The Makeup Question

Christian Dior Lipstick ad
Photo credit: Flickr

For those of you in the New York area, you may be aware that the above question has been circulating amongst the librarian crowd for the past month. It all started when METRO, the Metropolitan New York Library Council (a great resource for librarians in and around New York City), posted this article.

In it,  Ellen Mehling, the Career Services Consultant at METRO, addressed whether or not women should wear makeup to an interview…even if they do not normally do so. The awesome blog Librarian Wardrobe responded with an excellent post a few days later, and I personally came across this debate when the New York chapter of ARLIS tweeted about it early last month.

Full disclosure, I hold a very similar opinion to the one espoused in the post on Librarian Wardrobe, but I was very interested to see what my fellow ArLiSNAPpers thought about the subject. I feel like the world of  art librarianship stands somewhat apart from the rest of the librarian community, partly because we deal with different subject matter, but also because we tend to hold roles outside of the typical brick and mortar library, at art galleries, museums, artists’ personal collection, etc.. As a result, I believe the expectations for “proper office attire” (makeup included), are somewhat tempered, if not entirely altered.

Anyway, definitely curious to hear your guys’ opinions on the matter. Let me know!!

What I've learned since I graduated.

As of this writing, it’s been just about six months since my degree was awarded. I handed in my last coursework at the end of August 2014, and did some nail-biting while my thesis was graded. But I didn’t actually see my physical degree, framed and signed and in all its majesty, until last week, when I went home for Easter! It was surprisingly affecting — I didn’t think seeing my name all gussied up like that was going to be such a gut-punch of emotion, but I am really proud of that big piece of paper.

Between seeing that and reading this, I thought I’d try my hand at articulating a bit of perspective. It’s hard for me to write a “what I’ve learned” article without hedging my bets a bit — there are things I’ve started to dig into deeper, but I wouldn’t say I’m an expert or that my knowledge has yet paid off in practical terms. I started a full-time job as a corporate archivist the week after handing in my thesis, so a lot of what I can recommend isn’t directly applicable to arts librarianship or even the majority of MLIS/MISt graduates who might be reading this. But, I’m going to tell you what I do anyways, and it starts with how I …

1. Criticize myself. 

There is no time for a break, no time to kick back and separate yourself from the field once you hand in your last assignments. Chances are you’ve got a job offer lined up, unfinished research projects, a handful of applications to send out, a move, some volunteer commitments or conferences, or some other thing that should be occupying your time.

But you should prioritize a few hours (ideally with wine) to assess your situation, yourself, and your goals: what gaps are left in your education that will stand between you and your dream jobs? What experience do you lack based on the job postings you’re seeing? What’s the most likely progression going to be for you, from entry-level onwards? How can you prepare for each of those steps?

One of the best little tricks is to go back and read the term papers and assignment you handed in in your first semester. Does it make you cringe now to see how naive you were? Alternatively, aren’t you impressed with how far you’ve come in such a short time?

I never would’ve guessed I’d end up in corporate, but here we are, and I’m trying to look critically at which of the soft skills I’m picking up here (project management, training, research and policy-writing, etc.) are transferable and provable, and which ones I still need to acquire, so that I can start out at higher than entry-level when I get back into art and media work. But I have to acknowledge that some of my discipline-specific skills are getting rusty, so I …

2. Keep abreast.

Are you happy with all the listservs and newsfeeds you belong to? Could you stand to add more, or lose a few of the less-relevant options?

Personally, my feed for information on the profession comes from a couple of Canadian archiving lists, ARLIS, AMIA, SHARP, MCN, and the ALCTS eForum I mentioned previously. I’ve pared down a bit, and there are a few lists I’d like to be on for which I can’t afford a membership.

AMIA, for example, is a fantastic way just to keep in mind all the weird format issues and preservation challenges that multimedia workers face every day — there are always emails about finding a specific fitting for a rare tape player, or how best to clean a certain type of film with flourescent dye on it. If you’re bad at mechanical terminology, I guarantee you’ll pick it up quickly.

I use the Art News mailing that comes via CARLIS-L to remind me to check websites like Artforum and Canadian Art. Otherwise I tend to forget.

I don’t read any librarianship-specific websites regularly (other than job boards, for ArLiSNAP), but because of Twitter I’m constantly seeing blog posts from people like Barbara Fister on Inside Higher Ed, updates to journals, etc. If you want art-specific Twitter accounts to follow, check out the institutions and individuals that the ArLiSNAP account follows. (I follow a more eclectic collection, but hey, here are a couple suggestions.)

I can’t afford individual journal subscriptions, and I don’t have institutional access to that stuff, but I do read up on accessible (OA, PD) things when they go by in my feed. I only splurge on one physical publication, and that’s Cabinet Magazine, which doesn’t keep me up-to-date so much as inspire me regularly on all fronts.

On WordPress I follow things like Archives Gig, SNAP RT, most of the ARLIS SIGs’ and Sections’ blogs, and a few oddballs like Artist-Driven Archives and Failure in the Archives. I’m sure someone will tell me that I should consolidate or aggregate a bit better, but, nah.

CFPs

I’ve also got a special label in Gmail just for Calls For Proposals from the various listservs: I’m not going to apply for many this year, and most of them aren’t applicable to what I do, but I like being able to see what kinds of research and projects are being asked for, when the various deadlines come up, and which journals and conferences I might just want to consume without contributing to. But, occasionally, I do apply for stuff, because it’s always important to …

3. Hustle.

On top of the full-time job, I’ve got a few guest posts and articles queued up for publishing, two regular volunteer commitments (ArLiSNAP, and a journal I help copyedit) and some irregular ones (peer-reviewing for two journals), an ongoing data-mining project with a non-profit here in Toronto (no funding, just fun!), writing for ArLiSNAP and my own blog, and maintaining a Twitter presence of questionable quality.

I’ve done two conferences so far this year, and have two more to come (both speaking engagements, one of which is reporting on a yearly survey I run using Google Forms). This weekend I decided to start a project to improve listings of library and archives associations in Canada (probably with the goal of making Wikipedia pages for each). I have at least four copyright-related tumblrs I’d like to start. Now that I’m thinking of it, I volunteered to copyedit a new book by CARLIS, which I should be hearing about any day now ….

I think of all this as essential to keeping myself engaged with the fields I want to be in. As opposed to grad school, where my time was occupied in shallow exploration of a lot of subjects of varying interest to me, now I get to dig deep into the things I’m passionate about, and construct a broader career arc that includes artists’ practices and intents, copyrights and moral rights for creators, the history of print, preservation and access of both art and art-related documentation, and new techniques for analyzing art. Without calling it “personal branding,” I will say it was a lot easier to define some long-term research goals once I distanced myself from the generalist approach of my classes. Which leads me to …

4. Forget about everything I did in school.

No offense to my alma mater, but I didn’t leave school with a huge network of trusted peers and great professors (or respect for government funding for higher-ed, or ALA accreditation, or …). There was little critical education in the classes I took, which is understandable given the breadth of what has to be taught, but it meant I didn’t find people who thought and argued like I do. Being thrown into a room with people doesn’t guarantee you’ll find things to talk about — and the #1 thing I’ve learned since graduating is that there is a huge variance of why people got into this profession, and what it is they want to accomplish within it.

I moved away from Montreal when graduation was in sight, so I may have shot myself in the foot a little there (also I’m not on Facebook and am only a recent convert to Twitter), but I’ve managed to network so much better back in Toronto, without many ties to the people I spent a year and a half interacting with. A lot of it is online, through associations and listservs and volunteer work with eventual face-to-face meetings at conferences — and a lot of it is engaging people on social media once I’ve come to know and respect their work.

I think the best part of my MLIS was the four jobs I did during that time — one RA position, one job in the library, one internship for a design company, one summer contract with a non-profit — because it gave me at least some experience in a diversity of settings. While I am invested in the academic use of the degree, I wasn’t going to get a job without being able to articulate some proven skills and accomplishments. So, yeah, I recycled some term papers as applications for student awards, sure, but I don’t think my classwork and student chapter attendance are worth much now — and I’m sure they’re not all you have to offer the world, either. Which is why it’s good to ….

5. Stay smart about career moves.

I’ve taken to reading Get Bullish for career inspiration and advice; you might enjoy one or more of the following, if these questions are on your mind:

http://www.getbullish.com/2012/10/bullish-how-to-compete-when-youre-young-and-inexperienced/
http://www.getbullish.com/2015/04/bullish-qa-how-to-effectively-share-examples-of-your-work/
https://www.themuse.com/advice/no-really-these-are-the-best-conference-networking-tips-weve-ever-heard
http://www.getbullish.com/2012/03/bullish-the-nerdy-reflective-persons-guide-to-networking/
http://www.getbullish.com/2015/03/bullish-qa-how-do-you-get-motivated-for-a-huge-unimaginable-life-change-like-graduation/
http://www.getbullish.com/2012/06/bullish-three-tips-for-pitching-your-dream-gig-and-why-you-need-to-pitch/

I am also a fan of the Billfold, not just for the voyeurism involved in their “how other people do money” column, but for some of these:
http://thebillfold.com/2013/05/how-to-make-a-linkedin-profile-that-will-actually-help-you-get-a-job/
http://thebillfold.com/2013/02/meet-people-get-a-job-even-if-youre-an-introvert/
http://thebillfold.com/2012/05/reader-mail-how-much-should-i-be-earning-after-graduation/

 

… I think that’s it. Other than “Don’t be ashamed of using a lot of spreadsheets to get things done.”

ARLIS/NA 43rd Annual Conference: Some Thoughts

Another ARLIS/NA Conference has come and gone; Art Librarians from not only North America, but from around the globe, congregated in Fort Worth, Texas last week to discuss current trends and issues in our niche field of librarianship, debate the future of art books and bibliography in the wake of e-publishing, and just generally mingle with one another. Unlike past years, however, this year I got to count myself as one of the conference’s many attendees. That’s right, folks, I actually had the opportunity to attend our parent organization’s annual conference, and I’ve got the tote bags to prove it…I know, you’re all very happy for me.

So I went to the conference really hoping to come away with concepts to implement in my own workplace, and although there were some very interesting presentations, the truth is that many of the topics discussed were not all that applicable to my niche within a niche library.  As someone who works in the private sector, an art gallery to be exact, something like library programming, while important to many art libraries, is not something that works, or is necessary, for a corporate art library.

Yet despite this, what some might call, failing, I still feel as though I got a lot out of my time at ARLIS/NA. I walked away with a large number of resources previously unknown (to me) from which the users of my library will definitely benefit, such as the Art Discovery Group Catalogue (ADGC), the first discipline-specific view of WorldCat records, and I cannot wait to introduce my users to this, as well as many other cool new tools.

Of course, conferences are also about networking, which is especially important for those of us new to the art library world, either as students or as new professionals. I met some really great people and had some interesting conversations. Of particular note to me was a fascinating conversation about how to deal with post-it notes in books when the person who put them there has the authority to request that said post-its remain in perpetuity…yeah, that’s a thing that happens in private libraries. Anyway, the short answer is: try to explain that post-its are the mortal enemy of books, but the long answer is, try to come up with alternatives for your users, even if it means you may have to take on more work.

So that was my first ARLIS/NA conference-going experience, and I think it rather rocked. How about you guys? Did you go? If so, how was it? Any cool takeaways?

Let the knowledge sharing continue!

Some good resources from the ARLIS/NA 43rd Annual Conference:

Art Discovery Group Catalogue (ADGC) – http://artlibraries.worldcat.org/

Getty Research Portal – http://portal.getty.edu/portal/landing

A/V Artifact Atlas (AVAA) – http://avaa.bavc.org/artifactatlas/index.php/A/V_Artifact_Atlas

Quality Control Tools for Video Preservation (QC Tools) – http://www.bavc.org/qctools

News from the Off-Season: some conference cogitations

Happy February!

I’ve just gotten back to work after a five-day weekend. Three of those days were spent at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference, here in Toronto, so, not exactly a vacation, but definitely a change from the 9-5.

Besides a ton of useful tech sessions (including on OpenRefine for data cleaning, Koha [an open-source cataloguing system], and a review of the Google Art Project by some local ARLIS/NA student chapter members), this conference is basically the Canadian answer to ALA and draws 5,000 registrants.

Speaking of, ALA Midwinter happened this past weekend as well, with roughly the same numbers flocking to Chicago. They had Jason Segel as a keynote speaker, while we had Welcome to Night Vale. It’s a toss-up, really.

ALA, of course, being that body that accredits those programs we’re taking, has measurably more weight in the profession. They’re neck-deep in campaigns for governing positions, including someone that champions lowering the admission rates to MLIS/MI programs to compensate for the underemployment problem, and someone who thinks librarians are “the best profession in the world.” Sigh. (You can see the debate recording here.) If you’re an ALA member, I strongly suggest you vote in the elections.

A hot topic in both conferences was the new information literacy standards being passed by the ACRL — or, rather, the Framework, as the new concepts are being billed. I did some ranting about this subject a while ago, but I’ll remind you that the ACRL Visual Literacy Standards from 2011 were built upon those original IL standards, which means we should expect a VL-specific interpretation of the Framework in the near future. I have been trying to mull over what those will entail, but, it’s been a busy winter so far. I’d love to hear about your ideas, in the comments! (My first guess is going to be a threshold concept of “the realization that you’re committing copyright infringement basically every time you go online.”)

Meanwhile, back in Toronto, I was finding that quite a few of the conference sessions I attended were hard-pressed to name an audience: a curious newbie, or a field specialist? Even sessions with “current trends” in the titles spent the majority of their time rehashing the basics. I definitely valued the technology demonstrations, and the guides to cataloguing in certain metadata schemes, but I think I’m too niche in my interests to find the bulk of presentations at big library conferences to be worthwhile. And some of the most interesting sessions happened concurrently, so I couldn’t sit in on the session on 3D printing and copyright without missing that Google Art Project discussion down the hall.

But on the upside, I got these awesome socks:

“Due Date Card” Library Socks from Out of Print

Digital stewardship and art librarianship

In the vein of “Hack your MLIS program: Art Librarianship,” we want to gage the interest of those of you who are working with digital collections (including visual resources) and those of you who want to work with digital collections in art librarianship.

For me, I knew I wanted to work with digital collections and digital projects, and luckily there was a digital librarianship track in my MLIS program. Integrating art librarianship into my track was not difficult with numerous digitization projects happening at museums, libraries, and archives. My current position involves cataloging digital collections (the visual resources collection included) and supervision of digitization projects.

Metadata is a big part of my job and there are a lot of opportunities to learn more about it outside of your MLIS program. However, it’s not just about understanding the multitude of different schemas/standards/vocabularies/ontologies/taxonomies/etc. but understanding crosswalks and how to represent the data in different languages. Currently, my workplace is migrating to Linked Open Data (LOD) and much of the field (both “traditional,” MARC-focused metadata and metadata for digital objects) is moving toward functionality with the semantic web. In order to keep up, I’m taking the Certificate in XML and RDF-Based Systems from Library Juice Academy. There is also the Mechanics of Metadata Series for those of you who might be interested.

Coursework preparation

What are you learning about managing/cataloging digital collections in your classes (or outside of your program)? What do you want to learn? Do you have a digital librarianship track or similar coursework requirements?

I only had one metadata class in my MLIS program but all of my other classes supplemented that knowledge with hands-on practice. There were also a variety of classes that dealt with cataloging items of cultural heritage or data management for larger data gathering projects. Most of what I know about metadata and managing digital collections came from my internships and jobs, however, where institutional standards and practices were also important considerations.

“Real world” preparation

What are you working on in your internships and/or positions? Do you feel prepared to enter the professional field? Or, were you prepared?

Also, many metadata and digital initiatives positions are requiring more technical knowledge, as well as experience with MARC and RDA cataloging. What do you think about this? My coursework and professional experienced has been geared towards management of digital objects with little experience cataloging books and other monographic items. Also, my IT classes were focused on web publishing and design rather than markup languages, which are necessary skills for metadata librarian positions!

Thoughts? Please let us know your experience and share any advice you have!

Art, Cultural Heritage, and Law

Having recently completed a thesis on copyright for cultural heritage, and started an archiving contract with a law firm, I felt reasonably confident about my grasp of most aspects legal of the GLAM field. (I have also read the Canada Evidence Act. A lot.)

Boy, was my face red when I discovered there is a Center for Cultural Heritage Law, that had somehow eluded all my research attempts. And similar think tanks, under various names, like the Institute for Art and Law. There is a very real legal sub-field, just for us!

The Center and the Institute have their respective blogs (mostly promotional, sometimes informative), issuing opinions and decrees on everything from: how Detroit’s bankruptcy relates to their art collections, the return of looted cultural property, tax exemptions and receipts for art, theft and forgery, copyright and originality, technology and privacy …. it’s all there.

The Center also publishes the Journal of Art, Technology, and Intellectual Property Law, which I am now bulk-downloading before I graduate and lose my database access. They’re even hosting a debate competition on changes to the Visual Artists’ Rights Act, in February 2015.

The American Bar Association has a committee (loosely associated with the Center) on Art and Cultural Heritage Law, and the Center also collaborates with the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (I’ve linked to their list of art-and-law courses offered by American universities, just in case you need an elective).

It looks to be an emerging field, and I question whether there is space within information-science programs to incorporate the numerous lessons that cultural heritage law can offer. In my experience, legal compliance was mentioned ambiguously in my records-management class, and copyright was alluded to in the introductory “information and society” course. But pursuing a more in-depth course of study on legal issues was left to independent credits.

Besides the legal angles of running a cultural heritage group / institution / consultancy / what-have-you, we obviously have an interest in questions such as whether Vivian Maier’s phenomenal photos are considered “property” in the case of defaulting on a storage locker (and whether copyright is a “property” included in a storage contract):

“… not only will a lot of Maier’s work be tied up in litigation for years, it may not be able to be reproduced in books or shown in art galleries until everything is said and done. This is beyond unfortunate, and, in many ways, not what copyright law was intended to do.”

Or how to deal with art forgeries in our collections:

“… the former registrar of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Matthew Leininger, one of the first museum professionals to latch on to Landis’s faked donations, but whose obsession with his nemesis led to his eventual dismissal and whose young daughter can readily identify the subject of her father’s crusade with a disturbing familiarity.”

Or where our work sits on the line between intellectual freedoms, privacy, and protection from “hostile work environments:”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Minneapolis Area Office, issued a Determination that the Minneapolis Public Library subjected librarians employed by the library to a “sexually hostile work environment” in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for maintaining a policy of unrestricted Internet access.

(I also zipped through this long-form about rare book theft last week, which has some hilariously botched sting operations, among other things.)

Let me know about your program in the comments — does your project management class discuss insurance, appraisals, and liability? Do you talk about salaries and working conditions in the field, and delve into issues of gender parity and harassment, workplace health and safety (like breathing mould), or academic rights and freedoms? Could you write an acceptable term paper on the issues surrounding the indexing and return of looted art (and how linked data could aid this work in the future)? Or the contract issues around hiring an independent conservator? Or what happens when collections merge, as in the Corcoran, or the Glenbow? Or a comparative look at legal environments for cultural heritage work across the world?

August 19th: #SLATalk tackles entrepreneurship

Short notice, but the Twitter-advice-fest that is #SLATalk is happening tomorrow, August 19th at 3:00 pm EDT – 4:00pm EDT. As it’s pursuant to some of the other content [I made] on this blog, I thought I’d pass it along!

#SLAtalk: Trailblazing! Info Pros and the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Join @SLAhq and the Association of Independent Information Professionals (@AIIP) for an hour-long Twitter chat about what it takes to be a trailblazing information professional. Whether you are already an independent info pro, looking for a career change or are leading the pack from within your company, share how you exemplify an entrepreneurial spirit within your industry.
Tuesday, August 19th from 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm EDT
What time is that where you are? http://time.is/compare

 

►        New to doing a Twitter chat? Take a look at “How to #SLAtalk” http://www.sla.org/slatalk-plus-slatalk-archives/

►        Follow @SLAhq and @AIIP – and use hashtag #SLAtalk to be a part of the conversation!

 

Q1       (first 15 minutes)        Talk about an entrepreneurial break-through moment in your career. If you own your own research business, how did you win your first client? If you provide in-house services to a company, how did you “sell” your services to an important member of the organization? Or, how did you gain the support needed to undertake an important project?

Q2       (second 15 minutes)    Personal branding. Whether you work independently or in-house, how do you make yourself known? More than just marketing, how do you be a self-starting, risk tolerant and just an all-around go-getter in order to be a trailblazing info pro?

Q3       (third 15 minutes)       If you’re thinking about making the leap into the independent info pro world, what tips or advice would you like to know? If you are already independent, what would you tell someone new to your professional community?

Q4       (fourth 15 minutes)     What are some best practices to having an entrepreneurial spirit? What are some skills, mantras or attitudes one can create and maintain for themselves in order to keep the spirit alive?

Can’t join us live on Twitter? Check the SLA Blog’s #SLAtalk category for the recap which will be posted following the session.

≪ Professional Development Reading List Klaxon
Brush up on what it means to be an entrepreneur with some of these articles below:

Information and Visual Literacy, Academic Rigor, and Professional Skepticism: some conference cogitations

This summer I had to cancel a job interview. (Sacrilege, I know!) It was especially unfortunate because the interview would’ve required a presentation and a web-tool showcase, which I was excited to perform — it’s nice to have a structured interview that you can prepare for practically. The presentation would have been on essential information-literacy skills for first-year college students, and I was planning on using a bit of humour and cultural reference as an attack plan.

Specifically, I think students (and web-users at large) would benefit from holding up Sherlock Holmes as their spirit animal: use a bit of skepticism and plenty of attention to detail, and work hard to connect all the dots, no matter how disparate things seem at first [1]. Context is everything, and reading (everything — new stories, academic studies, and statistics-laden infographics) needs to be analytic and critical. I won’t offer any contemporary examples, for fear of digressing into those discussions, but let’s all be aware of the general state of misinformation and gullibility in the world (or, I dunno, trusting the “true story” claim at the beginning of Fargo?).

You thought I was going to put up Cumberbatch, didn’t you.

Lots of people have been discussing information literacy online lately, and I’ve been mulling on it as well. I  missed the visual literacy session at ARLIS/NA this year, because I was at the information literacy MOOC session next door, where I brainstormed some alternative MOOC models (universal design, anyone?). Perhaps those of you who attended the visual-lit session can fill me in on which “real-world [library] examples of how ACRL’s visual literacy guidelines have been implemented” were shared, and whether any suggestions were made as to how to supplement the ACRL guidelines with library-specific instructions (is there a forthcoming ARLIS/NA occasional paper on this? There should be).

One question I’ve been pondering since then is how to incorporate research methods and scientific rigor lessons into information and visual literacy — how to make Sherlocks of us all. I’m sure we all took a (strenuous / boring) research methods class in the MLIS program; for me it was a repetition of the undergraduate research methods I learned as part of a psych minor. Every time you consult a data-collection study, you still have to ask: did they use a control group? Did they control for conflating variables? Are they making assumptions about causation, or drawing one of many possible conclusions? Was there a replicating study? Were the survey questions priming, or compound? Did they set their sights on statistical significance? My MLIS-level research course didn’t really enforce these obvious questions, although we all tried our hand at evaluating a study or two for rigor.

I thoroughly enjoyed the "criticisms" section of my article-evaluation assignment.
I thoroughly enjoyed the “criticisms” section of my article-evaluation assignment.

It’s being generally acknowledged that LIS / GLAM scholarly work has a relatively low standard of scientific rigor: we don’t replicate studies, we generally only survey an easily-accessible demographic (i.e. college students), and our studies are designed less to further intelligent work in our field and more to push academic librarians into tenure. We could point to a number of problems: peer reviewers with no skills in research analysis, the general left-hand/right-hand divide in LIS between practitioners and academics, and professional associations that don’t push hard enough for presentations and publications that span our full profession. If we’re no good at research methods, how will we impart these skills to our patrons?

The contemporary debate has scared me off using the word “rigor” at all, for fear of it being taken for the opposite of “diversity,” as it seems to have been co-opted lately. Rigor in a strict statistical sense transcends demographics; “rigor” used in reference to higher-education skill-sets could absolutely use some work, but that’s really more of a bad-teachers problem in my thinking. Universities have plenty of resources for academic writing, tutoring, disability accommodations, ESL upgrading, computer lessons, etc., if only students were being made aware of their shortfalls through teacher interaction and feedback.

Libraries are doing essential work in both supplementary education for students with shortfalls and in instructional design for teachers, which should include some basic lessons in how to assess students for these problems, and get them working up to speed before final marking. Is there space for librarians to provide supplementary instruction in not just information literacy and research rigor, but in visual and media literacy as well — and to target students who need that training most?

The number of high-school grads that go to post-secondary tends to hover around the 68% mark in recent years, meaning that, if we can educate every college student in basic info- or visual-literacy, we can put a huge dent into general gullibility and increase the knowledge of intelligent research methods. (I couldn’t begin to imagine how to insert this education into secondary school, but if you have suggestions or resources to share, I’m all ears.) And the sooner we plant the seeds of good scientific design, the sooner we’ll see a general improvement in scholarly output — or at least more articles admitting their limitations and mistakes from the get-go.

But this is all, literally, academic. How do we get information-literacy education out into the public, especially when most popular news outlets seem to benefit directly from a lack of critical thinking? More specifically, how do arts librarians working in visual literacy and media literacy help to educate both their patrons and the public at large — especially if visual literacy skills are universally important but we only get access to arts students?

If you haven’t read the ACRL Visual Literacy Standards, here they are (2011). ARLIS/NA has also put out standards and competencies for information literacy competencies (2007) and instruction (2002). As it stands, it’s our job to (not only teach basic info-lit, but also) hand out lessons on copyright and plagiarism, good design and accessibility, data visualization (and how it can mislead!), image-editing detective work (which invariably leads to an addiction to Photoshop Disasters), and everything from technical evaluation (“how true is the digital colour to the original?”) to art-education evaluation (“what period/genre is this from?”) and semiotics / semantics / cultural theory diversions. Skepticism and rigor in visual literacy could, I predict, lead to everything from a higher interest in art and design among the general populace, to better body image (“Nobody is that beautiful without airbrushing!”) and consumer ethics (“I’d better not buy this plagiarizing pillow“). And sometimes it’s just about getting the joke.

Let’s play “name the reference.”

Information literacy might need a bit of a rebrand: like taking a technology class at your library, lots of people aren’t willing to admit they could use a refresher or don’t really get the underlying principles behind their daily use. As usual, the best policy seems to be “Get ’em while they’re young,” and making digital / media literacy and scientific rigor a base part of public education — a required seminar for all first-year college students, at least.

Can art librarians design a quick, fun, painless way to lay out the pitfalls and consequences of being design-dumb? Are the threats of bad website navigation, low-resolution printing, inadvertent copyright infringement, and lack of accessibility important enough to get bureaucratic and financial support? Or will the information-literacy MOOCs fall by the wayside, underused and unacknowledged?

[FYI: ARLIS/NA has an Academic Division (who worked with the ACRL VL Taskforce), a Visual Resources Committee, and a Teaching SIG, but no ongoing groups working on visual literacy specifically, or any published plans to update the 2007 info-lit guidelines. I have yet to hear about collaborations with the International Visual Literacy Assocation, or similar bodies, but if you know of any, post a comment! Maybe it’s time for a little ARLIS/NA visual literacy focus … ]

 

1: I have always been confused by Sherlock’s use of “deduction” — isn’t he using induction, to take the clues in front of his face and construct a narrative, rather than beginning from a premise and eliminating possible outcomes? If someone can give me a mnemonic or something, I would greatly appreciate it. Says he:

“Let me run over the principal steps. We approached the case, you remember, with an absolutely blank mind, which is always an advantage. We had formed no theories. We were simply there to observe and to draw inferences from our observations.”

– Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box

On Freelancing and Contracting: some conference cogitations

I spent the end of June in beautiful, temperate, layers-friendly Victoria, BC, attending the Association of Canadian Archivists’ annual conference. It was amazing, scary, inspiring, and weirdly comfortable — no business cards were exchanged, but plenty of people wanted to gush about ideas.

I presented on the student panel between two very intelligent and articulate colleagues — my presentation was, let’s say, a bit more informal than theirs, but I think it went well. It was gratifying to hear some of my sentiments echoed in the closing plenary by Laura Millar. The main point I ended my student presentation on, which was picked up again by Millar, was the idea that the archiving profession needs to delve into freelancing models of employment.

This theme has been covered by the usual GLAM publishers (HLS on freelancing librarians; Hiring Librarians on contract work; INALJ on freelancing) — as has, of course, the dearth of cushy, steady, benefits-laden jobs you can hold for thirty years (or at least until all our icons and role models retire). I haven’t seen much discussion on how to freelance in art libraries or art archives, but I’d like to think there’s plenty of project work to be done in preserving and cataloguing artists’ files, implementing digital asset management, developing metadata schemes or collections mandates, digitization, publishing and reproductions management, exhibits and auctions, conservation for artists’ books….

My presentation focused on diverse and underrepresented communities that have media-collecting and -preserving needs not being met by institutionalized archiving systems. I focused on virtual communities (because social-network websites are where the best media are being collected, obviously), which meant that everything archival got put into a very technological framework.

I tried not to scare anyone off with the fear of archiving in the digital age (“Imagine you work for a historical society that has collected materials from each and every single resident of the town,” I suggested, to get a scope of the problem/potential of virtual communities), but I’m afraid it’s a very real part of the future of the profession, especially as we start moving from digitization projects to interface design for presenting our materials.

Bringing information-professional skills and techniques to your average website-builder or community-organizer is likely a consultancy task: you start with assessment, then they find enough money for implementation, you make some recommendations for maintenance, and eventually every community or arts group has an archivist-on-call, or a librarian for a half-day a week.

That means we all juggle multiple clients and bounce from one deadline to the next. Many people do not find this a very rosy picture of the industry’s future. Then again, there are those of us that can’t imagine working the same full-time processing or reference job day in and day out.

There are definitely ways to do it right. I’ll be interviewing some freelancing and entrepreneur archivists and librarians in the near future, on this blog, so you can see for yourselves. There’s even an association for independent information professionals, and plenty of opportunities for mentorship, entrepreneurial bootcamps, start-up funding, and guides to the legal and financial steps to declaring yourself a businesswoman.

Ideally, I’d love to do private archiving with artists — which is never high-paying. It tends only to happen when the artist is anticipating an eventual donation of their records to an institution — there, the benefit of getting things organized beforehand is the tax credit offered upon appraisal (in Canada, anyways). While an artist or arts group may want to get the job done, the money, often, simply isn’t there.

[Ironically, I just found contract archiving work in the private sector, which is not exactly walking-the-walk, but maybe I’ll have time for some pro-bono projects with individuals and non-profits. Stay tuned!]

I’m interested to know everyone’s thoughts. There were lots of nodding heads when Millar said it, but I still felt a bit radical suggesting it myself (ah, what the confidence a thirty-year career could give!).

What do you think: are librarians and archivists destined for lots of part-time, contract-based, multi-tasking jobs, helping everyone manage unique information needs? Or will the majority of us find the full-time, paid-vacation unicorn we dream of? Is there a balance between the two?

More scarily: will freelancing mean we all have to learn how to administer databases and provide cut-rate graphic design services? Is there a way to freelance in GLAM-related work that isn’t technologically dependent?