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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

A Success Story: An Interview with Jenny Ferretti, Digital Initiatives Librarian at the Maryland Institute College of Art

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

I’m a first-generation American Latina; both of my parents emigrated to the United States from Central America. I never considered librarianship as a career because I didn’t know what librarians did. I had no real connection to the library or librarians. Before becoming a librarian, I had never met a Latinx librarian, which may have contributed to why I didn’t see myself in this profession.

I went to Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and got my BFA in Photography. If it hadn’t been for MICA, I wouldn’t have gone to college and I probably wouldn’t be a librarian. I was a difficult, underachieving student in middle and high school because I didn’t learn like everyone else, and no one, including myself, had the patience to realize this. If my fine art practice hadn’t been something I wanted to pursue in college, I don’t know what would’ve become of me. MICA led me to a career in librarianship because in order to graduate, the Photography program requires students to complete an internship. I interned at a private, non-profit museum/library and it was there I realized digitizing museum and library collections was a job. After completing the internship, I got a part-time job there and after graduating I stayed there part-time and got a part-time paid internship position at Smithsonian Institution’s Anthropological Archives. I stayed at both part-time jobs for about a year, then pitched a full-time job at the museum/library (complete with budget projections and digitization program plans) and ended up getting it. I stayed there for about five years before applying to Pratt Institute’s School of Information.

At Pratt I concentrated on Digital Humanities (DH), getting as much digital tools experience as possible in the classroom and as much archives-related experience outside the classroom. While in NYC, I worked at a variety of institutions, including Pratt Institute, Columbia University, New York Public Library, and Barnard College. Pratt’s program was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to be challenged, particularly in the area of technology and user experience work. After moving back to Baltimore in 2014, I worked in the Library & Archives department at Smithsonian Channel archiving their born-digital assets for about a year.

When I saw the opening for my position, Digital Initiatives Librarian, at MICA, I thought this would be the perfect job to engage two areas I absolutely love: tech and art/design. I had no connection to the library when I was an undergraduate student. This would be my opportunity to engage with a student like me when I was in college. I had what it takes to bridge the gap between artist and archivist/librarian. I wanted to share this knowledge and explore the ways in which DH work could be integrated in the fine art/design context.

Tell us something fun about yourself! What do you do in your spare time? If you could take a trip to visit any library in the world, which would it be?
If I had to base my response on my instagram feed, my favorite things are baseball, sneakers, plants, working, music, being Latina, dogs, family and friends, and eating! Some of my favorite things to do are go to the movies, Bike Party, and dancing. I come from a family who likes to have fun, so we’re generally in a celebratory mood!

I’d love to visit the Stony Island Arts Bank, founded by artist Theaster Gates and I’d love to visit libraries or archives in Nicaragua or El Salvador to try to find any records about my family.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?
This is a tough question because I don’t often have ‘typical’ days! One of the best things about my job is that my day-to-day can be unpredictable and varied. I could be doing a research consultation, in a meeting about something web-related (most recently I’ve been involved in researching a MICA-wide DAMS), creating social media posts for Decker Library, doing collection development for the Film and Video Collection or my liaison areas, less often teaching, etc. My team, the Digital Initiatives Unit, is in charge of the digital presence for the library (which includes the website and social media). Between that and being a liaison librarian, those are the things that take up most of my time.

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market?
My advice always includes do your research. Make a spreadsheet of all the places you’d like to work – I think my list had around 35 institutions – with links to their job opportunities and check them frequently. I would check them several times a week, especially when I was close to graduating. I looked at the job titles and anything else about people who already worked at these institutions. I would also research the institution, staff, and average salaries.

I would also suggest meeting with your advisor, a trusted faculty member, or using your school’s career development center. A career development center might also help with salary negotiations.

Also, keep in mind that your position might shift priorities. My position originally was not supposed to teach at all and I was not supposed to staff the reference desk regularly (granted I only do two hours per week). I was okay with these changes because I wanted to get instruction experience. But that meant that I had to start reading about pedagogy (which I wish I had done a lot more in school).

Finally, I’d say build up your peer network. Find people who will have your back and be honest about applying for jobs, read your resumes/cover letters, etc. Applying for jobs can involve intense, emotional labor. Find your people and support them as you would want to be supported.

What were/are some challenges for you as a librarian? Are these related to larger challenges in art librarianship or the field in general?
On a personal level, balancing my time between being a manager of a unit and liaison librarian has been the most challenging. I’m lucky our library director gives me room to vent, express what I like or dislike, helps me prioritize my time if I’m feeling stressed, etc.

In terms of librarianship as a profession, I think the most challenging has been to have an open, honest dialogue about what librarianship, particularly art librarianship, is and what our values as a profession should be. Lately I’ve been writing and presenting about whiteness and neutrality in librarianship. Coming to terms with the overwhelming whiteness of this profession is the only way we can hope to change the profession’s demographics. As a woman of color, this has been challenging because many people try to derail the discussion because they view it as a personal attack. After being awarded a Library Journal 2018 Movers & Shakers award for my work with the library and archive workers of color group We Here, I know now is the time to have these difficult discussions and rethink/redesign inclusion and equity initiatives.

A Success Story: An Interview with Margaret Huang, Digital Archivist at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your current position, and how you got into the field of (art) librarianship?
I received an MLIS from the University Pittsburgh in the Archives, Preservation, and Records Management track. I am currently the Digital Archivist at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I have been interested in working with and around art ever since I got a job in high school in the gift shop of a museum. During undergrad, I was an art history minor and also happened to get a work study position in my college library’s digitization lab. This is when I started to piece together my career path. I considered pursuing a Masters in Museum Studies but ultimately decided that an MLIS could be a more flexible degree.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?
My position recently pivoted to focus on one specific project so my typical work day right now involves a lot of noodling around in XML/JSON and Excel spreadsheets since I am deep into the metadata creation phase of the project. It is broken up by some of my other responsibilities as issues arise, such as maintaining our ArchivesSpace and Preservica instances, developing digital preservation policies and procedures, answering reference questions, participating in discussions surrounding our time-based media art (I am currently the mentor for our NDSR Art resident on our project: Planning for Time-Based Media Artwork Preservation), and whatever else may come up!

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market?
My advice to current students and/or those on the job market is to hustle. I was juggling freelance jobs, part-time jobs, and volunteering until I finally got a full time permanent library/archives job. Try to get as much hands on experience and technical skills as possible. Apply to as many jobs that interest you as possible, even if you feel unqualified. It never hurts to give it a shot. Meet and talk with people who have the jobs you want to see how they got there. Again and again, I have found that people tend to want to help and give advice. Also, your first job out of school doesn’t have to be your exact dream job but you can use what you learn to build towards it. At the same time, it’s also ok to not settle if you know what you want. I do honestly believe that hard work pays off so keep hustling.

What were/are some challenges for you as a librarian? Are these related to larger challenges in art librarianship or the field in general?
Currently, my biggest work related challenge is copyright issues. There are so many legal complications, risk tolerances, and stakeholders to consider. This is definitely a common challenge in the field, especially when embarking on digital projects and it becomes even more overwhelming if you’re dealing with entire archival collections, like me, that comprise of hundreds of possible copyright holders. Moving forward, I would like to see libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions collectively push Fair Use as far as possible.

My biggest personal challenge is feeling confident in my technical chops aka imposter syndrome. I think this is felt by many people and while I do not know the cure for these feelings, I can at least say: If you feel this way, you are not alone — let’s empower each other!

Tell us something fun about yourself! What do you do in your spare time? If you could take a trip to visit any library in the world, which would it be?
I love to ride my bike, hike, and travel when I can. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of true crime books. I think I would be most curious to see the personal libraries of people I admire or am intrigued by – for example, what’s on Iggy Pop’s or Amy Goodman’s bookshelves?

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.

Summary

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:

The Dual-Degree Art Librarian: Survey and Guide for Career Planning (by Autumn Wetli & Sarah Bilotta)

Whether or not a second Master’s, or perhaps even a PhD, is needed for the subject specialist librarian is an area of debate. We have decided to think about this conversation specifically in the terms of Art Librarianship. Gathered are some pros and cons to getting the advanced degree in art/art history, formulated from the thoughts of fellow ArLiSNAP followers and some scholarly articles on the subject.

For the purposes of informally ascertaining a consensus among early career art librarians or those interested in the field, we conducted some preliminary research with scholarly materials that address the educational requirements for professional art librarian jobs, as well as the opinions of more established art librarians. We then used this research as inspiration to formulate methods for engaging the perspectives of new and emerging art librarians. This culminated in circulating an open-ended question to evoke the thoughts and opinions of our colleagues, both via e-mail with librarians we have worked with and through the e-mail listserv of ArLiSNAP. In order to achieve varied and unrestricted opinions, we solicited feedback on the basis that we were curious to hear about colleagues’ experiences in the field in relation to this topic in a broad sense. All respondents were informed that this information would be used for an ArLiSNAP blog post (with the option to remain anonymous). For this survey and the resultant blog article, “subject Master’s degree” and “second Master’s degree” are intended to refer to a Master’s degree in a subject other than librarianship, obtained before, after, or in conjunction with a librarianship Master’s degree, and meant to bolster the scholarly research capabilities of a librarian in the field of the arts and design.

From the results of this survey, we have drawn conclusions not necessarily about the overarching value (or lack thereof) of the subject Master’s degree to the field of art librarianship, but about individual librarians’ experiences with or without a subject Master’s degree and patterns among this small sample of librarians, which may be indicative of trends warranting either further study or consideration for librarians who are considering a second Master’s degree.

From the nine responses we received from our call out for opinions, four individuals have a Master’s degree in a subject other than librarianship and five do not. Of the five respondents who do not have a second Master’s degree, two have completed partial coursework towards a second Master’s degree and one is currently applying to dual degree programs.

Responses from our survey

PROS

Research Experience
“[Getting a second Master’s degree] is a rewarding experience…something that has come in very handy as an academic librarian.”
-Librarian with a second Master’s

“I think I would consider pursuing a second Master’s degree to not only further my understanding of the field, but also have a better grasp on the type of research [that] is done at the graduate level by participating in it myself.”
-Librarian with a Master’s degree in librarianship, but without a subject Master’s

“…the [Master’s degree in Art History] provided me with appropriate knowledge of arts and art history subject areas; resources, tools, and methodologies; and vocabulary to meet the requirements of the co-op role, and that experience has been invaluable for shaping my readiness to enter the workforce in art librarianship.”
-Librarian with a Master’s degree in Art History, currently working on MLIS

“[Getting a subject Master’s degree] is a rewarding experience and really helped me learn how to sculpt a scholarly research project, something that has come in very handy as an academic librarian.”
-Librarian with an arts-related subject Master’s degree, currently working on MLIS

Job Possibilities
“I have held two professional librarian positions since graduating from library school, and both asked for an Art History MA as a preferred requirement.”
-Librarian with MLIS and MA in Art History

“…feedback [from others in the art librarianship field] has consistently been a positive assertion that having the two degrees will help me have a competitive edge in the job search.”
-Librarian with a Master’s degree in Art History, currently working on MLIS

“My current job does not require the second masters, but other positions I might be interested in down the line do require it for promotion…”
-Librarian with MLIS and partial coursework towards MA in Art History

Enhanced Opportunities for Professional Development
“Though I have yet to determine if — or how — having a second, subject specific Master’s will help my career in art librarianship, I can say that it has had a strong influence in my professional development throughout the MLIS program.”
-Librarian with a Master’s degree in Art History, currently working on MLIS

“[Having a subject Master’s degree] has gone a long way to gaining acceptance and interest from members of professional organizations that cover the intersection of arts and librarianship.”
-Librarian with an arts-related subject Master’s degree, currently working on MLIS

Strengthened Relationships with Art Scholars

“…it’s always helpful for an academic librarian to have a second master’s degree or even PhD. It can go a long way in your ability to gain respect or trust from faculty and administration.”
-Librarian with MLIS, previously enrolled in MA program in Art History

“I definitely find it easier to be an art & design librarian without an extra Master’s than I think I might serving art history [faculty].”
-Librarian with MLIS but no subject Master’s degree

“Having an advanced degree helps when you are working with senior scholars, whether curators or university academics.”
-Librarian with MA in Art History and Master’s degree in Librarianship

CONS

Cost
“[Enrollment in Master’s degree program in Art History] was costing a fortune, and I knew my loan debt was already staggering.”
-Librarian with MLIS and partial coursework towards MA in Art History

“To me the biggest reason not to get a second master’s was the money. I wasn’t sure that the investment would be necessary or pay off sufficiently to warrant the debt.”
-Librarian with MLIS but no subject Master’s degree

“If I could go back and do it again, the only thing I would change is lowering the amount of student loans I took out…Luckily I qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program because I work for a university, but who knows what will happen with that program in the near future…”
-Librarian with MLIS and MA in Art History

A Degree is Only What You Make of It
“I do think it’s a challenge to find a good position in the field regardless of whether you pursue the second degree.”
-Librarian with MLIS but no subject Master’s degree

“I think the more you do and achieve, the higher your chances will be for potentially landing that ideal position you’ve got your sights set on…”
-Librarian currently applying to Master’s degree programs

“…having served on a few search committees now, I can say that it’s not necessarily the education that gets you the job, but rather the way you present yourself and articulate the ways in which you can/have applied that education to a practical position as a librarian.”
-Librarian with MLIS and MA in Art History

Not All Art Librarian Positions Require a Subject Master’s

“[A second Master’s degree] is not required for my current role where I lead the library’s instruction program and work with a variety of subject areas.”
-Librarian with MLIS, previously enrolled in MA program in Art History

“[In my current position] the second Master’s is less needed because I’m not being asked to help with graduate level research. So in general, I think it depends on your position and the level of research you are expected to help with.”
-Librarian with MLIS but no subject Master’s degree

Responses in the Literature
In addition to reaching out to our colleagues, we looked at a couple articles that performed studies on the MLIS and an advanced subject degree. This was not an exhaustive search into the literature on this topic, but rather, a very brief look into the results of a couple similar surveys. Much like the results of our own informal survey, the importance of a second advanced subject degree, really depends on the individual and should be evaluated on case-by-case scenarios.

Echoing responses we heard from ArLiSNAP followers, one of pros of an advanced-subject degree was found in its ability to make the librarian a better researcher than if they had just pursued the MLIS. This helps the librarian in two ways. First, it better prepares them for research and publication of their own, which can help with career advancement in regards to tenure and/or promotion (Mayer & Terrill, 2005, p. 68). Secondly, the librarian has first-hand research experience that many patrons, perhaps particularly graduate students and faculty, need (ibid.) One article made an interesting note, that from their research, the demand for second masters or advanced degrees was found to be most desirable for library administrators (Ferguson, 2016, p. 732).

Many School of Information programs offer dual degrees, which allow students to receive the a second, subject specialized Master, at less cost and time than pursuing the MA/MS solely on its own. Art History as a second Masters is commonly a part of these programs. A few programs that offer such are The University of North Carolina, Indiana University Bloomington, Pratt Institute, and Kent State University.

References

Ferguson, J. (2016). Additional degree required: advanced subject knowledge and academic librarianship. Libraries and the Academy, 16(4), 721-736. Retrieved from https://muse.jhu.edu/article/632342

Mayer, J. & Terrill, L. J. (2005). Academic librarians’ attitudes about advanced-subject degrees. College & Research Libraries, 66(1), 59-70. https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.66.1.59

ArLiSNAP 2018 Member Survey

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Thinking about “Folk Art”

This post was sparked by an essay that caught my eye while reading Radical cataloging: Essays at the front, edited by K. R. Roberto (I highly recommend it if cataloging, description, and/or metadata is your thing). The article that intrigued me was a chapter by Joan M. Benedetti, a re-edit of an article that originally appeared in a 2000 issue of Art Documentation, entitled “Words, words, words: Folk art terminology- Why it (still) matters.” Benedetti talks about the mess of issues surrounding terminology like folk art and outsider art. It reminded me of the work of Sanford Berman and Hope Olson. Both Berman and Olson’s seminal works, Prejudices and antipathies: A tract on the LC subject heads concerning people and The power to name: Representation in library catalogs, discuss the biases, and with this power, in the language of the Library of Congress controlled vocabularies. While some time has passed since these works were initially published, 1971 and 1996, librarians are still challenging problems in the language of controlled vocabularies (see Emily Drabinski’s 2013 article “Queering the catalog: Queer theory and the politics of correction”).

Matthew Arient’s Angel by Howard Finster, 1987

 

Before digging into Benedetti’s essay and issues surrounding folk art terminology, I want to present brief definitions of terms that are helpful to think of in the context of this discussion. Definitions have been taken from The Getty Thesaurus for Art and Architecture.

Folk art: Art and crafts that are produced in culturally cohesive communities or contexts, and guided by traditional rules or procedures. It includes paintings, ceramics, textiles, sculpture, and other art forms. It is generally distinct from “naive art,” which is created by those without formal training, but not necessarily within a cohesive cultural community. It is also distinct from “outsider art,” which usually refers specifically to art created or collected according to a philosophy of avoidance of traditional training.

Outsider art: Refers to art created or collected according to a philosophy of avoidance of the conventional fine art tradition. The concept generally refers to art that fits the ideal described by Jean Dubuffet, who posited that art should be inventive, non-conformist, unprocessed, spontaneous, insulated from all social and cultural influences, “brut,” created without thought of financial gain or public recognition, and based upon autonomous inspiration, in direct contrast to the stereotypes of the traditional or official artistic culture. Dubuffet sought such art in the work of psychiatric patients and other insulated individuals. It is generally distinct from “naive art,” which is created by those without formal training, but not necessarily in accordance with the principles described above. It is also typically distinct from “folk art,” which is made according to the rules and traditions of a particular culture.

Naive art: Refers to art created by non-professional artists or artisans who have not had formal training and are often self-taught. It typically displays the artist’s poor grasp of anatomy and lacks mastery of conventional perspective and other hallmarks of trained artists. It includes painting, sculpture, embroidery, quilts, toys, ships’ figureheads, decoys, painted targets, and other objects, and often refers to such objects created specifically in 19th- and 20th-century Europe and North America. It is generally distinguished from “outsider art,” which includes the more extravagant psychotic drawings and other art created or collected according to a philosophy of the avoidance of, rather than simply a lack of, traditional training. It is also usually distinct from “folk art,” which is created according to specific cultural traditions.

Fine art: Genre including physical objects that are that are meant to be perceived primarily through the sense of sight, are of high quality, requiring refined skill in creation, and typically using the media of painting, drawing, or sculpture. It may also refer to architecture and design. Although there is overlap, fine art is generally distinguished from other art forms based on the media, extent of skill, and the level of formal training required. It is distinct from “decorative art” in that the fine arts are art in which the aesthetic or intellectual expression is more prominent than the utilitarian purpose. It is distinct from “crafts,” which are handiworks of media such as ceramics, glass, needlework, or any medium other than painting, drawing, sculpture, or architecture. It is also distinct from “commercial art,” which is created to serve commerce such as in advertisements or illustration.

The Getty Thesaurus of Art and Architecture gives distinct definitions for folk, outsider, and naive art, clearly delineating them as not synonyms to one another. However, these words are still often used interchangeably. This is also not an exhaustive list of terms that are used to describe art of this similar, yet variant nature, but just three I chose to highlight.

Man with a Plow by Bill Traylor, 1939-1942

Folk art, outsider art, and naive art are terms used by individuals in a position of privilege within the institution of fine art to describe the work created by individuals outside of this institution. A dichotomy between those with the power to name and those without, between those who point out this “other” and those who are this “other,” is always problematic. General acceptance of what constitutes fine art is rooted in Western, Eurocentric practice and thought. The land of outsider art, as posited by museum professional Kenneth L. Ames, is largely populated by “minority, marginalized, and unempowered people. (Ames, 1994, p. 255).

Navajo Rug, 1890-1900

Benedetti discusses problems with the overuse of “folk” as a designator for such a wide variety of works. She draws a distinction between items that are created by “culturally cohesive communities” with utilitarian value, such as a Navajo rug, and items created from a “personal consciousness,” which are often idiosyncratic and often “functioning in opposition to any community context,” such as the works of artist Howard Finster (Benedetti, 1987, p. 4). Oftentimes though, both of these types of works would fall under the same category of “folk art.”

The concepts behind folk art terminology is not so simple and further evaluation for nuances, biases, and clarification would be beneficial. Both Benedetti and Ames present issues with the terminology that garners future consideration, thought, and study by scholars, librarians, and anyone with an interest in the power of language.

References

Ames, K.L. (1994). Outside outsider art. In M. D. Hall & E. W. Metcalf, Jr. (Eds.) The Artist outsider: creativity and boundaries of culture (p. 253-271). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Benedetti, J.M. (2000). Words, words, words: Folk art terminology- Why it (still) matters. Art Documentation, 19(1), 14-21.

Benedetti, J. M. (2003). Folk art terminology revisited: Why it (still) matters. In K. R. Robert (Ed.), Radical cataloging: Essays at the front (p. 112-125). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

Alt-Career Spotlight: Hannah Barton, Art Researcher at Artifex Press

This series of interviews feature individuals who have received their MLIS/MSIS, but do not currently hold positions solely dedicated to art librarianship. Some may work in libraries and have an interest or duties related to art librarianship, while others use their information science skills in fields outside of the traditional library setting.

What is the name of the employer/institution you work for?
I am an art researcher, working with Artifex Press, a publisher of digital catalogues raisonnés.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your current position?
I received my Bachelor’s in Art History from Lewis & Clark College and two years later moved to New York to attend the dual-degree Art History and Library Science Master’s program at Pratt Institute. While receiving my MS and MLIS, I held internships with the New York Art Resources Consortium at the Frick and Museum of Modern Art Libraries, followed by an internship at the Whitney Museum of American Art Library. In my last year at Pratt I was hired by Artifex Press as a Research Assistant on their Jim Dine catalogue raisonné. After the Dine catalogue was published, I began my first solo project of editing the Tim Hawkinson catalogue, which was published in 2015 but remains an ongoing project as the artist continues to create new work. Over the last three years I have also been editing the Lucas Samaras: Boxes catalogue raisonné, which was published to our subscribers at the end of 2017 and will require ongoing research and upkeep.

What brought you to your current position?
After interning at several art libraries in New York, I realized that perhaps a traditional library was no longer where I wanted to work. The job posting for my first position at Artifex Press asked that the applicant be very familiar with library research as well as content standards for art and art history, which for me was the perfect opportunity — I got to put my MLIS to use while researching art!

What does a typical work day look like for you?
Catalogue raisonné research is so vast that I rarely have a “typical” day, though most days involve a lot of emailing — contacting institution owners of works, venues of previous exhibitions, galleries that hold works, etc. During various points in the research process, I also spend a lot of time in art libraries conducting research. The most recent catalogue I’ve been working on includes over 350 publication citations, and I had to track each and every one of those down. And on special days, I get to look at art! I was recently able to travel to Los Angeles to look at a Samaras box owned by a public institution. Our digital catalogue platform allows us to include a variety of multimedia content, and with the Samaras catalogue we have chosen to create short videos of a selection of works, so that the viewer can see how the boxes function with all of their component parts. Going to view the work in person is essential to get a grasp of the intricacies of these works in order to better film them and give the viewer the full understanding of their content.

Do you stay involved in the field of art librarianship and if so, how?
Unfortunately, I have sort of lost touch with the field of art librarianship, aside from utilizing it for my own research needs. I keep up with things peripherally, as I attended ARLIS in New Orleans last year and still have many friends in the field. Art Librarians are some of Artifex Press’s most coveted users, as our catalogues are produced to help with research in the field.

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market?
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box in terms of career options! I went into library school with the direct aim of working in an art library, but I found a job that actually better catered to my interests without really knowing it at first. Traditionally, catalogue raisonné editors and researchers have been art historians and scholars, and while I would consider myself an art historian, I never would have thought I would be editing catalogues raisonnés. I got into the field through my research abilities and my interest in the organization of information, and by sticking around long enough I developed the skills to tackle these projects on my own.

What are some of the current challenges you see in your field or the art/information science field?
One of the main challenges in the field of digital CR creation is convincing users that digital is better than analog for this medium. I completely understand the hesitancy by many to embrace purely digital publications, and I am also guilty of oftentimes preferring analog to digital, being able to hold the book in my hands and flip through the pages, having a physical object to collect and archive. But in the case of catalogues raisonnés, I am now a firm believer that digital is better. Catalogues raisonnés in analog form are already out of date by the time they are printed. Artworks have a life of their own once they leave the artist; they can be infinitely exhibited and cited or illustrated in various publications, as well as can change hands from collector to collector. Once a CR is printed, the history of each object included in the publication can no longer be updated in the completed publication, but with a digital catalogue, the history of each artwork remains current as it can be continually updated. Convincing users that digital is better also comes with the challenge of assuring them that the data will be safe and accessible far into the future. Artifex Press has been working with top art libraries and digital archives to maintain a strategy for permanently archiving the data we are creating.

Tell us something fun about yourself! What do you do in your spare time?
When I’m not working, I try to be outside as much as possible. I love traveling and exploring, even if that just means a quick day trip to somewhere nearby. And when the weather doesn’t cooperate, I’m experimenting with new creative endeavors. I am currently re-learning how to use a sewing machine and I plan to try and make some of my own clothes this year…we’ll see how that goes.