenheim, and the Frick. I made the shift into academic libraries and here at CCAD I’m able to pair my experience working with art collections alongside college librarianship. I am currently responsible for cataloging all materials at our library while also teaching and providing reference.

How do feel art librarianship differs from general academic librarianship?

The needs of art students and artists in general are unique – inspiration and visual culture are not restricted to texts but can come from a variety of different sources. It requires art librarians to have a wide breadth of knowledge in order to know how to find more information about, for example, pastoral themes in fashion or what city life looked like in Paris during the Belle Epoque. We have to have our own kind of creativity to know where we’ll be able to find the best sources for all of the unique requests we get, be it for an art history paper or to inspire someone’s future runway collection.

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

Advocate for yourself. I came out of library school feeling grateful anyone would want to hire me that I didn’t even think to ask for more when I could and should have. I thought getting a job offer doing something I got an advanced degree to do was all that I needed and negotiating came across like I wasn’t satisfied with what a future employer was offering me. Know your worth and your skill set, and use that to negotiate things like professional development budgets and job titles. You deserve a job that will listen to you and respect your needs.

What do you feel are particularly difficult challenges in the field of art librarianship right now?

I had the assumption when entering art librarianship that diverse voices would be plentiful across collection development, lesson plans, and staffing. But it’s one of the many fields that still has a lot of work to do. I’ve been actively working to survey our own collections for non-cis/het/white/male works by and about LGBTQ+ people of color and engaging with our diverse user communities to make sure they’re seeing themselves in our collections and spaces. From analyzing our catalog and the subject headings we use to describe these items to curating displays with diverse art books, graphic novels, and zines, I think what we do should be holistic no matter what your job title is.

What is your favorite part of your current position? What do you hope to do next?

I love that every day on the job is different. One day I could be cataloging, another day I could be helping a student hunt down information on an obscure medieval Guelph medallion, and another day I’ll be teaching a MFA class and discussing how they place themselves within the art world. I feel enriched by all of the amazing things my students are researching and creating. Whatever I do next, I hope to remove barriers and create opportunities for young women of color in the field.

Do you have any other reflections on art librarianship you’d like to share for the newbies out there? Things you wish you had known or done differently?

Wherever you find yourself working as an art librarian next, talk to everyone around you. Learn from students, go to faculty lectures, and immerse yourself in art and scholarship that you’re not familiar with. I’m not an artist myself, but I appreciate the curiosity, investigation, and creativity of the artists I work with. I never want to tell a student what the “right” and “wrong” type of information source is because that makes a lot of unfair assumptions about a person’s lived experience. Instead, I strive to work with a student’s way of learning and reasoning to find a way to research that makes sense to them. Libraries hold up hierarchical systems of power within their institutions, and we should be stewards for meeting our users where they are instead of repeating elitist frameworks back to them. Always be learning.

Meet an Art Librarian: Career Interview with Emilee Mathews

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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 :)

Conclusions

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. 

THAT BEING SAID…

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!

A Success Story: An Interview with Kate Lambaria, Visiting Music & Performing Arts Librarian at the University of Illinois

In this Success Story, Kate describes her experience in the field of music and performing arts librarianship, wherein she has evolved from music researcher to graduate library assistant to branch librarian supporting the School of Music and the Departments of Dance and Theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your current position, and how you got into the field of librarianship?

I have an undergraduate degree in music, with a concentration in ethnomusicology. I didn’t grow up using libraries and when I started college and was introduced to them, they were this mysterious space that I didn’t understand how to navigate. I learned eventually because having an ethnomusicology focus meant that I did a lot more research than some of my peers in the music program. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I spent some time stringing together multiple part-time jobs teaching marching bands and private lessons and working in retail. My patience for this didn’t last very long and that’s when I started to think about a career that would fit with what I knew I enjoyed: music, teaching (but not full-time), the research process, and working with people. Eventually, I realized that librarianship had the potential to offer all of those things, so I applied for and was accepted to the MSLIS program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I worked as a graduate assistant in two of the libraries on campus, including the Music & Performing Arts Library where I now work, and that experience really cemented my interest in academic music librarianship.

I’m currently the Visiting Music & Performing Arts Librarian at Illinois and I work in a branch library that is one of many on campus. My library supports the School of Music and the Departments of Dance and Theatre. We’re located in the Music Building and the School of Music is the largest of the three departments, so I get to put my background in music to use on a regular basis.

What is your favorite aspect of your job? What is unique or special about your role as a performing arts librarian?

I enjoy going into classrooms for instruction sessions and then seeing the same students later in the library, either using our resources or asking for help at our desk. I’ve heard some students mention how they don’t need to do research as performers, so it’s pretty rewarding to see them realize the benefit of research on their performance, in addition to the many other ways the library can support them as performers. I also try to make it to some student performances every year and it’s really neat to see students I’ve worked with performing on stage. I guess the students are really my favorite aspect of my job!

One of the ways that performing arts librarianship is unique is the collections and the many formats that are needed. For example, if I buy a book about a specific piece of music, that leads to many questions…. do we have a score for that piece in our collection? What kind of score is it (score and parts for each instrument, just the score, a vocal score)? Who published the score? Do we have a recording (audio or video)? Who was the conductor/ensemble/soloist/choreographer… the list goes on. This impacts public services as well as collection development. There’s a lot to take into consideration when helping performing arts patrons find the information they’re seeking, and it does help to have a background in the performing arts.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

Like many librarians, each day is different for me, but it usually consists of some combination of the following: collection development, reference and research support (I staff our reference desk 4 hours a week and each shift at the desk is always a surprise), instruction (both in class and through developing online materials), supervising our graduate assistants, and participating in programming and outreach. Right now, we’re moving to a new system for room and loanable technology reservations so I’m spending a lot of time working on that documentation for our library, developing staff training, and adjusting our policies accordingly. I’m also lucky to be at an institution that supports librarians conducting research, so depending on the day, I might be coding interviews or working on a literature review for a new project. Oh, and meetings, there’s always meetings.

Do you have any words of wisdom for students who are interested in the arts and may be considering a career in performing arts librarianship?

I don’t think I’m qualified to be dealing out words of wisdom yet, but I think it’s important to remind current LIS students that you’re probably never going to feel ready going into your first position, you just have to be prepared for that and willing to learn. My first position was as a liaison librarian to the architecture, art, dance, film, music, and theatre departments and while I felt comfortable with some of those subject areas, I knew nothing about architecture and art. So, I joined ARLIS, started reading the literature in the art librarianship field, and tried to build a network of peers. While I only work with the performing arts now, I still keep up with what’s happening in art librarianship. It can be easy to stay in your own specialized world, but there’s a lot to learn from librarians working in other subject areas. There are also many types of careers in performing arts librarianship, but I only have experience in an academic setting.

What were/are some challenges for you as a librarian?

Being early career, I have a tendency to say yes to every opportunity that comes my way. There’s a lot about librarianship that interests me, but this can also make it challenging to focus and prioritize my time. Sure, saying yes to opportunities allows me to explore new things and determine if it’s an interest worth pursuing further, but saying yes to everything is completely unrealistic, so now I’m working on learning to say no. Or, at the very least, to take more time considering how new commitments will fit into my schedule and existing long-term projects before saying yes.

A Success Story: An Interview with Chantal Sulkow, Acquisitions Librarian at the Bard Graduate Center

Chantal’s New York City-centered journey took her from a BFA program in Illustration to a career in commercial art before deciding to become an art librarian. In this Success Story, Chantal tells us a little bit about what drove her to become a librarian and what she loves most about the profession.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your current position, and how you got into the field of (art) librarianship?
Before I became an art librarian, I earned my BFA in Illustration at The School of Visual Arts in New York City, concentrating on oil painting and portraiture. While at SVA, I participated in the copyist program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and copied old master works on-site in the galleries. The teacher I worked with made me research each painting I worked on; I had to find historical information about the materials and methods the painters used, and this process gave me my first experience with art historical research. After art school I was looking for a way to earn a living with my skills and I transitioned to a commercial art form, painting three-dimensional prototype figures for the toy industry. I started as an apprentice but eventually turned it into a business, and for a number of years I had my own studio. I painted models for toys in development, and my clients included Marvel, Fisher-Price and Hasbro. When technology in 3D printing and outsourcing to China began to change the landscape of the industry, I decided to go to graduate school. I started by looking at programs for art history, but I wanted to set myself on a path to a new career sooner than later. I was considering Pratt, and by chance I learned about their Library Science program. In my first year I took an intensive summer course on Museums and Library Research with Ken Soehner, the director of the Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum. After spending all day, every day for 2 weeks at the Met Library, I was certain that I wanted to be an art librarian.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

As Acquisitions Librarian at the Bard Graduate Center, I am in charge of purchasing for the library; I handle book requests from faculty and students and serve on our staff Collection Development Committee. I’m always looking for new materials to add to the collection; to keep on top of new publications I look at catalogs and email lists, and I follow the social media accounts of museums, academic institutions and publishers so I can track what exhibition or scholarly materials are coming up. In addition to acquisitions, I also do a good deal of reference; our staff shares reference desk responsibilities, and I work with our Reader Services Librarian to meet with students for research appointments, as well as to give research workshops, handle some of the ILL responsibilities, and, when necessary, accommodate requests from outside researchers. I also oversee our library’s rare materials collection.

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

Get involved with ARLIS! My involvement with this organization has been so valuable and rewarding. Join your local Chapter! If you can, go to local Chapter events or meetings- volunteer for a position on your Chapter board. Join an ARLIS/NA committee, or serve on an award committee. Go to the annual conferences; apply for scholarship money to get yourself there, and even if you don’t get funding, it’s worth paying for it yourself if you can make it happen, though of course that’s not always possible. Doing these things will help you network and meet people, and the work you do as a volunteer will help showcase your professional skills to others in the community who might hire you. More directly, reach out to other professionals for advice and mentorship. In my first semester in library school I told one of my professors that I was thinking of pursuing art librarianship and she gave me the names and contact info for two of her colleagues who were art librarians. When I followed up and reached out they both invited me to come in to chat. The early help and encouragement that they gave me was invaluable.


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

Before I was hired to a full time position, I was appointed as ARLIS/NA’s New York Chapter Social Media Coordinator. I run the Chapter’s social accounts, which include Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This is a board position I’ve held for nearly 2 ½ years, and it’s been great fun- I launched the chapter’s Instagram account, and I’ve been able to boost our followers and overall engagement across the board. Running the Chapter’s social platforms has enabled me to establish connections with and gain deeper knowledge of other cultural institutions, while promoting awareness of the value that art libraries have to offer. My work as the NY Chapter Social Media Coordinator also led me to run a survey on the use of social media in art libraries, and I organized and participated in a session on the topic at the most recent ARLIS conference. I am currently working with some of my session teammates on an article for Art Documentation based on our presentation, and I’m excited about where further research and exploration on this project will lead.

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

If I had a do-over for any part of my professional life, I would have gone to graduate school years earlier, before I had kids. This is not to say you can’t get your degree while being a parent! It is absolutely 100 % doable, but presents challenges one wouldn’t otherwise have. When I began graduate school my daughter was starting kindergarten, and midway through the program I took a semester off when my son was born. (He was a perfect academic baby- born in between semesters!) Of course, finishing graduate school with 2 kids was no easy task, especially with a sleepless infant! I started the program at Pratt as a dual Library Science and Art History major; however, after my son arrived I decided to drop the Art History component and concentrate on the MLS, in an attempt to fast-track getting a degree, and getting a full time job- which, fortunately, I was able to do. When my kids are a little older I would still like to return to school and finish my subject Masters; in an ideal world, I’d like to get a PhD! You never know what might happen.