Canadian Librarians Spotlight: An Interview with Daniel Payne

What is the name of the employer/institution you work for?

The Dorothy H. Hoover Library, OCAD University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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

I have a Bachelor of Education and a Master’s degree in musicology, but I never really felt fully comfortable in either environment. Teaching in a traditional classroom is rewarding; however, I always feel so confined in my ability to access knowledge-building tools. In a library, I am surrounded by informational learning resources—print, electronic, audio-visual, or through the knowledge of my peers—and this level of connectedness cannot be replicated in even the most high-tech, wired, “smart” classroom.

I started working at OCAD University in 2002 and moved from a contract position at a smaller Canadian university that likely was going to become a permanent, tenure track position. When the job at OCAD U was posted—even though the pay was not ideal and the faculty status situation not as secure, I took the risk as it offered an ideal opportunity to explore librarianship in a creative research environment, which for me is a perfect way to combine my artistic and academic interests.

What does a typical day at work look like for you? What is usually the highlight of your day?

One of the best things about working in libraries is that there really are no “typical days.” Although I do spend much time in my workweek covering reference desk services, I’m fairly consistently in the classroom offering information literacy sessions for courses, attending curriculum meetings, working on professional development activities, buying books, helping manage our database collections, developing our web site, preparing for conferences, researching and writing, and so on. I feel that, as a librarian, I’m able to define what my work day will look like and not be confined by the classroom, with its set class times, static textbooks, and limited office hours.

Perhaps—in all honesty—the highlight of my day is working at the reference desk. Although many academic librarians are moving away from this service node in favour of the classroom, I find it one of the most vital tools I have as a librarian for communicating collegially with students, staff, and faculty. I can’t count the number of information literacy sessions, collection development requests, and professional networking contacts I’ve made through the random, informal discussions I’ve had at the reference desk. It is a communications platform that is unique; educators such as Paulo Friere often advocate for reform in pedagogy through the use of active learning models which empower researchers to discover their own sense-making pathways to knowledge. I truly feel that the reference desk is one of the most powerful learning spaces we currently have in our educational system for fully embodying a more egalitarian, democratic approach to learning in what Friere calls the “practices of freedom.” It’s because the person asking the question initiates the research journey and, in a way, is in direct control over the educational experience. I work collegially with them to try to come to some resolution, but a reference inquiry is truly a patron-led mode of teaching and learning.

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market? What are the most important things emerging art librarians should know?

I find this a very difficult question to answer; mainly because we are currently in a very challenging work environment and it seems that many of the older established models for librarianship as a profession are changing. But I would encourage all new librarians to be patient, proactive, and passionate. Patience is required because those perfect jobs are rarely available immediately and realistically one has to build towards this ultimate goal. Sometimes—and this is difficult for me to say as I feel that I do have the perfect job!—these “dream” jobs simply don’t exist, so one is forced to put together a career piecemeal.

This is where the proactive component is important. Being flexible and adaptable; smiling through adversity; being willing to re-locate to begin building one’s career are all essential skills. Yet these diverse experiences, though frustrating at times, will offer a multi-modal knowledgebase to prepare you for the professional agility required in this new economy. Part of being proactive is also realizing that wherever you are working, you can find some way to use these skillsets to learn something and build your overall life experiences.  I remember hearing a comment by a rising young art gallery owner who worked at the OCAD U Library several years ago re-shelving books. He claimed that everything he knows about art theory was gleaned from putting books back on the shelf. It’s not that he learned about these aesthetic theories in depth—this is unquestionably the domain of the studio or classroom; but the library helped him to understand how these theories relate to other ones by their spatial relation to other books on the shelf. Likely all young aspiring librarians know, based on previous student work experiences, how repetitive re-shelving books can be and, perhaps even more tediously, shelf-reading; but this rising new voice in the art world realized that working in a library was a critical, once in a lifetime opportunity and used it for maximum benefit. So if one envisions this “pastiche” of careers as a collage, it does take on a new sense of unity. It may not be a gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) expressing one controlled and contained totality, but a collage has a vitality of its own that, in a way, is more dialogic.

Finally, the passion part ensures that—wherever you end up settling career-wise—the founding vision statements of librarianship stay with you. Whether it be the “Statement on Intellectual Freedom” by the Canadian Library Association or S.R. Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science; these documents are revolutionary and, considering how market-driven, commodified, surveilled, and commercialized our lived spaces are becoming, we need to fight for this last bastion of information equity in our world.

What were/are some challenges for you as an art librarian? What do you think are current challenges in the field of art librarianship or librarianship in general, particularly within Canada?

Be warned: I’m going to go on a bit of a tirade ;-) But perhaps my biggest challenge is the feeling that as a librarian, I’m going head-to-head with the massive multi-billion dollar commercial marketing machine of Google! I am only being slightly facetious though; recent statistics provided by OCLC in their Perceptions of Libraries survey indicate that, almost ubiquitously, people are using search engines such as Google as their sole portal for accessing information for all research needs from personal to academic to professional. Primarily my concern is that Google is a private company and the bottom line for all their services is profit. What’s the bottom line for a library that looks to the “Statement on Intellectual Freedom” for its operational mandate? Social justice, human rights, freedom of information, and the right to privacy!

Linked to the for-profit situation, Google searching has enforced a strange impulse in researchers to approach all topics in an almost myopically literal manner. Given the volume of information accessible on the open internet, generally whatever search topic is entered in Google always guarantees results that are precisely related to the initial search topic. Furthermore, almost ubiquitously, that first web link retrieved is a Wikipedia entry (I mean, really, is Wikipedia always the top source for all searches? Doesn’t this make anyone suspicious?). But for me, the essence of research, especially in the work of creativity, is finding something that you don’t expect and having to struggle to figure out why this new, unanticipated information has been retrieved. This scenario is further exacerbated by Google’s search features that start profiling us individually based on our previous search histories and starts feeding us sites that it thinks that we’d be interest in. This, of course, is the quintessential “filter bubble” scenario. So now in my work as a reference librarian, I find that year-by-year, my new mantra is to plead with researchers to stop thinking so literally and start finding pathways for thinking laterally. Our library search tools and collections are entirely built on this latter premise.

Finally, my third and inter-related concern is that the search engine has completely weaned people off of any other search strategies. Google is always Plan A and in the rare circumstances where it fails, people have no Plan B alternatives. Using library catalogues, abstracts and indexes, a library’s discovery layer, even knowing how to browse for books in a library, have all become so foreign to everyday researchers, that these bibliographic literacy practices have left people’s consciousness as viable alternatives for accessing information. Out of sight; out of mind.

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?

As a reference librarian, I’ve found that there are two broad topics that have been essential for my work; one is related to theory (and I wish that this had been taught more consistently in my library sciences’ education) and the other, practice (which I sorely wished that I didn’t have to learn in school, but am now so grateful that I did!).

My first educational principle is a deep, reflective knowledge of the writings of former library science theorists. Much of my current work as a librarian is entirely shaped by Brenda Dervin’s concept of sense-making, Carole C. Kuhlthau’s ISP, and S.R. Ranganathan’s “Five Laws of Library Sciences.” I might have stumbled across these visionaries while researching for LIS essays, but I feel that a required course in library history is essential for all ALA accredited programs. Knowing how library workers throughout history have dealt with new technologies, changing research needs, and new modes of accessing knowledge is critical; now more than ever when the pace of change seems to be moving at lightning speed.

Secondly in regards to practice, while in library school I took a course titled “Thesaurus Construction” in which I received the worst mark on my LIS record and close to the lowest in my entire academic career. The curricular material was gruellingly dull; in one class I fell asleep while tipped back in my chair which was balanced on the back two legs. The clatter and ensuing thud was, I’m sure, deafening.  But since then, I have grown to appreciate how these ways of envisioning information in hierarchies, working from broad to narrow terms, has helped me inordinately in assisting others to make sense of how libraries are organized. I use these principles in all my information literacy sessions, when working on web pages, creating search guides, answering reference questions, even when writing emails. When one thinks about the basic organizational unit for libraries—the call number—this unique coding language embodies the hierarchy of subjects that libraries employ: from main classes to subclasses down to Cutter numbers. These unique identifiers—the URL address for the print book on the shelf—encode how libraries envision knowledge structures and convey our sense-making way of processing ideas in the world. The fact that these indexical symbols then become wayfinding devices makes for a perfect metaphor for the entire library endeavour.

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

I might use much of my earlier Google tirade to answer this question! But perhaps to emphasize this issue anecdotally: most often when I tell people I work as a librarian, after a brief quizzical pause then the inevitable “you must get to read a lot of books!” comment, people always tend to chime in: “I love libraries; I love the smell of books.” Much as I’m loathe to discourage any positive commendation for libraries in an age when the institution seems in such a precarious state, I have found the phrase too glib, almost dismissive. I think it’s because this colloquialism is so steeped in a romanticized sense of nostalgia that it seems to relegate libraries to the status of a charming old dusty antiquarian shoppe. I feel like I should carry a copy of the CLA Statement on Intellectual Freedom wherever I go and make people read it immediately after saying they love libraries. Libraries—and this is where I get to the part about the “most rewarding” part of my job—are radical institutions that are one of the last bastions for advocating for public empowerment with no strings attached.  In a recent interview, I was asked “What do librarians do all day anyway?” I answered that we create communities through fostering communication. The reason that librarians build collections, evaluate research methodologies, manage data, or teach our users how to become information literate is so that people can become active members of a knowledge community. Not only do we teach people how to ask questions, but—perhaps most importantly—we suggest pathways for answering them.  Again, with no strings attached. We’re not trying to sell products, ideas, or lifestyles. We’re here solely so that people can empower themselves with knowledge. So instead of people saying “I love libraries,” I wish they would be a little more specific and say something like, “I love how libraries are so subversively radical”!

Do you have any insight or advice as to how ArLiSNAP can assist in connecting emerging Canadian and American information professionals?

Keep up your membership with ARLIS/NA! The Society has been so remarkable in maintaining an open line of communication between countries. At the local level, the avenues that ARLIS/NA offers for students in administrative positions and providing special funding grants are commendable, so participating in regional chapters can open a host of professional opportunities and the capability of attending annual conferences which truly are international ventures.

Tell us something fun about yourself! What do you do in your spare time? If you could take a trip right now to visit any library in the world, which would it be?

I have an insatiable appetite for live music and seem to spend almost every weekend visiting Toronto’s Rex Hotel for a weekly dose of jazz. Also, I’ve been a cellist since high school and spent part of my early career as a professional musician.

Playing music has been an essential part of my life; even though I’m not as active now that I work as a full time reference librarian, I have a much more manageable musical schedule. Aside from ongoing annual performances of Handel’s Messiah with Arcady Choir and Orchestra (http://arcady.ca/), I am focused mainly on my role as the principal cellist for the Counterpoint Community Orchestra (http://www.ccorchestra.org/). I find this collegial music-making environment utterly fulfilling. In the past, I had to rely on making money through performing, but now I can relax and enjoy playing the classics of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and more purely for the sake of making music.

And my response for visiting a library? In all honesty, I would re-do the entire ARLIS/NA 2016 Study Tour to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and Den Hague, in the Netherlands (https://www.arlisna.org/studytour2016-Netherlands/). I splurged and took part in this trip and found that every aspect of the trip was magical!

Conference travel: Gerd Muehsam Award

The Gerd Muehsam Award recognizes excellence in a graduate student paper or project on a topic relevant to art librarianship. The deadline for submission isn’t until mid-November. Next year’s winning paper, however, will most likely be written this spring or summer, which means now is the time to think about the award. By gearing your graduate student project toward a topic in art librarianship, you will have a submission ready to go in the fall, and gain experience and insight into issues critical to our profession.

In addition to a cash award and assistance with conference travel, the winner of the GMA is invited to present at the New Voices panel, and if accepted by the editorial staff, often publishes their paper in Art Documentation. I have served on the GMA sub-committee for several years and have learned so much from the submissions. Not only do you benefit from the exposure, but the Society and the profession benefit from your intelligent and creative contributions.

To learn more about the GMA and see past recipients visit https://www.arlisna.org/about/awards-honors/69-gerd-muehsam-award.

Call for Proposals: ArLiSNAP/VREPS Virtual Conference

ARLISNAP Conference 2016

Proposal deadline has been extended, please submit via this link by Friday, April 8th

ArLiSNAP (Art Library Students and New ARLIS Professionals) and VREPS (Visual Resources Emerging Professionals and Students) are joining forces to host a virtual conference this May! The conference, Future Perspectives in Art Librarianship: Digital Projects and Initiatives, will take place at 12pm CST May 21, 2016. The conference will consist of a keynote speaker followed by 1.5 to 2 hours of presentations by students and new professionals. This is an excellent opportunity for those who cannot be physically present at our annual conferences to share projects and ideas.

 

Our keynote speaker will be Sara Rubinow. Sara is a Metadata Specialist in the Metadata Services Unit of NYPL Labs, The New York Public Library’s digital innovation unit. Prior to NYPL, Sara worked on projects involving the collections database, digital initiatives, and printed matter at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Sara will discuss her role at NYPL Labs and showcase initiatives intended to engage developers, scholars, artists, and the general public in exploring—and transforming—NYPL’s digital resources and open data sets.

 

We are looking for students and new professionals with an interest in art librarianship or visual resources management to present their work. The theme for this year’s conference is focused on digital projects and initiatives. Have you been working on a project using technology in a new way? Do you have thoughts to share on topics such as metadata and visual resources, copyright and the arts, digital collections, or visual literacy? Would you like to share your work with the ARLIS and VRA communities? Submit your proposal, and add your voice to our discussion on the future of the field!

 

Requirements:

  1. Presenters must be MLIS students or new professionals with fewer than five years of experience in the field.
  2. Presentations will be between ten and fifteen minutes in length.
  3. Presenters need to be available for a live presentation and brief Q&A session on the afternoon of Saturday, May 21, 2016. Presenters need to be available for a practice session the week before to test equipment. A date and time for the practice session will be determined at a later date.

 

Submit your proposal via this link by Friday, April 1st.

 

If you have any questions about this event, please don’t hesitate to contact Breanne Crumpton, ArLiSNAP Conference Planning Liaison, at becrumpton [at] gmail [dot] com.

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.

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!

APheadshot

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.

Digital stewardship and art librarianship

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

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

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

Coursework preparation

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

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

“Real world” preparation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s play “name the reference.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

– Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box

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!

Extracurricular activities?

Shortly into my MLIS program I realized that, while school and internships would no doubt provide me with indispensable knowledge and experience, it was important that I was not relying only on these things to help prepare me for a career in art librarianship.   I assume I’m not alone on this that most of you are following blogs, reading journals, watching webinars or doing various other activities that you believe will help you to land your dream job or stay relevant in the field.

For this discussion post, I was hoping that we could share some of these resources that we rely on.  I thought it might be interesting and helpful to see what other people are doing outside of work and school to sharpen skills or to learn more about the world of art librarianship.  Please be encouraged to join the conversation and share any readings, websites, activities, or anything else that you feel has helped you.

Below are some of the things that I do, read, etc. that I think will help me in the long run, a few of these I have suggested on earlier blog posts but thought I might as well share them again.  Enjoy!

Duolingo – It has been a few years since I’ve taken any language classes so my skills have started to get a little rusty.  I wanted to re-familiarize myself with both Spanish and French for a number of reasons.  First, I think that having a working knowledge of French, Italian, German, and to a lesser degree Spanish, can help a great deal in working with art historical publications since those seem to be the major research languages.  Also, proficiency in more than one language is definitely a desirable skill and something that can set you apart from other job candidates.

Art Documentation – I read this journal to keep up to date on any important research, trends, or issues surrounding art librarianship.  Plus, if you are a member of ARLIS/NA a subscription of the journal is included in your membership!

w3schools – In the past year or two, I have really been focusing on building my tech skills to help me compete in the job search, the tutorials on this website are free and really great.

That’s it for now, I wanted to first get the discussion started and then I’ll definitely join in and share some more.