A Success Story: An Interview with Molly Schoen

Molly Schoen works as a Visual Resources Curator at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She was kind enough to answer a few questions and tell us more about her work and experience!

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

It all started in my undergrad years (at Michigan State University), when I got a part-time job working in the Government Documents library. I found that I really enjoyed getting things in order, like cleaning up messy catalog records. And I loved the tactile nature of the work, too: bone folders, label makers, tattle tape and date stamps! I was getting a Bachelor’s in English but didn’t know what to do with it, so I decided to go to library school. I ended up getting accepted in to Wayne State University’s Fine & Performing Arts Librarian program, which was great because I’ve always been interested in art and music.

After getting my MLIS, I worked part-time at a collection of modern and contemporary black art in Flint, MI. Three years later, I got a full-time position at the University of Michigan, in their Visual Resources Collections. The experience from that job helped me land my current position of Visual Resources Curator at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, NY. I’ve been working here for a year and a half now, and I love it!

What does a typical day at work look like for you?
A typical day for me depends on what time of year it is. Right now, in the middle of the summer semester, there’s hardly anyone around. So I use this time to really get in the zone and catch up on image orders, where our History of Art faculty request images they need for teaching. I also assist faculty on their projects, such as building databases and other online resources.

Things are busier during the academic year. Along with our department technician, we will make sure our HA classrooms are up-to-date and advocate for upgrades. I also present one-shot sessions on visual literacy to various classes throughout the university, showing students how to find and use visual media ethically and efficiently. Because FIT is full of artistic students, I’ll demonstrate strategies to safeguard their own work and answer copyright questions. I’ve also worked on securing publishing rights for images a professor wanted to include in a book she was writing.

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market?
Volunteer and get a wide variety of experience under your belt. I finished grad school in 2009, which was not exactly the best time to be looking for a job. I was worried I wouldn’t find anything in the art libraries field, so I volunteered at the reference desk of a public library to get additional experience. I had volunteered at the Visual Resources Collections at U of M before I was hired there, and that really helped me land the full-time gig.

I would also say not to discount service industry jobs. I used to be really shy, and waiting tables and working in retail helped me get over that. These kinds of jobs may seem unrelated to library work, but they demonstrate to employers that you can handle conflict and think on your feet.

What were/are some challenges for you as a new art librarian? Are these related to larger challenges in art librarianship?
I think staying on top of technology is always a challenge. As a librarian, I want to be able to recommend the best products and resources for our faculty and students to use. That also ties into a larger challenge faced by our profession: justifying our work to administrators looking to slash budgets. People have asked me, why do we need libraries now when there’s Google? That’s like saying why do we need doctors when there’s WebMD? Google will bring you a million results; a librarian will find you the right one.

Tell us something fun about yourself! What do you do in your spare time?
In my spare time I like to oil paint and play guitar!

The Artist/Librarian: An interview with Kylie Schmitt

Kylie Schmitt, Digital Technician at the Frick Art Reference Library, at her computer workstation.

As art librarians we obviously have an affinity for the visual and creative arts.  In fact many of us found our field by starting originally as artists.  Kylie Schmitt, an early professional at the Frick Art Reference Library, is both librarian and artist.  She shares more information about her work as an information professional and as a practicing artist.

What is your current position? 

Digital Technician

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

On a day-to-day basis I perform quality assurance (QA) on our digitization projects’ TIF and PDF files; I create workflows for our digitization and QA processes; manage our digitization and QA team; maintain, organize, & backup files within our DAMS and local drives; officiate digitization requests; and report on progress of digitization projects numerically.

Tell us about what a typical work day looks like for you.

On a typical day I’ll start with some QA. Throughout the day I’ll manage others doing QA, answer questions, and troubleshoot issues that we have come across. I also will monitor if we have any digitization requests and by the end of the day I’ll have probably done some organization of files either on our DAMS or on a local drive.

What does quality assurance mean in your field?

Quality assurance is a process that all digital materials go through before they can be approved to go public. The process entails putting another set of eyes on digitized items to make sure all of our digital file standards are met. Our standards range from file size/resolution standards based on Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI), to making sure nothing foreign accidentally made it into the frame.

Can you describe one of your favorite digitization projects that you have worked on?

Each project takes quite a while to complete, however, I think I like our American School Digitization project best because as someone working on it you get to look at American art all day.

What is your educational background? How did you come into librarianship as a field?

I received my Bachelor’s in Studio art, concentrating in photography. After working in the fine art and advertising worlds, I realized it wasn’t for me, but I still wanted to stay in the arts. I worked at the Marymount Manhattan library while attended as an undergrad student and thought I should combine my enjoyment of the library with my passion for the arts so I went back to school and received my Master’s in Library Science.

What type of artwork do you primarily do?

Photography and ceramics.

How did you get into photography and ceramics?

When I was 10 years old my dad gave me my first camera. It was his manual film camera and he taught me how to use the aperture and shutter settings. I’ve been taking pictures ever since then but didn’t develop and print my own work until I went to Maine Media Workshops after high school. I took ceramics in grade school and was in pottery club, but then it wasn’t available in high school so I didn’t go back to it until I was in college where I fell in love with it again.

Does the your library work influence your artwork? What about vice-versa?

I don’t use a digital camera in my artwork which probably has to do with the fact that I work on a computer all day at the library. I do gain inspiration from seeing so many pieces of art at work on a daily basis.

So can you describe the medium of the image you are sharing?

This piece is a cyanotype, a form of photographic process. No camera, or negative was used; instead I used organic materials directly on paper, coated with a light sensitive cyan medium, as a contact print.

Photograph of a plant negative
Meristem, 2015
Cyanotype
Kylie Schmitt

Who are your artistic influences?

The f/64 group for sure, and Georgia O’Keeffe

Tell us more about the f/64 group?

The f/64 group was formed in the 1930s. They are a group of San Francisco photographers including Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Imogen Cunningham, to name a few. At the time the popular photographic style was pictorial, so this group of photographers formed based on their modern aesthetic. The term f/64 is a small aperture size that allows for a clearer focus throughout the image and greater depth of field. The aperture setting f/64 is used in the straight photography that the group was known for.

Who is your favorite artist?

Edward Weston

Do you have art on your walls? What kind?

I do. Mostly photographs – old prints found at thrift stores, and some nature photography (one being an Ansel Adams of course), but no original pieces by artists themselves. I hope to one day invest in some original works after I save up.

As a new professional in the field what is one thing you wish you had known before you graduated?

I wish I knew how digital and technical the library world is becoming.

What advice can you give to someone in library school who wants to do the kind of work you are doing?

I think for my work, experience is everything. I would say my best advice would be to do as many internships as you can, to build up experience and to network.

Conversation with Claire Kennedy: Librarians in the Art Studio

Claire Kennedy

Following her thought-provoking talk at ARLIS, “Artist in the Library: A Case Study”, in which she touched on the underexplored applications of LIS training in a studio environment, we wanted to follow up with Claire Kennedy, formerly the Librarian and Archivist for John Baldessari, to discuss further.

First, can you briefly discuss your current position and some of your main day-to-day responsibilities and priorities?

Actually my current position is Gallery Archivist at L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice, California. I was just hired, as of a month ago. Before this recent change, I worked for the artist John Baldessari as his full-time Librarian and Archivist.

What is your educational background?

I have a degree in Anthropology and an MLIS degree, both from UCLA. In between my two degrees I spent about six years working and taking a few classes here and there. I would recommend to anyone interested in diversifying their training to look into taking a class in something like project management.

Did you “hack” your library degree in order to prepare you for working directly with artists?

No, I didn’t. My background is in rare books and manuscripts. I worked in Special Collections libraries at UCLA, the Huntington and with private book dealers and collectors before working for John. I think the best thing you can do while in an MLIS program is to take all the technology classes you can. Take UX design, or web development if you can. Take archiving classes if you want to be a librarian and take cataloging if you are training to be an archivist.

Can you talk a little bit about ways that you draw on the more conventional aspects of your LIS education? And what are some things you’ve had to learn on your own?

I think the most conventional skills I have used working for John were cataloging books, applying preservation knowledge to re-housing paper-based and photographic archival materials, record retention scheduling and the research skills I picked up in my degree program and working in libraries. As far as the skills I had to learn on my own, I had to learn about how to track auctions, gather provenance information, become familiar with the production and exhibition schedules of an art studio and the needs of John’s production staff. In the private world, you learn how to assess and serve the needs and priorities of your employer. In the MLIS program, it is sometimes taken for granted that everyone will eventually be working in a Public or University library setting. Its too bad that the private working world isn’t discussed more.

What would you consider the most rewarding parts of your job, and what are your biggest challenges as an information professional in a nontraditional environment?

I think the biggest challenge was learning how to communicate the needs of the archive and library to people who aren’t also librarians. I had spent most of my career around like-minded library staff who understood perfectly where I was coming from when I spoke about bone-folders and bindings. When I was the only MLIS working amongst artists, I discovered that I had to learn how to communicate more clearly about the needs of the minutiae of the library and archive. Initially I was out of my comfort zone.

What is a typical day like for you?

Working for John, I purchased and cataloged books, documented artwork in the database, created condition reports for artwork coming in and going out of the studio, performed research for outside reference inquiries, I tracked auctions and processed reproduction requests. There were always new tasks and projects popping up every day. Sometimes I wore multiple hats, where I was helping the production manager move large artwork around the studio, or running errands to lend a hand. We all worked together in the studio to get the job done.

During your talk in Fort Worth, you alluded to the fact that artists often have a need for people with LIS training, but they’re either not aware of the field or not able to articulate their needs using LIS language, so the two communities aren’t connected.

In your opinion, what is the impact of those jobs being filled by people who lack LIS training?

I think that LIS training is essential to perform the meticulous, detail oriented work that we are asked to do. Database management, creating and tracking inventories, cataloging books and other objects, performing research, maintaining any type of project schedule, etc. I believe there are “archivists” and “librarians” out there hired to do this kind of work who don’t have the training, skills and experience we do. As a result, I suspect there are some messes being made. Ultimately we are experts at preserving things and making them retrievable. In a world where there is so much being produced, digitally and physically, our skillset is an incredible asset. All we need to do is promote ourselves! How can we do this? Let’s work together to make ourselves invaluable!

Is there a community of information professionals who work with practicing artists? And how can interested ArLiSNAPers (and others) get involved?

That’s a great question! I don’t think so. I could be wrong, but I am not familiar with any group in Los Angeles. As the Southern California Chapter Chair, along with the chapter’s Vice-Chair Ben Lee Ritchie Handler, I want to reach out to all the archivists and librarians (professional or not) to form a network. We can all help each other, put together show-and-tells as well as workshops.

Do you have any advice for bridging the awareness gap between the two communities?

To be honest, I recommend joining your local ARLIS chapter and being very proactive! Cold email anyone who is working in creative spaces in your area and set up a visit for your chapter. Ask to interview local artists for your local chapter’s blog or website. Start communicating with a local gallery and offer your contact information in case any of the artists they represent need any assistance with their archive or documenting their work. Go to art gallery openings and start meeting people. Build your own resources.

Do you have any tips for job-seekers on how to approach artists about their information and content management needs?

I guess I answered this question above. But my biggest piece of advice is to put yourself out there. Email artists and tell them what you can do for them.

Interview with an Art Librarian: Kim Collins, Emory University

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a typical day like for you?

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

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

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

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

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

Data Management – digital image metadata, etc.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Conversation with Erinn Paige and Laura Damon-Moore of The Library as Incubator Project (Part 2)

In this second part of my interview Erinn Paige and Laura Damon-Moore of The Library as Incubator Project we talk about makerspaces and more.

Tell me about your involvement with makerspaces and the class that you teach on the subject.

Laura: We came to the conversation about maker spaces pretty early on, and I would say that our main function was and continues to be as a clearinghouse for stories ABOUT maker spaces in libraries. We are by no means the only clearinghouse/info-sharing hub out there on that topic. I think the makerspace discussion fits really well with the LAIP’s focus on hands-on, self-directed, participatory learning, and we consider maker programs a key part of the “arts-incubating” library. Our online course, the Makerspace Mindset (which runs through University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies Continuing Ed), operates in a similar way that the LAIP does as a whole–it’s a place for story sharing, practical how-to’s, professional development, and lots of discussion about how to approach maker programs and resources in a way that makes sense for your library and your community. Scalabilty is a big thing that we talk about–how a small library can make meaningful maker programming happen without space, time, or extra money.

Erinn: I think the exciting thing about makerspaces in libraries is that it definitely fits into the basic mission of providing access to information, but there aren’t a lot of best practices set in stone yet.  Makerspaces are an exciting service model because they really push libraries toward that platonic ideal of information life cycle– people don’t just consume information in a makerspace, they create new information in the form of new stuff. They learn skills by applying them directly to a project.  I think Laura’s point about scalability speaks directly to the idea that this is new-ish territory for libraries (though the conversation about active learning models has been raging for awhile in education)– there are hundreds of ways to create a space for this kind of information exchange in a library setting.

Are maker programs finding their way into academic art libraries? Which should we take note of?

Laura: They definitely are happening. We’ve published some neat examples on our website. I LOVE the Hatchery, a web resource published by the Glasgow School of Art Library which documents the myriad ways that the GSA Art Library incubates the work of artists at GSA and beyond.  We also were lucky enough to visit the Rakow Research Library at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY this January. This amazing research library is doing a lot to support hands-on learning and making.

These examples said, I’d love to hear MORE from academic art libraries about maker programs that they’re hosting–I know there’s a lot happening and we’d love to share it, of course!

What do you think are the most important issues facing the arts in libraries today?

Erinn:  Communication.  Both libraries and arts organizations need a crash course in advocacy and PR.  Essentially, you take what you do, and you re-phrase it in the language that politicians speak.  This is a no-brainer, and it clearly works, and yet libraries and arts orgs seem to perpetually struggle with it.  If you’re only talking about what you believe in in terms that make sense to you, you’re preaching to the choir.  You have to communicate it to others in the context that means the most to them.

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

Erinn: My favorite library is the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main, which is in the Oakland neighborhood in Pittsburgh and is in this fabulous, monolithic building along with the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History.  The windows in the upper level stacks look out onto the dinosaur exhibits. Plus, the people who work there are incredibly smart and are doing great things.

Laura: I will always have a soft spot for the library in my hometown, Mount Vernon, Iowa. It is a funky library; the Mount Vernon Public Library collection is housed in the basement of Russell D. Cole Library, the academic library on the Cornell College campus. Growing up I thought it was totally natural to be going to watch a puppet show or to check out picture books in the same library where college students were checking out their books and writing research papers.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Erinn:  Follow us!  We have a small social media empire and we share great content and ideas from arts-incubating librarians all across the country and the world.  We’d love to talk to you and find out more about what you’re excited about at the intersection of art and libraries.

Laura: Definitely that we want to hear from you and work with you to tell your arts + library stories!

Conversation with Erinn Paige and Laura Damon-Moore of The Library as Incubator Project (Part 1)

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Erinn Paige (left) and Laura Damon-Moore (right) are at the helm of The Library as Incubator Project. I recently talked with them about LAIP and their other endeavors.

What is Library As Incubator Project and what motivated you to embark on this adventure?

Laura: At this point, the Library as Incubator Project is a multifaceted information sharing machine. We continue to exist online, through our primary website and in social media neighborhoods. We’ve been lucky enough to publish a book based on and extending the work we do online. We also exist in “real life” through public presentations, professional development workshops, and in-person programs that we do for libraries and other cultural institutions.

At the most basic level, the LAIP began as a way to explore the connection between libraries and creative people. Erinn and I came to Library and Information services with backgrounds in the humanities and creative arts. So the LAIP started as a way to explore the connection of creativity, information, and community, to see how it happens formally and informally in the library setting, and then, because we were hearing so many great stories, we knew we had to share them with a wider audience.

What were/are some challenges and rewards in running Library As Incubator Project?

Erinn: It is a constant challenge to juggle a full time job and the LAIP, which could easily be a full time job in and of itself.  We’re both also artists in our own right (hence our interest in the library-arts connection), and supporting a creative life while sharing stories of other people’s creative lives can be a challenge too!

But the place that the whole project sprang from is an elegant support– it’s that egalitarian, helpful library space, AND it’s that hands-on creative space that you find in a studio environment.  We’re very project oriented, and so Laura and I and our team will take on individual LAIP projects that interest us, and when we hit obstacles, we have a whole team who can offer critique, just like you get in a studio:  what’s working, what isn’t, techniques that could help, skills and resources to apply. By the same token, we also really support one another in our creative pursuits.

Laura: I wish we had more time and more resources to do more, more, more! It was definitely a challenge to settle into a routine as we all graduated and juggled job stuff plus the LAIP. For a while it felt like there were a lot of balls up in the air and we were sort of scrambling to sort out who would catch which one as they fell.

Rewards have got to be the community that has developed around the LAIP. This ranges from our teammates, Katie and Holly, to our awesome site post contributors (cough cough, Rebecca, cough) to the people that we connect with on social media and in person at programs and conferences. When we go visit institutions and talk with people, people are generally excited to talk with us, but WE get so much MORE excited hearing about the amazing programs and partnerships people have going on. It’s the best and absolutely why I keep working on this.

What are your “day jobs” and how do they integrate with managing Library As Incubator Project?

Erinn: I’m the Programing Librarian at New Canaan Library in New Canaan Connecticut, which is a relatively new position for me– I just started in 2014.

Although the actual work of running the Library as Incubator Project ( web building, editing, writing, social media, presentations and conferences, etc etc) all happens on my own time, the philosophical underpinnings that guide our work on the LAIP transfer directly to programming librarianship– namely, that information isn’t always something that you can collect and slap a barcode on in order to provide access.  There’s a very real body of “creative information” (for lack of a better term) that can only be accessed in real-world connections: conversations with experts, hands-on learning opportunities, etc. Learning by doing.  Apprenticeship.

Working on the Library as Incubator Project has proven, again and again, that Libraries are central to not just an information exchange (resource –> person), but an information life cycle— people learn, people use what they learn to make something new; that new thing sparks conversation and more learning and more making and more sharing.  Through the Incubator, I’ve seen proof that we can be the alpha and omega of that life cycle, and I bring that ideal to work every day.  That’s what I want my library to be.

Laura: I am the Assistant Director at a small public library in Evansville, Wisconsin, just outside of Madison. My position focuses on Programming and Outreach, mainly with families and youth. I do everything from facilitating early literacy programs to running after school activities to planning and hosting special community programs on weekends, inside and outside of the library.

From a practical standpoint, I am able to integrate LAIP work into my routine pretty easily – I am 80% in my position at the library, so I have one weekday off where I can focus on other things, and luckily, at this point, the LAIP has become a natural part of my weekly rhythm and routine.

Like Erinn, the LAIP has done a lot in terms of directing the way that I approach my job philosophically. It’s about making a space where people feel welcome to explore, learn something new, experiment, fail, try it again, share their work, help others. From another practical standpoint, the LAIP means that we hear about a lot of awesome new initiatives and program ideas. It’s like a smorgasboard of creative arts programming that I get to pick and choose from, depending on what will work best for my community.

Be sure to catch part two of our conversation here tomorrow!

A Success Story: An Interview with Lindsey Reynolds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a typical day like for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Success Story: Interview with new art librarian Ashley Peterson

Our awesome Student Liaison, Ashley Peterson, has been in her position at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for a little over a year and has offered to share some her job seeking/post-MLIS survival advice!

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

I have a BA in Art History, and focused on art librarianship and visual resources-related courses in my MLS program. Upon graduation, I had designs on a job in reference in some sort of academic or museum art library, but it being 2008 I was grateful to land even a non-reference, non-art related full-time professional position. After five years of working in access services at a teeny-tiny women’s liberal arts college and a slightly less tiny college focused on early childhood education and social work, last October I finally snagged my dream job: instruction, research, and visual resources librarian at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

 

How did you get your current job? Do you have any job-hunting advice?

Do I ever! During my grad program, in addition to seeking out courses that would prepare me for art librarianship/VR, I was a member and then co-chair of an art library student interest group. We had a close relationship with the local ARLIS/NA chapter, which provided lots of great networking opportunities. When I didn’t find an art library job immediately after graduation, I used a few strategies to stay current with the field and the local professional community: incorporating elements of art librarianship into my non-art-related job, and volunteering. I was fortunate to work for institutions with small staffs, as this afforded me the opportunity to take on some reference and instruction responsibilities in addition to my day-to-day in access services. In both of my post-graduation professional jobs I positioned myself as the art history and studio art subject specialist (never mind that there were only about two or three such classes taught during any given semester!), which entailed creating subject guides, teaching library instruction sessions, meeting with students working on art/art history-related assignments, and selecting resources for the library’s collection.

Drawing on contacts I made during my graduate program, I also volunteered with the library at the SMFA Boston. I mostly worked remotely, helping to create and maintain subject guides, and had lots of great conversations with the librarians there about their work. After a few years a new position was created, I applied, and here I am today!

This is, of course, eliding all of the times I unsuccessfully applied and interviewed for art librarian jobs over the five years between graduation and landing my current position. For most job seekers this is a part of the landscape, and I think it’s important to see each position you don’t get as a learning opportunity (difficult to do when you’re in the trenches, I know). On some occasions when I was not a successful candidate, I even contacted search committee members to ask what sort of qualifications or skill sets would better-prepare me for future job opportunities. I got some excellent feedback!

So in sum, my advice is: maintain and grow your professional contacts, try to incorporate elements of art librarianship into whatever work you’re currently doing, be willing to work for free if necessary, and keep applying!

 

What are your main roles/duties at your current position? What is a typical day like for you?

I am one of three full-time staff members at my library, and as you’d imagine our positions overlap a great deal. My primary areas of responsibility are information/visual literacy instruction, research assistance, and visual resources collection development. Over the summer and into this fall semester, I have mostly been focused on building a website for the library using LibGuides, developing foundational information literacy sessions for the first-year English program, and populating our library’s instance of Artstor Shared Shelf with images from our print holdings in contemporary art. A typical day doesn’t really exist, but I can always count on stumbling across some piece of treasure from our artist book, rare book, or even circulating collections and having some great conversations with students and colleagues.

 

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

This is not at all unique to art librarianship, and is true of all library jobs I’ve had: communicating a library’s value to stakeholders is incredibly essential. Speaking from an academic setting, it’s fantastic to have the support of the students and faculty whose work is directly impacted by library services, but it can be challenging to convey this to the people who control the budgets. I am incredibly fortunate to work with some very passionate, talented, and dedicated people and for a director who is a tireless advocate for our library, and yet we still run into the occasional “Why do we even HAVE a library? It’s all online!” I think fighting the good fight entails doing excellent work and then communicating the heck out of it, in whatever way suits your institutional and personal style.

 

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

Bits & books! Tech skills are of course important, though I do think the recent “Every librarian should learn to code!” mantra is a bit overstated. Instead I am an absolute believer in technological literacy: be fluent in the technologies you use day to day, and be aware of technologies that may help you in the future, or are useful elsewhere in the field. This is where keeping up-to-date with library blogs and professional literature comes in handy!

One thing that surprised me about art librarianship is the vagaries of the art book market and the importance of buying print volumes before their value explodes (which doesn’t always happen, of course– but better to not take the chance!). Print is still important to an art library collection to an extent that is no longer the case in most general collections. The ebook issue is no less present, but at least for the time being print is still queen when it comes to lavishly illustrated monographs, exhibition catalogs, catalogues raisonnés, and other such essential components of a quality collection.

Finally, get out there and immerse yourself in the local arts scene! I’m always thrilled when something I’ve encountered or someone I’ve met at a show, performance, exhibition, etc. sparks my thinking about a project at work, or comes in handy when I least expect it.

 

What do you do in your spare time?

No one ever tells you this, but being a relatively settled adult in your early 30’s without kids, and especially when most of your friends also don’t have kids, is kind of like a second adolescence (uhh, in a good way). My husband and I love meeting friends for crafty cocktails & beers, going to shows, taking leisurely bike rides to places that serve hot dogs with ridiculous toppings, traveling, taking on overly ambitious cooking projects, and watching intense and/or goofy TV shows with our cat. I’m also an occasional knitter and a voracious reader, lest I lose my librarian cred.

 

Have questions for Ashley or want to hear more? Join us for our virtual conference, Visualizing the Future: New Perspectives in Art Librarianship, on January 17th when she will be featured on the roundtable session of new professionals!

This is a part of the “Success Story” series of interviews. If you would like to share your story, please contact the discussion team.

A Success Story: Interview with new art librarian Mackenzie Salisbury

An active ARLIS/NA and ArLiSNAP member, Mackenzie Salisbury, recently accepted her first art librarian position at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum! We asked her to share her journey from having staff and non-traditional art librarian positions to her new job,  as well as any helpful advice.  You can connect with Mackenzie on her LinkedIn profile.

interviewphoto1

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

Art librarianship snuck up on me. My first job as an undergraduate was in the slide library in the Art History department at the University of Maine. It was perhaps my favorite job in college, but never really thought of it as a “library” job until much later in life. I graduated with an Art History degree from the University of Maine and then took a few years off to figure out what I wanted to do next. I moved to Chicago, IL with a friend, and our apartment happened to be across the street from the Newberry Library. After wandering in one day and looking at some of their incredible map collection, I starting interning one day a week. After that, I was hooked! I started my MLIS not long after through Drexel University.

Currently, I am the Librarian at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Although a simple title, my role here deals with a number of traditional and out-of-the-box views of what a “librarian” does. Not only do I deal with reference and collections, but I am also responsible for thinking innovatively when it comes to newer technologies that might enhance the museums collections.

What did you do before you accepted your current position?

I’ve always been involved in special libraries. I interned at the Art Institute of Chicago, worked as the Access/Circulation Supervisor at Northwestern’s Law Library, and cataloged at Harrington College of Design. Professionally, I was an Information Services Librarian at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) on the north side of Chicago. It was my first professional job out of library school, and I learned an incredible amount from the most amazing colleagues.

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

For me, art librarianship was a way to work in two areas that I am passionate about : libraries/information services and art. My current position at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum also focuses on access, instruction, and technology in a museum setting – something that really allows me to use and grow my current skills. Additionally, this position comes with a great support network, and a well known and respected museum which is currently going through some exciting changes. Stay tuned ;)

 

How did you get your current job? Do you have any job-hunting advice?

My current job came to me through a series of incredible networking moments, a great mentor, and my willingness to say YES! I found out about the position at ARLIS/NA conference in DC and my mentor, Leigh Gates, encouraged me to sit and chat with the HR representative that was doing the interviews. From there it was a series of impromptu meetings ( the first time I met Eumie, my current boss, was at the reception of ARLIS/NA at the Library of Congress – very magical. We sat on a bench and talked informally for about an hour!), a Skype interview with the team here, and then a quick trip to meet everyone and see Santa Fe in person.

Job Hunting advice:

  1. Embrace Facebook, LinkedIn, and conferences –

I am proof that social networking works. I obtained my first job at NEIU because of being connected on Facebook. A friend of a friend posted about the job, and the next thing I knew I was interviewing. Getting this position as Librarian at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was due to the close relationship I had with my mentor, and her connections in the art librarianship world.

  1. Be willing to move for the job you want –

Before getting the job offer at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, I had never been to the Southwest before, nor was it on my top ten dream places to live. That being said, Chicago has a number of great library schools in the tri-state area, as well as some great academic and cultural institutions, which makes things VERY competitive. By widening your search area, you have a better chance of finding a great job!

  1. Say YES!

When I first got out of library school, my expectations were that I would find a job in art librarianship right away.  I mean, I had the background and the skills, what else would I need? The answer is experience. Even though my first job wasn’t art librarianship, I learned more about libraries at NEIU in the two years I worked there than in any previous position. So even if it’s not the ideal job, say YES! Getting your foot in the door is the first step.

What are your main roles/duties at your current position?/ What is a typical day like for you?

As the Librarian at a fairly small institution, I have many roles within the museum. Firstly, I maintain the Research Center in conjunction with the Research Center Assistant. That can be anything from assisting researchers, cataloging, collection development, and even policy writing. Because of the scope of what I manage, there is no “typical day”, which is something I really love about my job!

 

What was the hardest part about transitioning from staff/part-time, etc. to an art librarian position?

For me, the hardest part about going from a generic “Information Services Librarian” to an “Art Librarian” was the amount of new knowledge I needed to become an expert in ASAP. Georgia O’Keeffe is an artist we all learn about in school, but the depth of information we have on her here is so expansive that I’m still learning new things about her. Additionally, adjusting to the authority that I now have as the Librarian, instead of the amazing group of librarians I worked with before. Talk about pressure.

 

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

I think that librarianship in general, as well as art librarianship, really suffers from preconceived notions about what a librarian really does. For me, I find that a better description would be “information literacy advocates,” or “art information czars” (ok, that might be a little strong but you get the idea). So many people think about libraries in a very specific framework, and they rarely notice that we have in fact adapted to the 21st century. Our work is not entirely based on books! I see this throughout the museum and cultural institution community here in Santa Fe, which is substantial. Breaking through those stereotypes is probably the hardest part of my position.

 

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

As many of you know, the competition is fierce. So many amazing professionals are emerging on the scene from some amazing new programs. Don’t be discouraged! I think that new art librarians like myself need to have a wide array of skills, including technological. Try to think outside of the box when it comes to libraries in general. The more conversations I have across departments here at the museum, the more I realize just how valuable many of the skills I have (and necessary new ones) are in the technology arena. As libraries adapt to a new age of how people want to access information, librarians must adapt as well.

What do you do in your spare time?

Since I just moved from Chicago to Albuquerque, most of my spare time is spent figuring out this new city! I also really love exploring the Southwest – from camping to trying New Mexican food to brewery touring! Oh, and I’m on a mission to find the best Mole in the great state of New Mexico.

 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Stay strong job hunters!

This is a part of the “Success Story” series of interviews. If you would like to share your story, please contact the discussion team.

Interview: Starting a Student Chapter

We’ve talked before about the value of having professional-association student chapters on campus, whether it’s just general awareness of career options and extracurriculars or the impact on your resume of helping to manage and plan events, fundraisers, field trips, etc. There are no ARLIS/NA student chapters (yet), but that doesn’t mean you can’t start one! (I guess ArLiSNAP is sort of your virtual student chapter.)

During my MLIS these past two years, I watched some fellow McGill students start up a student chapter of the Association of Moving Image Archivists. As media preservation is a pretty important topic to arts-librarianship students, I thought I would ask a few questions about the process, the need, and the benefits of bringing special-interest representation to your school. Justin Mckinney kindly agreed to answer my questions about his work founding the chapter.

(Photos by Fiona Mak.)

Film handling workshop with George Eastman House
Film handling workshop with George Eastman House
George Eastman Film Handling Workshop
George Eastman Film Handling Workshop

ArLiSNAP: Let’s start with student chapters generally – were you members of other student chapters to start?

Justin Mckinney: During my first year of library school, I was a member of the Association of Canadian Archivists student chapter at McGill. I started out keen and not knowing what I was doing and imagining all the great things we would accomplish, but nothing really happened all year and I wasn’t exactly as active as I could have been.

ArLiSNAP: What’s the value of having local representation of professional associations?

JM: I think it has the potential to help raise awareness about the organization. Also, it can educate student members about issues in the field and maybe even lead to practical opportunities to do stuff. I think it probably varies from year to year and association to association, and is really dependent on the group of people involved at any given time.

ArLiSNAP: Why the Association of Moving Image Archivists specifically?

JM: I became really interested in film history and film preservation after my undergrad, which led me down the path to library school. I was already an AMIA member before starting library school, and my main interest in the archivy/LIS world was and is film preservation. After a sort of underwhelming experience of my first year at library school (which included a complete absence of film archiving content), I was determined to take more of an active role in my own learning. Fortunately, I had a couple of great friends in the program who had similar interests and were very supportive, and it snowballed from there.

ArLiSNAP: What was the process for starting a student chapter?

JM: I started emailing (and harassing) the fine people at AMIA about how to start a student chapter and they explained what was needed, which was mainly a constitution and that the executive members all be members of AMIA. They put me in touch with the folks at the NYU AMIA student chapter, and they were kind enough to send me their constitution, which I basically amended to change any mention of NYU to McGill — from there, we were off and running.

As for McGill, I just emailed people at the School of Information Studies (SIS) and let them know what I was doing and they got us a table at the student chapter fair at the start of the school year. Throughout the year they were generally helpful about any questions I had and they also helped us get connected with the Masters of Library and Information Science Student Association (MLISSA), and the Post-Graduate Student Society (PGSS), which both provide funding for SIS student groups.

In general, though, it was mostly a lot of me emailing and badgering people and then getting information as needed. It’s not really a clear process to setting up a chapter, and I think it would be beneficial if there were more guidance or upfront information given about the process of starting one.

In regards to gauging student interest, we really had no idea what would happen. To start it was just the executive (myself, Mark Haydn as vice-president, and Nicholas Avedisian-Cohen as secretary and treasurer). My main goal was to make the student chapter viable enough for someone to take over for a second year, once we all graduated. At the aforementioned student chapter fair, we were pleasantly surprised to get over 20 students to sign up for our email list, and we held our first meeting, which had over ten people, including first- and second-year students. This was a pleasant surprise and I think demonstrated that many people are interested in the field and also frustrated with the lack of film/media archiving content in library school.

The main paperwork was getting the constitution ratified. We also had to apply for funding for various events through PGSS and MLISSA. A lot it was just learning on the fly, as none of us had ever done anything like this before. So it involved a lot of asking questions of people at McGill and AMIA, and remaining persistent.

Probably the biggest challenge was forging a relationship with the Moving Image Research Laboratory (MIRL) at McGill, a research project which houses a wonderful cinema space and collection of 16mm films. Pretty much all of the Fall 2013 semester was spent sending emails, stalking professors, and showing up unannounced, just trying to get our foot in the door. Finally in January, we got access and that proved to be our greatest success, as it allowed us to start handling film, cataloguing the collection, and providing real hands-on experience in the field.

ArLiSNAP: You also organized a one-day symposium, which brought in guest speakers and gave students a chance to present their research. Why did you choose a symposium as your first event? How did that organizational process work?

JM: Technically, our first event was a field trip to the National Preservation Centre at Library and Archives Canada in Gatineau. We had 20 people come along and we got a great tour of the facilities there, and met a bunch of professionals in the field. Mark Haydn and I also attended the AMIA Conference in 2013 and met a bunch of the students at the Eastman House in Rochester, NY. Thanks to these friendships, we were able to organize a trip down there as well, where we got to tour their facilities and participate in a film-handling workshop.

As for the symposium, I heard that all the other groups were doing one, so we just copied them. The process of organizing it wasn’t that difficult. We booked the space at SIS and just sent out a call for papers and presentations to members of our email list. I also contacted David Stevenson, the conservator at the Canadian Centre of Architecture, whom I met on a class field trip, about presenting. I also contacted Phil Spurrell, the proprietor of CineClub Film Society, who I’ve known for several years and volunteered with. He is very knowledgeable about the medium of film and had a lot of interesting experiences working with film.

ArLiSNAP: Have you found someone to hand off the reins to? Do you have any thoughts on the sustainability of the group, long-term?

JM: One of the really encouraging things about our membership was that we had a lot of first-year students who were incredibly eager and motivated. So by the time we started cataloguing the MIRL collection, we were regularly getting 15 to 20 people out to volunteer. So we knew we had a solid base of people who might be able to take over next year. From there, we asked for nominations and were able to come up with a four-person executive committee for another year.

My hope is that some of the connections we made with the folks at LAC, and the folks at Eastman House, will continue and allow for more educational opportunities and networking. Also, the MIRL collection is really outstanding and needs a lot of work to catalogue, plus the cinema space allows for screenings and projections of the collection. This hands-on practical experience is invaluable and I think should be a major factor in the success of the group long-term.

ArLiSNAP: Do you have any ideas or recommendations about how to improve LIS curricula to contain more of the useful things your AMIA chapter is trying to do? Or do you think it’s better off as extracurricular activity?

JM: I feel like the major deficit of the MLIS program is the lack of hands-on experience of working with materials regardless of type. Particularly in the archival end of things, where the theoretical felt very abstract and weird to me. I found my understanding only started to come together through some of the volunteering I was doing at the Jewish Public Library Archives, where I was handling documents, creating finding aids, and writing accession numbers on folders.

Obviously, because of the broad focus of the program, it would be hard to have a dedicated film archiving course, but it is certainly something that could be touched on. Maybe a course dealing directly with the preservation of objects, rather than the theoretical preservation of objects would be useful.

Unfortunately, I think everything is becoming so focused on digital objects and becoming “information specialists” to the detriment of acquiring actual tangible physical skills, which I fear is leaving a lot of graduates ill-equipped to manage the physical aspects of library and archive work. Maybe it’s for the better, as having a broader and more transferable set of skills could help grads deal with the job market, but I can’t help thinking something valuable is being lost in the transition.

AMIA Montreal Meets AMIA Rochester
AMIA Montreal Meets AMIA Rochester in New York

We’d love to hear about your experiences with professional associations, and if you’re thinking about starting a student chapter at your school (ARLIS/NA or otherwise). It’s not too late to plan something for the coming school year. Let us know in the comments!