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.

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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!

Interview: Life as The Banff Centre’s Library Work-Study

For those of you thinking about spending six months in gorgeous Banff, Alberta (yes, international applicants are encouraged!):
Here are some words of wisdom from last year’s Library Work-Study, Jaye Fishel, who spent her tenure working to promote and display the Banff Centre’s insane collection of artists’ books. Jaye kindly answered my questions about being an American book-nerd in Alberta, the projects she worked on, and the application procedures to get into one of Canada’s prettiest cultural institutions.

The Banff Centre Library
The Banff Centre Library

ArLiSNAP: Can you start with a bit of your background?

Jaye Fishel: I was an artist before I got my MLIS degree, which I in-part pursued to professionalize my interest in artists’ books in particular. I worked in the rare books library during my undergraduate studies (at Emory University) and was introduced to artists’ books in processing collections. That led me to move to San Francisco in 2005 to study at the Center for the Book there, where I learned letterpress printing and other techniques. Since then, I’ve expanded my artistic repertoire but books and works on paper still figure largely into what I’m interested in engaging with, both professionally and as an artist.

ArLiSNAP: What were you doing previous to taking the work-study position?

JF: I was living in Oakland, unable to find a professional position suitable for me. I only realized after graduating with my MLIS that any job, let alone a job dealing with artists’ books, was very difficult to come by.

ArLiSNAP: What was the application process like?

JF: The application process was straightforward — I submitted a project proposal in addition to a standard cover letter that outlined a project I would produce while at the Centre. Since the work-study position is an educational program, like an internship, I stated some learning objectives. Applying to work in Canada from the US seemed to have little bearing on the application process, although once I accepted the position, I had to secure a student visa, which did not show up until the day before my flight to Banff, causing more than a little anxiety.

ArLiSNAP: A student visa?

JF: I needed a student visa because the work-study program is considered an educational program, so technically I was a student in the eyes of the Canadian government. Work-study participants receive a stipend, not a salary, and are generally treated differently than staff at the Centre.

ArLiSNAP: What attracted you to the position?

JF: The job description was like a dream! Working fairly exclusively with the artists’-books collection in an international art residency centre? I was attracted to everything about that. Plus, I needed a change in my life, so I felt ready to move to remote Banff from the Bay Area, which was changing rapidly before my eyes into a place that felt less and less accommodating to artists and craftspeople. I was also attracted to the adventure.

ArLiSNAP: What period of time were you there? What was it like moving to Banff and settling in?

JF: I arrived in Mid-May and I left at the end of February, so I was there for nine months. It was an adventure the entire time — living in the middle of the Canadian Rockies in an art residency center was unlike my life in the Bay. I hadn’t lived through a snowy winter since I was a child, so that was definitely an adjustment, as was living in a very small tourist town. I had a sometimes quiet, simple existence — sometimes filled with lots of art and parties and people from all over the world.

ArLiSNAP: What was a typical work day like?

JF: I worked four days a week, nine to five, with one day away from the library to work on outside research or projects. Typical days usually included working on artists’-book catalog records, planning upcoming events, and working with patrons. Then I’d walk home and see at least one deer or elk, on average.

ArLiSNAP: You started a few neat initiatives while you were there. Can you tell us about getting those programs going?

JF: I had a lot of freedom to create new initiatives and work on a variety of projects. The bulk of what I did at times was cataloging, or improving the very basic cataloging of the artists’ books collection, which is extensive at over 4,300 items. I would pull items from a particular press or artist at once to make comprehensive improvements to parts of the collection that relate to one another. I also initiated a public program series of artists’ books showcases, where I would pull random items from the collection and invite the resident artists and the public to engage with the items. I also started a several-year-long project to display every item in the artists’ books collection in a case in the library, as well as online via documentary images. (http://banffcentrelibraryandarchives.tumblr.com/)

I had wonderful support from my mentor, Suzanne Rackover, to do whatever I wanted with my time to enhance use of the collections. So I just came to her with my ideas and she supported my process. For the artists’ books showcases, I would loosely try to pull items that would be of interest to visual artists on residencies. I would make sort of weird promotional fliers and hand them out and post around campus. Setting up the Tumblr project required simply creating a randomized spreadsheet of the collection, creating the new display every Monday of fifteen items, photographing the works, and posting to the Tumblr. It’s a fairly simple process, so now almost anyone who works in the library can continue the weekly changes.

Artists'-Book Showcases
Artists’-Book Showcases

ArLiSNAP: Do you have any advice for someone looking to apply to the Banff Centre Library, or things to do while working there?

JF: I’d advise anyone interested in working with an outstanding artists’ books collection to apply. It is truly an amazing collection that I feel so lucky to have worked with every day. I know I’m a great deal more knowledgeable about artists’ books than I was before working at the Centre. Working at The Banff Centre is very special because artists across media from around the world come to make and show work. I encourage any future library work study to go to every show, performance, artist talk, party, dinner, bingo night, hike, and outing possible. There is a lot to experience in a very short time.

Applications for the Library Work-Study are due on June 15th!

Interview: Life as The Banff Centre's Library Work-Study

For those of you thinking about spending six months in gorgeous Banff, Alberta (yes, international applicants are encouraged!):
Here are some words of wisdom from last year’s Library Work-Study, Jaye Fishel, who spent her tenure working to promote and display the Banff Centre’s insane collection of artists’ books. Jaye kindly answered my questions about being an American book-nerd in Alberta, the projects she worked on, and the application procedures to get into one of Canada’s prettiest cultural institutions.

The Banff Centre Library
The Banff Centre Library

ArLiSNAP: Can you start with a bit of your background?

Jaye Fishel: I was an artist before I got my MLIS degree, which I in-part pursued to professionalize my interest in artists’ books in particular. I worked in the rare books library during my undergraduate studies (at Emory University) and was introduced to artists’ books in processing collections. That led me to move to San Francisco in 2005 to study at the Center for the Book there, where I learned letterpress printing and other techniques. Since then, I’ve expanded my artistic repertoire but books and works on paper still figure largely into what I’m interested in engaging with, both professionally and as an artist.

ArLiSNAP: What were you doing previous to taking the work-study position?

JF: I was living in Oakland, unable to find a professional position suitable for me. I only realized after graduating with my MLIS that any job, let alone a job dealing with artists’ books, was very difficult to come by.

ArLiSNAP: What was the application process like?

JF: The application process was straightforward — I submitted a project proposal in addition to a standard cover letter that outlined a project I would produce while at the Centre. Since the work-study position is an educational program, like an internship, I stated some learning objectives. Applying to work in Canada from the US seemed to have little bearing on the application process, although once I accepted the position, I had to secure a student visa, which did not show up until the day before my flight to Banff, causing more than a little anxiety.

ArLiSNAP: A student visa?

JF: I needed a student visa because the work-study program is considered an educational program, so technically I was a student in the eyes of the Canadian government. Work-study participants receive a stipend, not a salary, and are generally treated differently than staff at the Centre.

ArLiSNAP: What attracted you to the position?

JF: The job description was like a dream! Working fairly exclusively with the artists’-books collection in an international art residency centre? I was attracted to everything about that. Plus, I needed a change in my life, so I felt ready to move to remote Banff from the Bay Area, which was changing rapidly before my eyes into a place that felt less and less accommodating to artists and craftspeople. I was also attracted to the adventure.

ArLiSNAP: What period of time were you there? What was it like moving to Banff and settling in?

JF: I arrived in Mid-May and I left at the end of February, so I was there for nine months. It was an adventure the entire time — living in the middle of the Canadian Rockies in an art residency center was unlike my life in the Bay. I hadn’t lived through a snowy winter since I was a child, so that was definitely an adjustment, as was living in a very small tourist town. I had a sometimes quiet, simple existence — sometimes filled with lots of art and parties and people from all over the world.

ArLiSNAP: What was a typical work day like?

JF: I worked four days a week, nine to five, with one day away from the library to work on outside research or projects. Typical days usually included working on artists’-book catalog records, planning upcoming events, and working with patrons. Then I’d walk home and see at least one deer or elk, on average.

ArLiSNAP: You started a few neat initiatives while you were there. Can you tell us about getting those programs going?

JF: I had a lot of freedom to create new initiatives and work on a variety of projects. The bulk of what I did at times was cataloging, or improving the very basic cataloging of the artists’ books collection, which is extensive at over 4,300 items. I would pull items from a particular press or artist at once to make comprehensive improvements to parts of the collection that relate to one another. I also initiated a public program series of artists’ books showcases, where I would pull random items from the collection and invite the resident artists and the public to engage with the items. I also started a several-year-long project to display every item in the artists’ books collection in a case in the library, as well as online via documentary images. (http://banffcentrelibraryandarchives.tumblr.com/)

I had wonderful support from my mentor, Suzanne Rackover, to do whatever I wanted with my time to enhance use of the collections. So I just came to her with my ideas and she supported my process. For the artists’ books showcases, I would loosely try to pull items that would be of interest to visual artists on residencies. I would make sort of weird promotional fliers and hand them out and post around campus. Setting up the Tumblr project required simply creating a randomized spreadsheet of the collection, creating the new display every Monday of fifteen items, photographing the works, and posting to the Tumblr. It’s a fairly simple process, so now almost anyone who works in the library can continue the weekly changes.

Artists'-Book Showcases
Artists’-Book Showcases

ArLiSNAP: Do you have any advice for someone looking to apply to the Banff Centre Library, or things to do while working there?

JF: I’d advise anyone interested in working with an outstanding artists’ books collection to apply. It is truly an amazing collection that I feel so lucky to have worked with every day. I know I’m a great deal more knowledgeable about artists’ books than I was before working at the Centre. Working at The Banff Centre is very special because artists across media from around the world come to make and show work. I encourage any future library work study to go to every show, performance, artist talk, party, dinner, bingo night, hike, and outing possible. There is a lot to experience in a very short time.

Applications for the Library Work-Study are due on June 15th!

A Success Story: Interview with Tatum Preston, Art Librarian

This is the first in a series of success stories and interviews with current art library professionals. If you would like to share your story, please contact the discussion team.

Tatum Preston has been a solo librarian at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Birmingham, Alabama for 10 years.  Prior to working as a librarian, she worked in both corporate and non-profit arenas as an Americorps volunteer, an accounts-payable auditor, and a development associate.  Tatum holds a BA in English from Davidson College and an MLIS from the University of Alabama, where she has taught a course on Art Librarianship. She is the author of “Recruiting and Retaining Volunteers of All Ages” in the book How to Thrive as a Solo Librarian (Scarecrow Press, 2011). You can learn more about her by visiting her LinkedIn profile.

tatum

What attracted you to the field of librarianship?

I sort of fell into this field, honestly. With an undergraduate degree in English, I knew I’d eventually go back to school for my master’s degree. I was looking at degrees in English when a friend sent me an article about library school. My initial response was, “No way! That sounds so nerdy and boring.” I had many of the stereotypical misconceptions about librarians. As I started to research the degree more, I realized that it really melded my love of reading and learning, my desire to be in a service-oriented profession, and my interest in technology.

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

When I finished graduate school, I took a job at the Museum working in the Development department. This job was not in my new field, and had a pretty low salary – but I took it because I knew there was a library here, and the hiring manager assured me that if I did a good job, she would be my biggest advocate in getting promoted to a position in the library if one became available. About a year and a half later, my current position opened and she proved true to her word.

In light of this story, my advice is to take a chance – apply to a job that may not be exactly what you want, or that may not be a “library” job. I know that the job market is really tough right now. Creativity in your search helps I think.

What is a typical day like for you?

One thing I really like is that there is no “typical” day. Just this week, I have already been at a donor’s home to help pack up a donation, cataloged books, located something via ILL, supervised an intern, helped a staff member learn to navigate our image database, gone to some meetings…and it’s only Tuesday! I like the pace and the variety.

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

 Digital publishing – the art world is finally catching up in this arena and I think there are a lot of cool possibilities for presenting our information. Of course this also presents challenges in terms of cataloging and access. Digitization in general – having your collection digitized used to be a frill, now it is an expectation from your user. People expect that they can find your entire collection online. A lot of people don’t understand the amount of work and money that go into digitization projects. Also, shrinking budgets coupled with increasing demand for services. Librarians must continue to be creative in how they provide both access and service.

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

Remember that librarians are a collegial and helpful bunch by nature. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others working in the field for help or information. Read voraciously (good advice for anyone, I think !) and keep up with the issues facing the field. Contribute to the field through professional organizations – sign up for a committee, volunteer to help with a conference or event, offer to be a peer reviewer. Don’t let your lack of experience hinder or discourage you. The field needs new voices, and you will learn things you didn’t learn in library school!

I know you have a lot of experience working with graduate students and you teach an art libraries class. Do you have any recommended reading, other than the basic textbooks used for art library courses?

I keep up with the field through a lot of online sources. I read ArtsJournal’s daily email. I love Nina Simon’s blog, Museum 2.0. On Twitter, I follow the Google Art Project, visual culture entities, and museums whose exhibitions, programs, and libraries I admire. I also follow stuff about food, music, fashion, beer, literature, current events and issues – other things I like that are not related directly to art librarianship. I highly suggest reading outside of the strict parameters of the field. Follow your interests and see how and where they tie into the field of art librarianship.

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

That’s like asking someone to choose her favorite child! My interests are kind of all over the place – I like everything from Asian to contemporary to folk art. Which is one of the things that makes me a good librarian.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

If any of your readers have further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me!