Category Archives: Advice

Our advice column on job hunting, publishing your work, and more for students and new professionals.

In Chaun’s Words: What It Means to be a ArLiSNAP Co-Mod

Hello friends! As the outgoing Co-Moderator for 2020-2022, I wanted to take some time to express how much I’ve enjoyed being a part of ArLiSNAP. Being a Co-Moderator of the Art Library Society of North America’s Students and New Professionals section (ArLiSNAP) has been a rewarding and empowering experience within the organization for me. As a Co-Mod, I’ve been able to better understand how to be a leader, what my personal values are, and what those of the society as a whole are. I’ve also met a plethora of amazing people willing to provide insights and knowledge that has certainly benefited and allowed me to be more comfortable on my career path. Co-Mods are able to support the activities of other volunteers and incorporate their learning objectives and research or experiences into the the goals of the section and society as a whole (just like all the other volunteers in ArLiSNAP!) I want to offer anyone considering running for this position some of the advice that I was offered as a new Co-Mod so the doubt is cleared, because we’ve all got the potential to lead!

Friendly, Unsolicited Advice!

  • You’re going to wonder what you’re doing. That’s okay. The other volunteers are here to assist you and make sure you’re in the loop. 
  • You’re going to want to be a part of everything, but you don’t have to be. You get to make decisions and your Co-Mod will have your back on them or reel you in when need be, lol. 
  • You’re going to learn a lot about leadership and camaraderie. You’re going to do amazing things! Get out there!

Suggested Schedules for the ARLIS/NA 2022 Annual Conference

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The ARLIS/NA 2022 Annual Conference this year marks the society’s Golden Anniversary in Chicago. In addition to honoring this milestone with a marquee panel on the early years of the organization on Wednesday afternoon, the conference will feature many invaluable discussions, panels, meetings, and speaker sessions for every information science professional. 

We have created suggested conference schedules for three types of information professionals in the field as a way to guide those attending! Note that all of the suggested events are subject-specific and do not include general events, although those are greatly suggested for anyone interested regardless of the profession such as First-time attendee meetings, DEIA events, and happy hours! 

Additionally, you can find the schedules of our co-moderators, Chaun Campos and Jessica Craig at the end of this post for more inspiration on how to plan your day at the conference. As new professionals, Chaun and Jessica are both planning to attend the ArLiSNAP Professional Websites Workshop and ArLiSNAP Happy Hour, along with other sessions that align with their new professional interests.

Note that tours and workshops that require an additional fee are specified, and advance registration is required before March 29, 2022, for these tours and workshops. The registration link for all tours/workshops can be found here.

Suggested schedule for an Academic Librarian:

Apr 5, 2022

8:00 am: Workshop: Subject Guides in the Digital Age: A Workshop on Curating the Most Relevant, Inclusive, and Current Resources ($15)

10:00 am: Workshop: Putting the Framework for Visual Literacy in Higher Education into Practice: An Interactive Workshop ($15)

11:00 am: Tour: School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fashion Resource Center + Textile Resource Center School of the Art Institute of Chicago ($10)

1:00 pm: Workshop: Creating Radical Hope: Artistic and Speculative Library Responses to Climate Change ($15)

April 6, 2022

8:30 am: Creative Collections: Artist Archives in Academic Libraries

12:45 pm: “Who Were We? Where Did We Go? Voices from the Early Years of the Society” 

3:45 pm: Innovative Instructions: Strategies and Opportunities for Unique Instructional Needs 

April 7, 2022

8:30 am: Beyond the Classroom: Developing Image Databases for Research 

10:15 am: Visioning the (im)possible: experiences of librarian-caregivers during the pandemic and strategies for the future of library work

12:00 pm: OCLC Research Library Partnership Roundtable

2:15 pm: Centering Digital Accessibility: Projects at Academic and Art & Design School Libraries 

Apr 8, 2022

8:30 am: Envisioning Libraries Through Feminist and Creative Practices 

10:30 am: Confronting the Myth of Neutrality: Addressing Bias and Inclusion in Cataloging and Classification in Art Libraries

3:00 pm: Points of Connection: Using Wikidata for Art Information 


Suggested schedule for a Gallery Archivist

Apr 5, 2022

10:30 am: Tour: Oriental Institute Museum Hyde Park ($10)

11:00 am: Workshop: Single Picture Books Latitude Chicago ($45)

April 6, 2022

8:30 am: Creative Collections: Artist Archives in Academic Libraries

12:45 pm: “Who Were We? Where Did We Go? Voices from the Early Years of the Society” 

2:30 pm: Know Their Names: Case Studies in DEIA Collection Assessment, Expansion, and Access

3:45 pm: The Impact of COVID-19 on Professional Development: A Conversation on the Past, Present, and Future for Academic Arts Librarians 

April 7, 2022

8:30 am: Art-chiving the Web: Collaborative Collection Development and Preservation for Art History Web Resources

10:15 am: Evaluating, Optimizing, and Remediating Physical Accessibility in Library Spaces 

12:00 pm: OCLC Research Library Partnership Roundtable

2:15 pm: Imagination, Collaboration, and the Social Production of Knowledge 

Apr 8, 2022

8:30 am: Words Make Art: Engaging Diverse Communities Through Artists’ Books 

10:30 am: Awakening Arts Library Collections to DEIA: Responsive Acquisition Strategies for Addressing Bias 

3:00 pm: Points of Connection: Using Wikidata for Art Information 


Suggested Schedule for a Digital Preservation Specialist 

Apr 5, 2022

8:00 am: Workshop: Subject Guides in the Digital Age: A Workshop on Curating the Most Relevant, Inclusive, and Current Resources  ($15)

11:00 am: Workshop: Single Picture Books Latitude Chicago ($45)

April 6, 2022

8:30 am: Preserving Photographic Glass Plates: Conservation and Access in the Digital Age 

12:45 pm: “Who Were We? Where Did We Go? Voices from the Early Years of the Society” 

2:30 pm: Digital Humanities & Open Educational Resources in the Arts Roundtable 

3:45 pm: Letting users guide the way: a framework for user-centered design 

April 7, 2022

8:30 am: Beyond the Classroom: Developing Image Databases for Research 

10:15 am: Programmatic Information Literacy Instruction in Art and Design Libraries 

12:00 pm: OCLC Research Library Partnership RoundtableDennis Massie 

2:15 pm: Centering Digital Accessibility: Projects at Academic and Art & Design School Libraries

Apr 8, 2022

8:30 am: Visual Literacy In and Beyond the Classroom 

10:30 am: Beyond the Textual: Visual Information Systems that Help and Hinder

3:00 pm: Digital Tools and New Trends: Using Technology and Innovative Solutions to (Re)Establish Value in Images and Image Collections 


If you attend the conference, please consider writing a blog post for us relaying your experience and what you learned! Send an email to arlisnap.na@gmail.com expressing your interest.

Opportunity: Call for Guest Writers for the ArLiSNAP Blog

The Blog Editors of Art Library Students & New ARLIS Professionals (ArLiSNAP) would like to invite guest writers to contribute to our blog: http://arlisnap.arlisna.org/ 

This writing opportunity is open to all! We welcome posts from art information paraprofessionals, professionals, students, and prospective art librarians! This could include anyone working with visual and performing arts, new media, and other arts-related collections. We also welcome posts from people who started their careers in librarianship and/or art information but have moved on to other arts-adjacent fields.

Choose from one of our suggested themes below, or propose a topic of your own! You do not need to have any previous writing experience. We will work with you to edit your work.

Please send an email to arlisnap.na@gmail.com expressing your interest and proposed topic.

Suggested themes:

  • Review a conference or seminar (including virtual webinars and other online experiences)
  • Highlight your experiences transitioning from a student to a new professional
  • Share an interesting read about librarianship or another information services-adjacent topic
  • What are you working on? Share the process of a professional project or your personal art, music, writing, etc.
  • Discuss an internship, fellowship, or first-year librarian experience

————–

Best,
Melanie Zerah and Alison Baitz

ARLIS/NA Conference Support Tips: Self-Care

The 49th ARLIS/NA Virtual Annual Conference begins tomorrow! While we are all very excited for every speaker, event, session, and panel, it is important to maintain your wellness so you can take advantage of all the conference has to offer. In the below tips, we offer ideas on how to avoid potential mental, physical, and emotional burn-out from an all-day conference.

  • Stretch often! Set a timer for every 45 min, and try to get up and move when it goes off! Check out these helpful desk stretches here
  • If you don’t have allergies, keeping peppermint essential oil nearby is a great pick me up!
  • Take breaks to pet your pets. If you have no pets, take breaks to look at photos of other people’s pets!
  • Drink plenty of water and make sure to keep snacks handy! Even at a virtual conference, it’s easy to get sucked into the content and forget to give your body the nutrients it needs to focus and thrive.
  • Plan your day in advance by creating an agenda to balance your work/school and conference sessions; if you have limited time, prioritize the sessions you think you will learn the most from.
  • Keep a virtual note-taking document nearby so you can quickly copy and paste resources that are shared in the webinar chats!
  • Create a comfortable workstation from which to attend the conference.
  • If you are prone to headaches, be sure to take a rest from your computer screen during the conference breaks.

Have some helpful tips of your own? Share them with us at arlisnap.na@gmail.com!

Living Online with Our Libraries

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has eliminated memory and cultural institutions’ ability to offer in-person presentations and programs, many information professionals are spending their time finding new ways to optimize the impact of online presentations and programs.

Brooklyn Public Library’s Center for Brooklyn History Reference Librarian Michelle Montalbano and Rhode Island School of Design Research and Instruction Librarian Emily Coxe offer us some insight into their experience with this now-virtual world.

In this colloquial yet engaging transcript, Montalbano and Coxe discuss the challenges with maintaining the “wow” factor in presenting archival pieces over Zoom, how they have adapted existing programs to a new format, the digital divide, potential benefits of online programming, and more!


Bios: 

Michelle Montalbano is a reference librarian at Brooklyn Public Library’s Center for Brooklyn History, where she handles instruction, outreach, reference, programming, and exhibitions, among other things. She received her MLIS from Simmons College in 2016. She has worked in publishing, digital archives studios, classrooms, bars, and restaurants, and she loves a good list. 

Emily Coxe is a research and instruction librarian at the Rhode Island School of Design. She received an MLIS from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2016. She has worked in commercial art galleries, media archives, public schools, and other unspeakable places.

Emily and Michelle met in 2012, a few years before starting MLIS programs simultaneously on opposite U.S. coasts. They have been comparing notes ever since. 

Note: This transcript has been edited for length and clarity, but most of the supportive and validating “yeahs” remain. Imagine laughter at all the appropriate places.


Michelle: 

I feel like it should be stated that we are in fact recording this on Zoom, brought to you by Zoom. 

Emily: 

As is everything in the last year. 

Michelle: 

Just to get the really boring, dry technical stuff out of the way. Do you actually use Zoom?

Emily

Yes, Zoom is the primary video conferencing software I use at work.

I wanted to give you props for your comparison of Zoom to Kleenex, because I use that same one when I’m explaining to students how JSTOR is not the only database, it’s the Kleenex of databases and they need to know there are other brands out there. Sometimes I even get into the weeds of trying to explain the structure of databases and how they contain smaller informational units and I’ll be pantomiming pulling tissues out of a box and going on about how this tissue is, like, Artforum and this tissue is October

Michelle:

I think everyone tried different platforms at some point. I remember there was a week when I had some Google Meets, and also Microsoft Teams meetings, and a few Zooms, like we were going for video conferencing software BINGO. But now it seems like we have returned to the tried and true.

Emily:

Yeah, you know, I’m not a big fan of software monopolies like this, but it’s definitely helpful to have a consistent thing that many people know how to operate.

Michelle: 

I’m sure this has come up for you as well, but we were also thinking a lot about equitable distribution of devices and access to the internet, though I think this is more of a public library concern maybe than for an academic institution. I lead workshops and virtual tours for college and grad students, and senior citizens too recently, which was cool, so a lot of our initial questions were around: Are students engaged with their devices, does everybody have a device, is internet connectivity at people’s homes going to support really active bandwidth usage, etc. Some initiatives have rolled out during the pandemic to expand internet access into neighborhoods–literally boosting the signal while we’ve been closed–since there are people who rely on coming into the library for their internet access. 

Emily: 

Yeah, that definitely hasn’t been as much of a concern in my work zone. Working at a private institution helps with that, though still not everyone has equal access to things. In March we sent our loaner laptops home with some students who needed them, for example. 

Michelle: This question applies to staff too. My own laptop died right before an important virtual program and I had to borrow a Surface Pro from work. And the Surface Pro didn’t have video capabilities.

Emily:

Oh no.

Michelle:

Which was specifically what I needed it for, so I had this small tablet device and a virtual camera, or whatever, a webcam, that was almost as large as the Surface Pro just balancing on top. It worked but it was a Franken-situation. 

Emily:

Cobbling together the technology to do certain things has been a sort of fun adventure for me. But I’ve always liked that sort of thing. I see how other people I work with find it incredibly frustrating.

Michelle

What have you cobbled together, what sort of workarounds?

Emily: 

In terms of physical equipment, there was a class where I used an overhead camera setup that our Special Collections crew thankfully already had. I’ve done similar things from home that weren’t so easy. This was an advanced typography class in our Graphic Design program. Essentially, what I had done with them in previous years was give them a tour of new magazines and our zine collection, pointing out interesting publications and their professor, who has a much stronger knowledge of typography than I do, would go around picking up things that she wanted to show.

And this is sort of getting to another question you’ve asked, which is, the Zoom version of this course was much more equitable in terms of student experience, because when we did it in person, we’re on this tiny balcony. And the professor was standing like 20 feet away from half the class holding a magazine and shouting about it. Being able to use the overhead cam to just let people see it on their own screen, I think was a lot nicer, actually. I could stop and zoom in on details on request, lay things next to each other to compare them, etc. And nobody had to yell.

Michelle: 

Totally. I mean, to answer the primary question [about maintaining the “wow” factor with digital programming] right off the bat, I’ve been using digitized versions of archival materials that I have been selecting and curating for the whole time I’ve been with the Center for Brooklyn History, so I have a sense of which are most compelling, and doing sort of photo mapping exercises, or like a really standard educational model of observations, inferences and questions that come out of interactions with these images. That kind of stuff was part of our in-person workshops, but again, it’s more equitably distributed now. And I think people can actually get more in-depth with their examinations of these materials, because they can literally zoom in, and they can spend more time looking at them on their own devices, right? And so I find that the conversations around the materials themselves are a lot richer. 

Emily

Yeah, I work with someone who has her own camera stand that she set up on what looks like a wire kitchen rack, with an iPad on the top rack that she’ll turn on to camera mode, and then stream that camera view into the Zoom so that she can show folding exercises and artist books and things flat on her desk, page through them, and you know, participants can see what the camera’s seeing from above.

Michelle: 

That’s so cool. I mean, that’s a necessary kind of innovation for demonstrations when you’d otherwise be doing hands-on work, right? Can you talk more about that? I love that. 

Emily: 

Yeah I’ve been really curious about what other people are doing. This person is a colleague who is really knowledgeable about artists’ books, book structures and paper folding techniques. I knew that she had been making videos and doing classes on these things with students, but I hadn’t seen any. And then we had a staff meeting recently, and she was kind enough to share with everybody a sort of a mini-exercise that she had been doing with classes. What she did was show us an artist’s book by Clarissa Sligh called Transforming Hate. After a little intro to the project, she asked us to grab a piece of paper, and just fold. We could fold whatever we wanted, but just do it, while she turned the pages and read the book to us. Her rig allowed us to see the pages as though we were looking through her eyes. It was probably only 10 or 15 minutes, but it was a really sort of wonderful, calming reflective experience. It was great. Being explicitly allowed to take your hands and do a separate activity, and let your mind sort of focus on the screen in a secondary way was really nice.

Michelle:

Uh huh, yeah. And I think too, maybe that’s another sort of secondary gain or hidden benefit of virtual meetings of all kinds, is that it is no longer frowned upon to be multitasking. Or, I guess it’s an open secret that we’re all doing it, but I think it’s allowed people to relax into the kinds of productivity that feel good, or to be able to be more engaged in better and deeper ways, because you do what you need to do.

Emily:

Yeah, or to take advantage of that impulse. I had to do a presentation on my summer research project and I included a series of gifs that were all of dogs swimming. I put a little tiny one in every slide corner, just to maintain a continuous thread of distraction, you know? 

Michelle: 

“How I spent my summer vacation.” That’s a great segue into talking about taking advantage of the multimedia range in all kinds of digital programming, because PowerPoints are sort of the original digital programming. I remember being completely blown away the first time I saw somebody embed a gif or a video in a slide presentation in grad school.

Emily: 

I’m trying to think about when the first time that I saw something like that was.

Michelle: 

Well you went to art school though, so it was probably much earlier than me.

Emily: 

Yeah, I was hanging out with some net art people in college, and I remember back when the awareness of powerpoint as a potential art form was coming to the surface for me. But it was also like, it wasn’t high, fine art-type intentions at the time, it was people who were into subverting Microsoft Office for their own Satanic purposes and inside jokes.

Michelle:

I mean, yeah, Microsoft is more like Microhard, so it needs to be subverted. 

Emily:

I want to show you this article by Shannon Mattern that came out last year in Art in America called “The Art of the Slide Deck.

Michelle:

I think we’re getting into territory around compulsory productivity too, right? And ways in which working from home has bled into all parts of our existence and the need to have firmer boundaries. But also a neurodiverse appreciation of the different ways in which people focus. There’s no one way of doing it.

So maybe let’s go back to basics for a sec. And talk about what kinds of virtual programming you personally have done, or your library as a whole has done? What have you been offering during the pandemic?

Emily: 

My library as a whole has cut back on programming through the pandemic. We have tried to maintain the level of instruction that we do across different library areas, and I think we’ve been succeeding in that. As an academic institution, we have this sort of captive audience, and the school as a whole has been doing a really good job with programming artist talks and career workshops and student life type entertainment stuff to that point that it seems like everyone’s time is pretty saturated. 

And so we as a library haven’t really been focused on providing, I guess, enrichment in that way for the community. It’s been mostly virtual one-or two-shot research workshops within classes. I definitely have been doing more faculty development than ever since the pandemic began. We had never done online education at RISD before, and so everyone had to pivot really quickly and dramatically to an online learning environment. The other big thing is–and I will probably touch on this again, because it’s been a huge thread through the pandemic in my library–is that before March 2020, most of our community didn’t utilize our online resources. 

Michelle:

Hmm, yeah, yep. 

Emily: 

And so, you know, we simply had a physical-resources-oriented community where the vast majority of people had never logged into their library account, never tried to access our databases, never used a VPN, and that includes faculty. And there’s nothing wrong with that at its core, because we have lots of other collections that had been doing their job, but all of a sudden, a lot of people needed to learn how to do it at once. So yeah, that’s been the focus.

Michelle: 

There are some parallels here, I’m sure you’re not surprised. Brooklyn Public Library and the Center for Brooklyn History have been really pushing the shift to virtual programming, adapting our service model as whole, which includes ramping up our virtual reference services. There are 59 branches of BPL, and there’s this step-based system for how open to the public they all are based on infection rates in the city, and so most have been hovering at like, grab-and-go. 

Emily:

Is it neighborhood by neighborhood? 

Michelle:

Yes. But the mayor and the governor haven’t been in agreement about the metrics by which we determine what’s dangerous and what’s not. I don’t think there are any branches that are open for what we call Step 4 service, which is that patrons can actually come in and browse and use computers and print things–that is not happening. So a fleet of librarians have descended upon our LibAnswers [Virtual Reference App] to answer chat reference questions, and this ranges from customer service, library card functionality issues, to more in-depth reference questions. So part of what I have been doing is offering instruction to colleagues on the breadth of our digital resources and how to use them. These include digitized newspapers, like historic newspapers that cover from 1841 to–actually this range just changed because my department has also officially merged with Brooklyn Historical Society, which is why we are the new Center for Brooklyn History. So also all of our online resources are also actively expanding with the merger…

Emily: 

Do you know how far back their collection goes? 

Michelle:

I got this email from my boss this morning. So this is breaking news, hot news. It looks like we go back as far as 1809 now, and 1999 is still the latest.

Emily: 

1999… The year history stopped.

Michelle:

It’s true. Y2K.

Before all of this, we were planning on doing a sort of road show. We were thinking about offering the same kind of instruction on a regional basis, but it would have been less in-depth, right? Like, I’m actually spending an hour, an hour and a half going over our key digital resources. And I have examples for how to search for a specific date or a specific headline or I use reference questions that I myself or my colleagues have answered and demonstrate live how to find the answer to the questions using all of the databases, and then have people practice themselves and then report back. It’s actually much more interactive and hands-on than a one-way, in-person lecture. 

Emily:

Yeah, interactive is a good word for it. I was thinking about the word intimate, because, like the example that I gave with the typography class, but also with a lot of these peer workshops, it seems a lot more intimate in a strange way, but I think it’s because of that interactivity. I mean, sure, you could be in a room together looking at the same projection, but in a strange way, everybody’s on a machine or a device that enables this way of all having a similar vantage point.

Michelle:

Yes, definitely that. And also, you’re making me question the longing for being in the same room together again, because maybe there’s something about the fact that we’re all beaming into each other’s homes that conveys a sense of shared intimacy.

Emily:

That’s a whole other tangent we could go on. 

Michelle:

Another extension of “conducting business online” means that, as I’m sure is true for you, I’m in, like, five meetings a day often. And I’m involved in projects that maybe I wouldn’t be otherwise, like with our marketing department, we are now building out the new Center for Brooklyn history’s website, which involves combining our two organizations’ collections, the real like meat of the tomato level, but also wireframing and discussing what needs to go in there.

 I think we also have covered the benefits of virtual programming pretty extensively. And I really like that this conversation has ranged into our experience of working digitally as well as the public facing programming that we’re doing because it’s all very of a piece.

Emily:   

Yeah, it all sort of blends. 

Michelle:  

And you’re right, I think this feels really intimate in ways maybe it wouldn’t if we were just having a conversation at a table in a conference room. It’s really weird because obviously I’m excited to get back to…[in-person programming] 

Michelle: 

You know, there was another program that was the culmination of a four-part series called Research Refracted, that was specifically centered on and targeted toward Black artists in Brooklyn, I was working on with colleagues of mine from Boston, that we had to shift to virtual at the last minute. Their piece of it was called Managing Your Own Archive. We had another collaboration with Weeksville Heritage Center on Tracing Your Roots and genealogy, particularly within the African diaspora, and the first installment of that series was with an archivist and a performance artist, the founder of Archival Alchemy, who does incredible work.

The first couple of those happened in person, but because the genealogy workshop and managing your own archive workshops were both digital, they  reached much wider audiences and involved folks from a lot more organizations. The flip side of that was that I really wanted to celebrate with all my colleagues after we’d accomplished all this and obviously we couldn’t, so that was a bummer, but the benefits certainly outweigh the drawbacks in this case. 

Emily: 

Yeah, collaborating is definitely feeling different. I meant to tell you about this earlier: last March, I had been working with folks from the RISD Museum,  Brown University, Providence Public Library and the RI Center for the Humanities to organize the Providence Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, which I’ve been involved in for a couple years. We were planning to host it in the RISD Museum inside a Pablo Helguera project space that highlighted Latin American artists in the RISD Museum collection, part of Raid the Icebox Now. But I think it was March 19th or 20th, so we wound up pivoting to online at the very very last minute too, and it was oddly much better attended than the last several years as a result. We had not just locals, but people from all over who were doing homework for their own upcoming online Edit-a-thons, which was really cool, because we were able to get feedback and trade advice at the end.

Michelle:

I had asked a question we haven’t touched on yet about whether you’re tailoring programs specifically for a virtual format or whether you’re adapting your programming to the digital format, and an Edit-a-Thon obviously exists outside of the digital-only format, but seems to slot very neatly into it.

Emily: 

Yeah, it did work very neatly, I will say. Most of us who were facilitating were novices at Zoom at that point because we were only a few days into remote work, but aside from the inevitable hiccups you get as a Zoom user, it worked very well. And in a wonderful way, demoing online skills and splitting people into breakout groups and having group chats dovetailed really nicely with the whole ethos of the event. We were just sad that we didn’t get to do it in the glamorous museum space.

Michelle: 

I feel like taking exhibitions into an online space is maybe the sequel to this conversation. 

Emily:

That could be a fun one to bring more people in on. I hope institutions keep an awareness of the possibilities of having joint digital and in-person exhibitions, because the digital ones are so much more accessible. People can really take their time and dive into something online, whether it’s the works themselves or related ephemera or a mash-up of material. And it doesn’t have to be high-tech. 

Michelle:

Does RISD prioritize digital exhibitions? 

Emily:

The college last spring had to very quickly figure out a solution for the huge number of exhibitions that we have every spring for graduating students. The graduate student exhibition is sort of the pinnacle of their 2-3 year programs and it’s exposure for them too. And all the undergrads have degree project exhibitions, that’s usually a highlight of everyone’s spring. We thankfully have a small team at the school that is dedicated to putting up exhibitions and was able to work with the museum on setting up digital platforms. 

Michelle:

What kind of digital platforms did you end up using? 

Emily: 

The RISD Museum has built this awesome digital publishing platform, and they’re supposedly going to be releasing it openly, although I don’t think that’s happened yet. It’s called Ziggurat. They have been building multimedia, public domain exhibition catalogues that are very cool. And they’re multimedia, so there can be images, text, audio and video embedded in them. Simone Leigh’s project for Raid The Icebox Now is a great example. And that’s the core technology they used for the online exhibitions.

Michelle: 

I’m familiar with Omeka from my work, which is also open source and community supported. But yeah, I really wanna see more of that. As we continue to recognize the benefits of engagement with digital platforms, the ability to have this real close contact with multimedia formats and create these more interesting exhibitions in a single space. I’d like some “key takeaways” from this time to be prioritizing more digital access, and I love that an open source community supports that.

Emily: 

These projects obviously require a lot of work, too. Especially open source – it’s not typically plug and play. Even Omeka isn’t, I hear from many librarians! So you have to have the people and the time to make it happen. And that’s not something to take for granted.

Just to plug one of my current pet issues, open publishing, open educational resources and open pedagogy are these incredibly wonderful growing movements in academic libraries and academic institutions and I think that there’s a lot of room to grow in the art and design education world specifically. Typically open textbooks have been pretty heavily focused on STEM fields and social sciences and I’ve been trying to get together some folks at RISD who would be willing–including the people who designed this online publication platform–to publish things openly that everybody can access that originate in RISD and the knowledge of people here that other people can take and use without paying for it. Extricating some of this stuff from the for-profit models that it has naturally over the years grown into. We’re increasingly aware that they can be restrictive and that they inhibit growth and inhibit–as much as I hate this word–innovation. 

Michelle

You’re making some really astute points about the for-profit, proprietary models, there’s also a lot of planned obsolescence in those models, so in terms of innovation, if there’s a whole community of thinkers who are working under the hood on a piece of software, that means it will be continually updated and adapted to a growing range of situations, whereas something that is proprietary is likely to become stale if there isn’t more money thrown at it.

***

Emily: 

You asked me a question about doing programming specifically with the digital environment in mind vs. adapting existing programming. I feel like I have absolutely adapted my existing strategies for remote teaching, but that’s been a real growth experience for me. Like a lot of early career instruction librarians, I have not had a lot of pedagogical training, and a lot of what I know was learned on the job. In a weird way, it feels like being part of a college that is all at once transitioning to digital teaching has made me feel more solidarity, and we’ve been able to talk and share resources in a way that I personally was a little intimidated to do before this. But I’m also beginning my arc out of the ‘early career’ stage and feeling more brave, which could be part of it. 

Michelle: 

Right. The assumed disadvantage of being early career isn’t necessarily the case, and also the difference in technological proficiency and ability sort of leveled the playing field too I bet. 

Emily:

Yeah, I have a few faculty who come to me as tech support pretty reliably at this point, and that gives me perspective one everyone’s different strengths. 

Michelle: 

I think, too, I find myself landing in a place where I think we’re better instructors because of this shift. I think it’s made me slow down and focus on the iterative process of teaching. I’ve really gone back to the beginning, to the types of lessons that I want to offer, my methods, and I think because we’re forced to reexamine everything we’ve been doing really, I’m doing that from top-to-bottom with the way that I’m instructing. I’m thinking here too about removing nerves around public speaking too. 

We’ve been forced to examine so much that I have been realizing that there are ways that I can improve, ways I can demonstrate the resources better, planning more in detail, refining the types of questions that I ask. I didn’t use breakout rooms until way too late into the game, and it was when I was doing a workshop for teachers (of course), and I had to ask them how to use it. It was like thanks, we’re all learning from each other here. 

Emily: 

Yeah, there’s a level of generosity I’m seeing. I had been working as an instruction librarian for about 3 years when the pandemic hit, and I’d definitely settled into some teaching methods and strategies that felt comfortable. I should note here for the ARLIS audience that I work at an institution that has a really tiny instruction team, so we don’t operate the same way that big academic library instruction teams do, we don’t do the same sort of assessment for or use the framework in the same ways. A lot of our strategies are more informal, we don’t have the same sort of culture of data collection and I appreciate that, personally. We also don’t have the technology setup to do sort of structured, top-down technology workshops you might see at big academic libraries. So discussion and group exploration and little activities were my favorite way to approach teaching, but when we transitioned into the remote environment, I realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t working. 

Michelle: 

I’ve found the same. You can’t really elicit conversation as easily in a digital environment. To what do you attribute that? 

Emily: 

You and I have maybe a different audience when it comes to this, because when I started doing my online instruction, I had classes of students who were not there of their own free will. I had been invited into their virtual classroom by their teacher, and these students had been through a lot, packing up their lives and moving away from school. I think especially earlier on, I’d come into a Zoom room and most people would have their cameras off and be clearly unengaged. That didn’t really bother me, I felt a lot of sympathy for what I was hearing people had gone through. Some things seem to have stabilized since then. 

Michelle: 

I have led a couple of workshops for high school students about neighborhood history, and that is what was coming to mind when you were talking about this, the blanket of silence when I was trying to facilitate more Q&A discussion. But yeah, students and teenagers in particular have taken the brunt of this seismic shift in our daily lives, and I have from the beginning adopted a policy that nobody is being forced to participate or turn their camera on, it’s all engagement at the level of comfort that feels right. And I also think it’s perfectly fine to engage in the chat.

Emily: 

I think making use of the chat is a really excellent way to do this, if you’ve planned it in. I’ve definitely had to adapt my engagement strategies, whether that’s chat, or breakout rooms, or doing an activity on your own for 5-10 minutes, I found that works a lot better than verbally posing a question to a grid of faces and blank squares and just waiting to see if anybody cares. There’s an interesting social dynamic that happens in person, if you sit there silently long enough waiting for somebody to answer, there’s somebody in that class who’s gonna feel the need to say something.

Michelle:

Yeah! But that’s completely eliminated when you’re each at your own homes. 

*** 

Michelle:

What are some of the coolest ways you’ve seen people take advantage of Zoom? 

Emily: 

It’s been really interesting to participate in more interactive workshops myself. Doing them in Zoom has been really eye-opening for me, and I generally take strategies back to my own teaching from them. One that was great was a Library Carpentry workshop that I took through the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. I wanted to learn how to use Open Refine, which is really cool for anyone who does a lot of Excel spreadsheets and data wrangling. 

Michelle:

Yeah, in my past life I did a lot more digital librarianship stuff, and in the expanded range of projects that I’ve taken on during the pandemic, I’m also working on some straight up metadata cleanup and exercising my Excel function knowledge, and it’s really fun. 

Emily: 

Sometimes when I’m doing that stuff I realize that I might be in the right field.

Michelle:

Yeah, it’s like the flow state that’s available to librarians. 

You bring up a really good point about the range of learning opportunities we have access to with this digital advent too, it’s not just about what programs we’ve been offering and what professional development we’ve been leading, but what we’ve taken advantage of as well. 

Emily: 

A lot of us have been able to take advantage of those opportunities, but as so many wise people have already said about this pandemic, it’s also true that if you’re not maximizing, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s a huge privilege that for me at least comes along with being a childless white collar employee.

Michelle:

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Just in awe of parents with children at home, while also rejecting the guilt that creeps up around this. Like since I don’t have children, I’d BETTER maximize my existence, because I have no excuse not to–which is also a pretty gendered line of reasoning, I will say. In any case, I feel like you don’t have to immediately clench with guilt if you haven’t been optimizing. I think what I have mostly taken advantage of are the recorded panel discussions and lectures that are all over the place while I’m making stuff, which I’ve been also doing a lot more, and that’s actually to give myself a break and not because I’m optimizing.

Emily: 

There’s something I was thinking about earlier today, related to the general question of how to engage people with materials in the digital environment. It seems like people can be wowed in person with primary sources and archival materials and cool tangible ephemera, even if they’re not directly related to that person’s interests, because there are these artifacts, and they have this object value, you’ve got to wash your hands or put on gloves, it’s got this sort of glamor to it. And what I’ve found teaching online is that it’s much more important to make a direct connection to the class or the students’ actual priorities and areas of interest. Because if you’re just showing random stuff, even if it’s your rarest item, it’s not as likely that it will be exciting, but if I’m talking to a class of students and they’re working in a specific area and I show them something that has a clear connection to their interests or priorities, then I have them. 

Michelle: 

Yeah, you are 100% right on that. One of my upcoming student workshops is for an urban archaeology class, and we’ve been doing some more intensive planning on Zoom to talk about what her coursework is about, and I’m engineering the resources, materials and the workshop so that it fits with what the students are thinking about right now, definitely. 

Emily: 

There’s also an increased sense of the value of our attention, especially since we’re staring at a screen all day. It definitely seems to me, working in an expensive private institution with a big reputation, that students these days are much more aware of what their time is worth than I was in college, and they’re much more focused on maximizing the ROI in college classes. Even more so in this pandemic environment where access to everything is throttled. 

Our college archivist has been showing students this amazing material, posters and petitions and student newspapers, that document the history of student activism at RISD starting around the sixties. The issues they face today are all there: racial justice, antiwar activism, tuition hikes! That stuff really hits home in the classroom. But I think it also helps students place themselves in a lineage of activism.

Michelle

I’m really glad you brought that up, and I think your point too about some of the wow factor–maybe even like 60% of it–was coming to the archives in person. Often one of my first questions when students, particularly college students, arrived was “Has anyone ever been to an archive before?” and a lot of them had not, right, so they’re just like “Wow, what is this place?” And I have materials pre-selected for everyone to go through, and I talk about safe handling techniques and yes, there are some white gloves around and yes, there is glamor in the atmosphere and the historicity of the place. My tours ended downstairs in our morgue, and everyone loves that, just on its face. The seed of the collection is the Brooklyn Daily Eagle photo morgue, a journalism term for subject-organized photographic materials that you’d be able to pull out to run alongside a story, and so not only is the name of the place cool, but the space itself is in our sub sub sub basement and has a bunch of our materials. I had been in the habit of letting students go and look in the files and drawers after going over safe handling, etc. and letting them see what they find and enjoy the magic of discovery. I’ve been trying to work a little bit along those lines with just a Dropbox folder of materials, and many of those have been selected to, as you say, place the students in a lineage of antiracist activism, etc. Here’s a folder, take some time in breakout rooms to see what’s in there, and show us what you find. Show and tell never gets old. 

Emily

It’s true, the framing has to be a little different now. I was just perversely picturing going online with a class and asking “So have you ever been to an institutional repository before?” to total silence. Awareness of place is a lot more natural in the flesh. Teaching information literacy can help, but there are also other ways to work with students on reading digital spaces.

A friend of a friend developed a virtual bar website, a little clunky, but you could make your own bar and invite people in. And I was thinking about what it would be like to teach a class in the bar instead of Zoom. Fewer tools and a totally different vibe. Maybe conversation would flow better?

Michelle:

I feel like we notice bad design but we don’t necessarily notice good design. If you’re in a well-designed and comfortable digital environment it’s just sort of like amniotic fluid or something. But if it’s bad, you can’t help but notice it. 

Emily:

I love bad design though. This is a much bigger conversation but I don’t think all friction is bad. It can be very helpful in building muscle, like literally and metaphorically. 

Michelle: 

Yeah, foodtimeline.org, for example. Terrible design, GREAT website. Also a late librarian’s labor of love!

Emily:

What are you talking about? That website is perfect. So pure.

Michelle:

It’s one of my favorites, not despite but because. But, to your point earlier, the virtual bar website is like digital space that’s a specific analog to a physical space. Not necessarily a one-to-one but something that “captures the feeling” of what it’s like to be in a beloved physical space. 

Emily: 

And what are the capabilities that you have in that space that maybe you don’t in others? In the virtual bar you can grab the little box your face is in and move it anywhere on the screen, maybe just to the bottom left or something, away from other people.

Michelle:

You were doing a lot more just virtual hangs early on in the pandemic, right? 

Emily:

I’m still participating in some from time to time, but they do tend to be more activity-oriented and less like “here we are.” 

Michelle: 

Yeah, I feel like tracing the evolution of our virtual hangouts is a way of measuring how we feel about the pandemic as a whole or something. We’ve grown accustomed to this mode of engagement so now we have to go beyond simply hanging out at our computers together. 

Emily: 

Or maybe there can be a return to it, you know? I’ve definitely spoken about the phenomenon of feeling burned out and then going back over the hump and being okay again. I feel like that’s happened maybe 3 or 4 times for me with hanging out online. I’m definitely in a space right now where I could just chill in a Zoom room with some friends that I wanted to see and it wouldn’t be something I needed to face my burnout to do, but that may not be the case in a couple months again.

Michelle:

Yeah, I can relate to coming up against burnout and then trying to find antidotes to that, and I feel like what I’ve been missing the most is the ability to hang out in a room with a friend for an extended period of time and just make something together, do something quietly companionable, so maybe that’s where Zoom comes back around for me, maybe it’s the activities. 


Zoom came back around for us as we recorded this conversation too. Comparing notes about our experiences during this shift to digital was a lot of fun, and a great opportunity to clarify our thoughts around not only digital programming, but also what it’s like when an entire institution goes virtual all at once, the pros and cons of working remotely, texting before calling, when to listen to podcasts when you’re not commuting, lorem ipsum generators, and more.


Sources: 

http://qqml-journal.net/index.php/qqml/article/view/634

https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=Programming-Through-the-Pandemic-covid-19

RISD museum public domain digital publication: https://publications.risdmuseum.org/raid-icebox-now

Publishing platform developed locally called Ziggurat

RISD grad show, same platform:

https://publications.risdmuseum.org/risd-grad-show-2020

Art of the slide deck by Shannon Mattern: https://www.artnews.com/art-in-america/features/artists-using-powerpoint-critique-rhetorical-strategies-tan-lin-tony-cokes-david-byrne-1202676971/

Meant to mention this nice slideshow on digital equity I just saw from Ray Pun: https://sites.google.com/view/bakerlectures/baker-diversity-series/spring-2021-lectures?authuser=0

Internship, Interrupted

By Freyja Catton

From February to April of this year, I was one of two interns sponsored by TD Bank at the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives (NGC). This was my dream job, as I have a background in Studio Art (BFA, University of Lethbridge, 2012) and am a graduate student of Library and Information Studies (MLIS, University of Alberta, 2021). In February, I took a three-month leave from my day job in Edmonton, Alberta, and flew out to Ottawa, Ontario. February 3 was my first day at the NGC. It was bright, sunny, and chilly outside. I walked over the hill and was greeted by Maman, the giant imposing spider sculpture outside the front entrance of the NGC. I couldn’t wait for this to feel normal- and to see Maman every day!

  My supervisor showed me my desk and where to go for work breaks (I could “just go in the Gallery” if I wanted!). My project the first week was to refer to a spreadsheet with exhibition catalog numbers and label all the exhibition records from 2005-2020. This was good preparation for our main project which would start the following week. It sounds mundane, but I had a blast getting to peek at all the ephemera and recognizing names I knew from school or from my connections in the Alberta art community!

  The other intern arrived on Monday and we were introduced to our main project: creating records for exhibitions from 2005-2020 in the NGC Library Catalogue. The NGC Archives separates their records into types: exhibition records, artist records, posters, ephemera, photos, and correspondence. Our task was to update the catalogue with 15 years’ worth of art exhibitions, so that researchers could look in the library catalogue and see past exhibitions of the NGC, as well as what documentation existed for each exhibition.

  Neither the other intern nor I had worked with cataloguing before, though the concepts were familiar. The cataloguer showed us how to create records according to the NGC Library standards. We learned the basics of the integrated library system Millennium, MARC21 coding, and how to find subject headings and name authorities in English and in French. The exhibition numbers came from the spreadsheet I used my first week, and we found information about the exhibitions from the NGC website and from the exhibition records. We split the work by odd and even numbered exhibitions, and worked at a steady pace to get a skeleton entry into the catalogue for each exhibition with whatever information we could find. Once we had a record for each exhibition, we added descriptions of materials to the record, which are stored separately by medium. The specific tasks  included: going through unprocessed exhibition clippings, invitations, posters, and digital photos, labelling and organizing these, and adding descriptions to the record. We also updated the call numbers for archival exhibition catalogues. 

As we worked on the project, other projects broke up the monotony: checking the Alex Colville drawing fonds to ensure all items were in order and accounted for, going through copies of paper finding aids from other institutions (circa 1980s-1990s), and checking online to see if those aids had been digitized onto the institution’s website. I had two archival description projects at item level. The first description project was describing items in the Art Metropole mail art collection. For the second project, I described artist ephemera from an art historian donor for appraisal. Due to the difficulty of generalizing that collection, I went through the ephemera and described them at the item level and put them into folders for storage. Once they were described in original order, I reorganized the folders alphabetically by artist and created a new file list to reflect the alphabetical order.

  The library assistant showed us how to make housing for items in the library and how to display books with book pillows and mounts. I assisted staff with other housekeeping tasks when they needed a hand, such as moving rare books to create room for new ones, moving files for processing, rehousing slides, checking photograph fonds, clearing paper jams in the photocopier, and adding to clipping folders.

  I was able to ask lots of questions and to observe archive tours in the space and volunteer work. As the work went on, I found I was developing a specialty within a specialty: my experience as a practicing artist meant I was good at contemporary art documentation. I knew how things were made which made it easier to describe them, and I knew who a lot of the practicing artists were (I kept stopping to show off and say “I’ve met them! I’ve seen this show!”). Considering that most of the staff came from the art history field, I felt I was able to fill in a knowledge gap that otherwise existed in the NGC’s Library and Archives.

  We also had the opportunity to visit other sites, which at the time was very hectic but in hindsight I am very grateful for. On February 26, we went on a tour at the Library and Archives of Canada Preservation Centre in Gatineau. We learned about their approach to risk management, building/facility design, and storage. I had taken both records management and archives management courses, and it was SO cool to see my readings in practice and observe what the ideal preservation centre looked like and how it was run.

  On February 28, we went to Montréal for the day. We wandered around the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) before our scheduled tours, and then I had a private tour in English to learn about contemporary art documentation at Artexte! Artexte is a documentation centre/archives for contemporary Canadian art. Artexte has open stacks and devised their own classification system. It was fascinating comparing their system to the organization system of the NGC’s Library and Archives. It was a whirlwind trip and it took me a few days to wind down after that!

  COVID-19 hit at the halfway point of the internship. On March 16, the Gallery shut down and asked everyone to work remotely from home. We were unable to describe physical items, but we were able to focus on digital holdings and records. We finished updating exhibition records by adding descriptions of digital photos, and we updated the call numbers of archival copies of exhibition catalogues in the library catalogue. We edited and created Wikipedia articles for the Gallery, assisted in and partook in four Edit-A-Thons (the first one was in person in February, the rest remote). Outside of the internship I was taking a graduate course on Archive Administration, and for my final paper I wrote about my internship and volunteer experiences to recommend possible best practices for preserving art exhibition documentation in artist run centres.

After a couple weeks of working in isolation, the other intern and I got spooked by the impending travel bans. We talked with our supervisor and arranged to leave Ottawa early. Everyone seemed on edge and my flights got rescheduled three times. I arrived home in Edmonton on April 8, two weeks before the end of my internship, with enough time to self-isolate before my leave of absence was up.

 After relocating, we continued to work remotely. We worked to update artist information for the Artists in Canada database, partook in the remaining Edit-A-Thons, and we worked on a new big project: researching digital repositories, methods of storage, and digital repositories for a future digital archive for the NGC Library and Archives. We emailed each other back and forth notes and questions about the software, and then sent summaries and pros/cons of each product to our supervisor. On April 24, my internship concluded. I sent out an email on my second-to last day to thank everyone for giving me such an amazing opportunity to work with people I had so much in common with. 

And that was it! I went in wondering what the heck I was doing, and I came out wondering what the heck happened. Despite the emotional whiplash of dream jobs and pandemics, I masked up and went back to work at my regular job the following Monday. 

  While it was unfortunate that our internship was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am very grateful for my time spent at the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives. I loved my work and felt so supported! It was an amazing opportunity for me to network and get to know other professionals in the field who love their job, and to have a formal hands-on experience of how archives and art libraries work. I’m so grateful for the chance to develop my expertise in art archives and contemporary art documentation. I hope I will be able to do similar work someday in the future.

Though, I hope next time we won’t be disrupted by another pandemic!

Freyja Catton is a visual artist, author, emerging art information professional, and MLIS graduate student at the University of Alberta. They live in Treaty 7 territory in Canada with their long-term partner and two cats. More of their work can be found on their website at www.thewordeater.com.


Note: Experiences, thoughts, and feelings shared on the ArLiSNAP blog are solely those of the featured author(s) and interviewees and do not represent the views of any employer.

A New Job, A New Degree, and A New Pandemic

By Meg Tohill

Ever since I can remember, all I’ve ever wanted to do when I got older was to help people. The question of how I would do this has continuously meandered along with my career path. With a passion for reading and writing, diving into library science has always been at the back of my mind, but it was only recently that I started putting the plan in motion. The seed that I had planted in high school started blossoming about two years ago.

I went to undergrad at SUNY New Paltz for a bachelor’s degree in journalism. While I maintain a passion for the written word, the power of storytelling, and delivering universal truths, it became abundantly clear to me during my time there that the industry was/ is in significant danger. Although I know many talented new journalists who continue to push back against the dissemination of misinformation in the media, I took the opportunity to start getting creative.

How could I take my skillset and develop it into something tangible? During my time in undergrad, I spent three years working as a part-time library assistant at Sojourner Truth Library. It was there that my pre-existing admirations for libraries and the information professionals who operate them were reinforced.

Ironically, I only decided to enroll in a graduate program a month before coronavirus became our reality over in the states. My entrance interview was over Zoom and my acceptance letter came during the fourth week of quarantine. I had lost a job that I wasn’t passionate about but was essential to live and I had very little prospects about what I was going to do next.

When the letter finally came, I could finally bat away the storm clouds that had been hanging so heavy around my head for months. Quarantine hit me harder than I’d like to admit. All of this stagnant time at home reminded me of past demons, something I usually could manage when surrounded by the camaraderie of my friends, or in many cases, library professionals. 

My experience working at Sojourner Truth Library had been incredibly validating. My coworkers were empathetic communicators who had the knowledge to share and after some time, I realized I wanted to be just like these individuals. I wanted to provide information to people who were hurting. I wanted to help people who didn’t know how to help themselves but desperately wanted to do so. 

March started like a lamb and ended like a lion. This goes against everything they ever taught us in elementary school, but when you go from being able to see your loved ones, to losing people you thought you had years left with, reality is a hard thing to discern. 

We were told in March and April that masks were unnecessary and then suddenly, we became mask-wearing armies. If there was a thing that was true one minute, the next minute we were being told the exact opposite. Finding the truth in quarantine hasn’t just been difficult, it’s been debilitating, making the library science profession more essential than it has ever been. When libraries and their staff are prioritized, individuals don’t have to defer to a magnanimous figurehead spewing “fake news.” When library science is accessible, information is accessible and today, information is a wealth many refuse to inherit. 

An election year, a pandemic, a full-time job, and graduate courses will be what I ultimately remember the most from 2020. However, it is my hunger for the truth and the need to help others find it too, that keeps me motivated. I believe that these feelings of determination that accompanied my pain are what I will remember the most.

Meg Tohill is a copywriter at DAC Group of Companies and an MLS graduate student at Queens College. She spends what very little free time she has reading, baking, and hiking with her boyfriend.


Note: Experiences, thoughts, and feelings shared on the ArLiSNAP blog are solely those of the featured author(s) and interviewees and do not represent the views of any employer.

Open Access Resources for the At-Home Art Librarian

In the midst of worldwide quarantines and stay-at-home orders, several scholarly journals, publishers, and databases have made the decision to go “open” (or at least market their existing open resources). My colleague at the Peabody Essex Museum, Print Librarian Catherine Robertson, decided that this would be a great time to compile a list of open access publishers and journals that would be helpful for researchers now working from home. The following list is assembled from our initial bibliography of resources, but revamped with the art librarian in mind. Please enjoy browsing these free, open access publishers and journals!

Bringing the Visual to Digital Literacies

by Kristina Bush

In August, I started working at the University of California, Berkeley as Digital Literacies Librarian. Prior to this position, I worked at the Sloane Art Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Though I wasn’t an art history / library science dual master’s student at UNC, I come from an art history and museum studies background and I was sad to be leaving the field of art librarianship. However, as many other Snappers have experienced, you can take the art librarian out of the art library, but you can’t take the love of art out of the librarian. In my first semester of work at Berkeley, I brought an art perspective to a digital literacies workshop series by incorporating activities that emphasized close looking and visual culture. After all, the prevalence of digital media has made visual literacy skills increasingly important, and thus a central element of digital literacies.

Berkeley’s Design for Digital Literacies discussion series Fall 2019 included the following topics: “Visual Literacy: Learning to Look / Looking to Learn,” “Defining Digital Literacies,” and “Instagram, Memes, and Viral Videos… Oh My!” This series ran twice – once for faculty members, hosted by the College Writing Department, and once for librarians as an Instructor Development Program series.

The first talk of the series was on the topic of visual literacy. I co-facilitated this session with my boss, Instruction Services Division Head Nicole E. Brown, who quite literally wrote the book on Visual Literacy. If you haven’t read Visual Literacy for Libraries: A Practical, Standards-Based Guide, request a copy now! It contains activity plans that you can easily incorporate into instruction sessions (for faculty, staff, and/or students!) no matter the subject area. In planning for the Visual Literacy workshop, we pulled from Brown’s text, selecting the activities that we believed would most engage with the prompt of learning to look at and analyze images in the process of digitally-based research. We led the attendees through several close looking exercises that they could incorporate into instruction. 

One close looking activity that we used in the Visual Literacy workshop is used often by Berkeley’s Instruction Services Division. Since I started work at Berkeley, members of my division have been incredibly generous and allowed me to observe their instruction sessions and jointly created a repository of instruction “chunks,” or remixable activities and slides they’ve used in workshops. I often use this particular chunk to start an instruction session – you start by displaying an image related to the course content.  It is important to select a work with good metadata so that you can do a big reveal to the students after they have interpreted the image. Have the students engage with the following questions in relation to the image:

1. What do I see?

2. What is going on? 

3. Why do I think this image was created?

A person with long hair and glasses looking at a wall of drawings.
Photo by Handy Wicaksono on Unsplash

After students have discussed their responses together and shared with the class, display the image with its metadata and ask if the metadata answered or confirmed any questions or suspicions they had about the piece. This activity engages with the ACRL information literacy frame of scholarship as conversation and the process of developing a research question. I use this activity to underscore the point that students need to ask questions and engage with other voices to learn more, and dig deeper, whatever their research topic may be. This quick and simple exercise allows us to begin the discussion and engage students in active and critical thinking. To those of us who are trained in art history, close looking is second nature, but to students and even faculty members in other departments, it can be a challenge that opens up a new pathway to engagement with course content. In the feedback I received from the faculty series, many of the audience were surprised by the activity and the experience of close looking.

As I mentioned above, visual literacy is an important part of digital literacies. Much of what we encounter online is visual – beyond gifs and memes, we interpret interactive graphs, charts, and timelines, we research using digital repositories, we archive digital art… the list goes on! I believe that visual literacy is only going to become more important, and we must teach students to have a critical eye when looking at any form of visual media. This was also the focus of “Instagrams, Memes, and Viral Videos… Oh My!” Though many of us Snappers are not working in an art library, we can teach the visual literacy skills that we’ve developed, we can sneak art history / museum studies lessons into information and digital literacies workshops. After all, it gives you an excuse to look through ArtStor on work time.

Not Taught in School: Reflections on Publishing for the First Time

Hey there, ArLiSNAP blog readers! It’s been a minute since we had a feature blog post so I thought I’d drum something up for you. Today I wanted to talk about my first experience publishing an article (which is forthcoming). I wrote this a few weeks ago, but put off posting it so as not to jinx anything with my own publication. However, I recently saw the proof (!!!), which means it’s really happening! So I decided to go ahead and post. Additionally, this very timely essay by Kathryn Rudy was recently published on The True Costs of Researching and Publishing for art historians, so I hope that in coordination with that piece, this post can offer some information that might be helpful. Publishing is intimidating, and, as it turns out, can be highly expensive. It’s good to be in the know regarding the components that go into it. 

black Corona typewriter on brown wood planks
Image Source: Unsplash

As a new professional, I’ve wanted to do research for awhile. I worked in a public library and then a community college library, both while teaching art history as an adjunct. In the latter position, I also started/completed library school, worked as a graduate teaching assistant, and had a baby. Needless to say, I wasn’t given time in my community college position explicitly to do research, and it wasn’t in my job description either. I was BUSY, and research was something I missed from graduate school, but something that seemed, well, out of reach for the moment. When I was hired into my first tenure track (TT) position, I was excited that research would be part of my job requirements; however, the type of job I had didn’t really line up with my actual research interests, nor did I receive release time in which to do research. If I wanted to research in my subject area of expertise, I was definitely gonna have to do it in my personal time. I’m getting to the point, I swear! 

Now, in my current position, I’m not only required as part of my tenure requirements to publish and present on research topics, as well as perform service for the profession, I’m given time to do so. As I write this now, I’m taking time from my daily librarian duties to serve my art librarian community. This is part of my job. I am given time to do this. I am one of the lucky ones. Many of those who are in TT positions don’t have this kind of dedicated research and service time. That being said, deciding WHAT and HOW and WHERE to publish is super daunting to the new professional. So where to start? 

In my case, I decided to start with something relatively finished. A few years ago, I adapted one of the chapters of my master’s thesis to give a talk an art conference. I decided that I could take some time to adapt what was already a written article into a more polished version and submit it somewhere. I found a journal that aligned exactly with my research focus. I edited my paper, had some folks take a look at it, read the guidelines on the journal website, took a deep breath, and hit send on the sucker. 

One hour later…

I received an email telling me that in the UPCOMING ISSUE, there was an article coming out on the EXACT ARTIST and related subject area, so that they would read mine, but likely wouldn’t publish it in their next run, since it was so similar. 

Full disclosure, I cried. Like ugly cried. 

Listen. Being hired into a TT position at a Research 1 (R1) university as a subject area expert (aka my dream job) was exhilarating! And a big confidence boost. That doesn’t mean that I’m not new at this stuff and that I don’t feel vulnerable and scared sometimes. There is a lot of pressure on all of us to do what we do well. Honestly, I’ve been told that publishing an article in a peer-reviewed journal your first year on the job is really not that usual, and that it’s ok if I don’t. But here I was, holding on to a COMPLETELY WRITTEN article…how could I not find someone to publish this? More importantly, why hadn’t I acted faster, so this journal would have read mine first instead of the other author’s? (Sidenote: I’ve since read the other article, which is quite different than mine, but offered some great insights. I actually used some of it in my revised article later on so…silver linings). 

So, I pulled down the shades in my office, had a good cry, tried to pull them back up again, couldn’t, had to ask for help from a student worker, and then went to a meeting, where I promptly spoke of my woes and received a lot of encouragement from my colleagues. I am nothing if not a verbal processor. 

The next day, I looked at other journal options. I emailed the person who had given me a no and asked to withdraw my article. I found a journal published by an association I’m familiar with and resubmitted it there. In order to do this I had to: edit it again, reformat to meet the requirements for that particular journal, and move my images from within the article to a separate document.

woman writing on notebook
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Much to my overwhelming surprise, the editor got back to me quickly and let me know that they thought it would be a good fit, and that they would send it on to the peer-reviewers, which could be a lengthy process (in the humanities especially, they have to find reviewers that are not only subject area experts, but also specialists in the particular era you’re researching). Within about a month, which I’m told is MUCH faster than usual, the reviewers sent back my article with the recommendation to publish contingent on pretty substantial revisions. I was given about a month and a half to complete the revisions (should I choose to at that point…sometimes writers will look at reviewer comments and decide to withdraw their article if they feel they just need to redo and resubmit or think perhaps it’s just a better fit elsewhere). I accepted the charge though and decided to revise.

OK. I was elated. I am elated. Imposter syndrome is such a real thing, right? And not only am I super new at this: my job, professional research, publishing, all of it, but I also only have a master’s degree. Therefore, to me, publishing in my subject of interest felt out of reach, even as I was trying to do it. But in the words of one of my art history colleagues, I had to “just put it out there. See what happens.” 

When I finally had time, I sat down and looked over the reviewers’ comments in even more detail. Panic ensued. Imposter syndrome struck again. How the hell was I going to address all of these things in a month and a half?? After verbally processing my feelings with probably ten people (I’m not kidding, I do this when I’m making a big purchase, too, which in my world is anything over $50), I printed out the comments and made a list. I made a list of the comments I could look into and/or change quickly, and the feedback that would take more thinking to approach. I tackled the ones I could do quickly. Got them done, patted myself on the back, and then got to work on the big stuff. I sent it back in.

black pencil on paper
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The article was returned from the editor with heavy edits (I wrote the bulk of this as a grad student, I totally expected heavy editing), some comments to respond to, and the charge of obtaining permissions and high quality reproductions for all the works I planned to include with the article.

Enter panic again.

I had never gotten rights to images. I have no money. I thought we were good, people! This artist’s work is all in the public domain! Buttttt, to publish in print, images need to be 300 dpi. There are some images in the public domain that are high resolution and can be sized up, but high res images for the works owned by museums, well, you have to go to the museum to get those. And they all have different ways of handling their visual resources. Thankfully, a number of museums, like the National Gallery of Art (D.C.), have made reproductions of public domain works in their collection open access. For at least one painting, I was able to download a print quality high res image with language regarding attribution and rights, straight from their website. Others are often handled through reproduction requests, which, for public domain works, are sometimes free. I did have to pay out of pocket for a few, but those were reproductions handled by a private French agency and their U.S. counterpart. To be totally transparent, I paid around $200 for the rights to publish four images. Some journals, such as The Metropolitan Museum Journal, have begun to pay this cost for authors; however, I don’t think this is common, and in the case of smaller journals, they simply don’t have the budget for it. 

Basically I’m here to tell you: if you are writing an article that requires reproductions of specific works of art, in the public domain or not, AS SOON as your article is recommended for publication, start figuring out what your options are. It takes time and I had to do some scrambling, which didn’t help my first-time author nerves. 

After all of that, my final revised article, along with the images and required attribution information, has been submitted to the journal’s editor. It went through copy editing, and then to the designer, and then I was shown a proof of the way the pages will be laid out with the image reproductions to look over. I had one last chance to note any typos or mistakes and then give my approval, which I have now done. Woohoo! 

It’s important to me that I record how I feel as I navigate these types of transactions. And as a new academic, who is also a socialized (and identified cis-gendered white) woman, it is important to me that as I learn, others do too. There is no reason for the process through which we research and publish to be opaque, but it often is. Each journal will have a different set of requirements and timeline. For instance, another colleague of mine submitted an article several months ago that was sent to readers, and they haven’t heard back at all. An experience like that is within the range of typical. Like anything else, once you’re doing it, it will begin to feel normal. That hasn’t quite happened for me yet, but going through the process has helped me understand that publishing is an attainable goal in my life. 

I hope this blog post provides some needed encouragement or empathy with whatever you’re going through. I seriously cannot wait until I get to see an article that I wrote (even though I still want to change things about it) in print and in my hands. It just feels like a pipe dream. BUT! It’s really happening and it will for you too. Godspeed, friends!

you are enough text
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