Tips For the Non-Art Librarian (or Notes From the Field)

This post is in the vein of the Hack Your Art Librarianship Program series from awhile back, but has been tailored to reflect what some people may be experiencing professionally–working in a library but not an art library or as an art librarian. 

My ultimate career goal is to work as an art librarian. Even though I have this fancy new volunteer position as a feature post writer for ArLiSNAP, I’m not there yet. Currently, I work as the Collection Development & Assessment Librarian at a medium sized liberal arts college in the southeast. I’ve worked at a public library, and now two academic libraries, both in “paraprofessional” and “professional” positions, but never has it been my J O B to liaise with art faculty, perform collection development specifically for a fine arts collection, do instruction primarily for fine arts or art history courses, or any of the other number of things art librarians do.

However, I have forced myself my way in to some of these roles, and I’m going to offer tips based on my experience on how to do that now.  Before I get started, I will say that I had the advantage of teaching art history at the community college where I worked, so I had a bit of a foot in the door, but I think these tips will help anyone who is interested in the visual arts get involved on their own campus.

In my last position, I started as a reference specialist. Later, I worked as an instruction librarian at the same place, but I started before I finished library school. This meant that I was not a L I B R A R I A N, but I was allowed to staff the reference desk, assist students with their research needs, and get to know the campus staff and faculty as much or as little as I wanted to. I’m a gregarious sort of person, so I found myself on a number of committees and BAM I was “liaising” whether I meant to or not.

Here are a few personal tips I have for those who are gaining experience working in an academic (community college) library, but are not officially getting the experience they want to develop the skills necessary to become an art librarian.

1. Roam Around! All too often, we academic library professionals (and I use this term broadly, because I believe that staff members are professionals) are siloed in the library. Stuck there. Like, “Oh! You’re out of the library” style confusion when you’re not there. If [you’re able to] take a break and walk around, you get to know people, which helps you form connections that you can use later when you get a great idea for programming or the collection that relates to the visual arts, even if that isn’t technically your job (but don’t do SO MUCH that you are working outside of your pay grade…that is important. I will repeat it later).

This one can be difficult. Maybe you’re an introvert or the culture at your place of work doesn’t invite casual conversation or even allow leaving the library during work hours. I get that. But if you’re able to, I say take a break and maybe a little walk.

I would also like to add on here: if you find a librarian or faculty member who is friendly, turn to them with questions when you have them. One of my colleagues helped mentor me through library school and is now one of my closest friends. She’s not an art librarian, but she is an excellent librarian and was supportive of my goals. You just never know who is going to make an impact for you.

2. Get to the know the collection. In my position as reference specialist at a community college, I spent over two years getting to know the collection generally. But I also took the time to specifically get to know the art section. Because I walked around it regularly, touching the books, tidying up, and helping students find materials for their research, I often had ideas to share with the collection development librarian about how to improve upon what we already owned (she was very supportive of this, again, I was lucky). Through getting to know the area of the collection I loved the most, I straight up inserted myself in the collection development process. When a faculty member came to her to ask for some reinvigoration in the art history print collection, our CD librarian came to me to help. I was able to gain experience doing collection development as well as collection development in the art section. This also gave me knowledge of publishers of art books and helped me to get a feel for what is being published in our field right now. I realize not everyone will have this opportunity. But either way, the more you know about your collection, the more expertise you will have fine arts print collections when you go for an interview at an art library or as a subject specialist in an academic library.

3. Join some committees. This connects to the Tip #1 ^. Maybe this one is just an extension of #1, but I think it’s important. Here’s where I remind you though – if you feel joining committees is above your pay grade, do not do it. Don’t let them exploit you. Don’t let someone tell you it is your job to serve on some planning committee just because they don’t want to do it if it is not actually in your job description. Especially if you’re not being paid as a “professional” librarian. 

THAT BEING SAID…

If you, like me, are looking for a convenient way to make yourself known on campus and get the library involved in event programming related to fine arts, joining a committee might be a good starting place. First of all, it is an excellent way to get to know other staff and instructional faculty on campus. When you work together with people for weeks, they’re more likely to say hello when you pass them later. They might even answer your email when you ask if they want to combine forces on the next gallery exhibition and have the library be involved.

For me, Tip #3 is all about how I can insert my own agenda into what is already happening on campus. Having some events to celebrate Multicultural Awareness Week? Why not exhibit some artwork made by students in the library? Etc. It’s a good way to get connected.

4. Make friends with the Fine Arts and Art History faculty. Even if they aren’t on that committee you just joined, THESE ARE YOUR PEOPLE! They are the people who went through programs like you in undergrad/grad school, or saw the same Cezanne show you did last weekend. It will not only make your job more pleasant, but also making connections with them comes in handy when you have plans for art in the library. They can collaborate on exhibitions and programs with you, and they definitely want to be involved with the collection. They know it too, because they are the ones that use it.

In my case, I got to know our printmaking professor by asking him to lend the library display pedestals for an art show of biology inspired raku fired pottery during a special event week at the college. Later, I used the same pedestals to promote his printmaking courses which are often under enrolled. He saw the value of the library as a mutually beneficial relationship, and I did too. Hence, a professional relationship was born!

At that point in my time in that position, I was unable to teach library instruction (not enough master’s credits) or do “real librarian” work, so what I felt I could do is enhance our library through partnerships with art faculty. It help me feel unstuck to work on projects like this.

Photo of a neon sign that says art
Photo by Ian Williams on Unsplash

5. Continue to go see art. This one is so important. Actually, I’ve gotten away from it a little too much. So this one is also a reminder for myself. REMINDER: If you love art, GO SEE ART. It will lift you up when you are down, and it will remind you when you have your head in the academic sand that there is a purpose to your professional trajectory. When I was writing my thesis for my first master’s degree, we had a workshop where a former student came by and told us this same thing. She said something like “Stop writing sometimes, and go see some art. That’s why you’re here.”

Likewise, dear reader, that’s why you’re HERE. That’s why I started reading the ArLiSNAP blog in the first place, and now why I’m volunteering as a feature post writer. I love art. I love the messy process of artmaking (by other people, not me personally, though I do love a darkroom and also to fling paint at things when I’m feeling frisky). I also love the messy conversations we have ABOUT art and the various elements/social conditions that inform it. I love researching art and facilitating that research for other people. But all too often, I get caught up in the “what are the steps to become an art librarian” professional to-do list and forget what is most important, which to take it in.

So there you are! I hope that these are helpful for you, or lead you to think of other new ways you might be able to get involved on campus in different arts initiatives or with the art department. Good luck on your journey!

2018-2020 Samuel H. Kress Fellowship

The New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC) is seeking candidates for the 2018-2020 fellowship. NYARC is comprised of the research libraries of the MoMA, the Frick, and the Brooklyn Museum. The fellowship provides an early career librarian (degree conferred in 2017 or before) the opportunity to learn the operations of three leading art museum libraries via hands-on training and collaboration. This is a paid, full-time position with health benefits and funding for travel to the ARLISNA annual conference.

The application deadline is June 15. Read more here: http://www.nyarc.org/fellowship

Curator, Books at the Canadian Centre for Architecture

Job identification
Job Title: Curator, Books

Division: Collection

Immediate superior: Associate Director, Collection

Status: Permanent, full time (35hrs/week)

Posting period: April 17 to May 16, 2018

Job entry: June 2018

Job Summary
The key responsibilities of this job are to develop a coherent long term strategy for library acquisitions that relates to the curatorial direction and other Collection acquisitions. The incumbent plans, coordinates and manages all aspects of the acquisition of library collection materials. In doing so, the incumbent collaborates actively with the curatorial, editorial, collection and research divisions, as well as with the bookstore and Collection team.

Key responsibilities
Library acquisitions

  • In collaboration with the curatorial, editorial, collection and research divisions, coordinates, plans, develops and manages all aspects of the acquisition of the library collection, and proposes lines of investigation and acquisition
  • Manages and coordinates in collaboration with the Associate Director, Collection, the international exchange program of publications, in relation to curatorial projects and Collection acquisitions
  • Collaborates closely with the bookstore staff on ordering and on curatorial selections to be presented
  • Actively scouts for new publishers, distributors and vendors
  • Manages and monitors the library acquisition operations and budgets
  • Supervises the Acquisition, Assistant and works closely with the Head, Collection Access to improve access to the Collection
  • Prepares customs documentation and negotiate with brokers and delivery firms
  • Manages the standing order plan, selecting series titles for standing order, setting up standing orders and traces multi-volume sets and series to complete library holdings
  • Deals with donors who wish to donate material, providing or arranging evaluations as required

Collection development strategy

  • Works closely with curatorial, editorial and research staff in discussing their projects and develops a coherent collection development strategy that responds to CCA’s diverse and changing research needs
  • Collaborates with CCA Bookstore staff to maintain currency in recent publications and to exchange information on publications
  • Participates in the testing, evaluation, approval and implementation of new software and upgrades to the Library’s integrated online system

Required qualifications

  • Education: Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree from an ALA‑accredited institution and an (under) graduate degree in the history of architecture or art or a related discipline in the humanities
  • Number of years of relevant work experience: 3 to 5 years
  • Excellent knowledge of spoken and written French and English is essential
  • Good understanding of the contemporary debate in architecture
  • Excellent research skills
  • Familiarity with architectural bibliography
  • Facility in handling fragile and precious collection materials
  • Good understanding of electronic publishing and digital developments
  • Good understanding of the out of print book market
  • Good understanding of acquisition databases

Visit the CCA website for full details

Closes: 16 May, 2018

Collection Strategy Librarian, Art & Art History and Design Emphasis, San Jose State University (Reposted)

Location
San Jose, CA
Open Date
Feb 16, 2018

Description
Subject to Budgetary Approval
University Library

Specialization: Collection Strategy Librarian, Art & Art History and Design Emphasis

Job Opening ID (JOID): 24466

Rank: Senior Assistant Librarian (Tenure-track)

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library seeks an innovative and creative librarian to provide leadership in the area of collection strategy. Under the direction of the Director of Academic Services, the Collection Strategy Librarian will collaborate with faculty, library staff, and students to provide guidance in the development, management, delivery, assessment, and planning of the library’s digital and print collections. As a faculty member, the candidate participates in the library liaison program and engages in library and university governance and scholarship, which includes research, scholarly, and creative activities required for tenure and promotion. The Collection Strategy Librarian will serve as the liaison to the Departments of Art & Art History and Design.

Responsibilities:

Under the direction of the Director of Academic Services, leads collection development activities including assessment, selection, and deselection of print, non-print, electronic resources, and gifts in all subject areas.
As part of the Academic Services team, develops the collection management, preservation, and deselection strategy.
Coordinates collection development and selection activities of liaison librarians.
Work with relevant stakeholders in developing collection development policies, evaluating print and electronic material purchases, and providing disciplinary collection assessment and statistical analysis and reports.
Establishes and maintains a strong collaborative relationship with all library units that build and maintain digital and physical collections.
Represents and participates in cooperative collection development programs with other libraries and library consortia.
Develops and maintains an awareness of the trends and issues affecting collection management and development.
Builds a record of progressive scholarly and professional achievement to fulfill the University requirement of retention, tenure and promotion.
Participates in the library liaison program, providing services to the departments of Art & Art History and Design.
Candidate must address the needs of a student population of great diversity – in age, cultural background, ethnicity, primary language and academic preparation

Required Qualifications:

Minimum 2 years of experience in selecting library materials
Experience serving as a liaison to academic programs/departments
Master’s degree from an ALA accredited program or equivalent is required at time of appointment.
Knowledge of planning, designing, and implementing innovative practices or tools to improve collection development and maintenance.
Experience with collection analysis and assessment of print and electronic resources.
Familiarity with a collections budget and collection-related projects.
Excellent analytical, interpersonal, time management, organizational and problem-solving skills.
Applicants should demonstrate awareness of and sensitivity to educational goals of a multicultural population as might have been gained in cross-cultural study, training, teaching and other comparable experience

Preferred Qualifications:

Demonstrated ability to apply metrics and other evaluation criteria to support data-driven collection development decisions.
Demonstrated ability to work collaboratively on collection building and management in a rapidly changing information environment.
Experience or coursework with library resources relevant to the research, teaching, and learning of art, art history, or design.
Undergraduate or graduate degree or equivalent training/work experience in art, art history, or design.
Proficiency with an ILS system and analytics.
Proficiency with Excel or other spreadsheet/reporting platforms.

Salary Range: Commensurate with qualifications and experience.

Starting Date: Summer 2018.

Eligibility: Employment is contingent upon proof of eligibility to work in the United States.

Please include Job Opening ID (JOID) on all correspondence.

Application Instructions
Application Procedures: For full consideration, submit: (1) a letter of interest; (2) curriculum vitae; (3) statement of teaching interests/philosophy; (4) research plan; and (5) names of three professional references with contact information by April 6, 2018 via apply.interfolio.com/49032. This position will remain open until filled.

Important: This item will be required of finalists at the time of on-campus visit: (1) Original, sealed, graduate school transcripts. Mailing address: SJSU, King Library; Attention: Evelia Sanchez; One Washington Square, San Jose, CA 95192-0028.

Tracy Elliott, Dean, University Library, invites you to contact us with your questions at (408) 808-2080 or via email at library-jobs@sjsu.edu. Please visit our websites at http://www.sjsu.edu and library.sjsu.edu. For information on faculty retention, tenure and promotion, see the SJSU Academic Senate policies S15-7 & S15-8 at http://www.sjsu.edu/senate/policies/pol_chron/

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library at San José State University is recognized as an innovative shared facility combining a large academic library (with a collection of over one million items) and a major downtown public library. This facility uses a merged service model to support the lifelong learning needs of academic and public library users. The University Library’s strategic plan is to build a digital library which will “aggressively increase access, creation, and use of digital collections,” and “will creatively utilize innovative technologies to provide the University and the broader community with a 21st century library environment, both physical and digital.”

San José State University is California’s oldest public institution of higher learning. The campus is located on the southern end of San Francisco Bay in downtown San José (Pop. 1,000,000), hub of the world-famous Silicon Valley high-technology research and development center. Many of California’s most popular national, recreational, and cultural attractions are nearby. A member of the 23-campus California State University (CSU) system, San José State University enrolls approximately 35,000 students, a significant percentage of whom are members of ethno-cultural minority groups. The Library – and the University of which it is a part – is committed to increasing the diversity of its faculty so our community can benefit from multiple perspectives.

 

Original posting: https://apply.interfolio.com/49032

Alt-Career Spotlight: Hannah Barton, Art Researcher at Artifex Press

This series of interviews feature individuals who have received their MLIS/MSIS, but do not currently hold positions solely dedicated to art librarianship. Some may work in libraries and have an interest or duties related to art librarianship, while others use their information science skills in fields outside of the traditional library setting.

What is the name of the employer/institution you work for?
I am an art researcher, working with Artifex Press, a publisher of digital catalogues raisonnés.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your current position?
I received my Bachelor’s in Art History from Lewis & Clark College and two years later moved to New York to attend the dual-degree Art History and Library Science Master’s program at Pratt Institute. While receiving my MS and MLIS, I held internships with the New York Art Resources Consortium at the Frick and Museum of Modern Art Libraries, followed by an internship at the Whitney Museum of American Art Library. In my last year at Pratt I was hired by Artifex Press as a Research Assistant on their Jim Dine catalogue raisonné. After the Dine catalogue was published, I began my first solo project of editing the Tim Hawkinson catalogue, which was published in 2015 but remains an ongoing project as the artist continues to create new work. Over the last three years I have also been editing the Lucas Samaras: Boxes catalogue raisonné, which was published to our subscribers at the end of 2017 and will require ongoing research and upkeep.

What brought you to your current position?
After interning at several art libraries in New York, I realized that perhaps a traditional library was no longer where I wanted to work. The job posting for my first position at Artifex Press asked that the applicant be very familiar with library research as well as content standards for art and art history, which for me was the perfect opportunity — I got to put my MLIS to use while researching art!

What does a typical work day look like for you?
Catalogue raisonné research is so vast that I rarely have a “typical” day, though most days involve a lot of emailing — contacting institution owners of works, venues of previous exhibitions, galleries that hold works, etc. During various points in the research process, I also spend a lot of time in art libraries conducting research. The most recent catalogue I’ve been working on includes over 350 publication citations, and I had to track each and every one of those down. And on special days, I get to look at art! I was recently able to travel to Los Angeles to look at a Samaras box owned by a public institution. Our digital catalogue platform allows us to include a variety of multimedia content, and with the Samaras catalogue we have chosen to create short videos of a selection of works, so that the viewer can see how the boxes function with all of their component parts. Going to view the work in person is essential to get a grasp of the intricacies of these works in order to better film them and give the viewer the full understanding of their content.

Do you stay involved in the field of art librarianship and if so, how?
Unfortunately, I have sort of lost touch with the field of art librarianship, aside from utilizing it for my own research needs. I keep up with things peripherally, as I attended ARLIS in New Orleans last year and still have many friends in the field. Art Librarians are some of Artifex Press’s most coveted users, as our catalogues are produced to help with research in the field.

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market?
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box in terms of career options! I went into library school with the direct aim of working in an art library, but I found a job that actually better catered to my interests without really knowing it at first. Traditionally, catalogue raisonné editors and researchers have been art historians and scholars, and while I would consider myself an art historian, I never would have thought I would be editing catalogues raisonnés. I got into the field through my research abilities and my interest in the organization of information, and by sticking around long enough I developed the skills to tackle these projects on my own.

What are some of the current challenges you see in your field or the art/information science field?
One of the main challenges in the field of digital CR creation is convincing users that digital is better than analog for this medium. I completely understand the hesitancy by many to embrace purely digital publications, and I am also guilty of oftentimes preferring analog to digital, being able to hold the book in my hands and flip through the pages, having a physical object to collect and archive. But in the case of catalogues raisonnés, I am now a firm believer that digital is better. Catalogues raisonnés in analog form are already out of date by the time they are printed. Artworks have a life of their own once they leave the artist; they can be infinitely exhibited and cited or illustrated in various publications, as well as can change hands from collector to collector. Once a CR is printed, the history of each object included in the publication can no longer be updated in the completed publication, but with a digital catalogue, the history of each artwork remains current as it can be continually updated. Convincing users that digital is better also comes with the challenge of assuring them that the data will be safe and accessible far into the future. Artifex Press has been working with top art libraries and digital archives to maintain a strategy for permanently archiving the data we are creating.

Tell us something fun about yourself! What do you do in your spare time?
When I’m not working, I try to be outside as much as possible. I love traveling and exploring, even if that just means a quick day trip to somewhere nearby. And when the weather doesn’t cooperate, I’m experimenting with new creative endeavors. I am currently re-learning how to use a sewing machine and I plan to try and make some of my own clothes this year…we’ll see how that goes.

Digital Art Preservation: An annotated bibliography

This past Fall, I took a course in my MLIS program (Wayne State University) called Digital Curation and Preservation. As the title states, this course focused on the curation lifecycle and preservation processes for born-digital materials. Some of the work we did was directly related to libraries, but I also ended up learning techniques and practices for best preserving my own digital files (e.g. digital photos). The final project for this class had each student creating an annotated bibliography on a topic related to digital preservation, either solo or with a group. I chose to focus on digital art preservation and more specifically on articles that discussed documentation practices related to digital art preservation.

I wanted to share my annotated bibliography for anyone who may be interested in doing some reading on digital art preservation. It got me thinking about best practices for creating metadata and documentation that would best assist with the recreation of digital artworks in the future, past their own technological obsolescence. I was also interested in thinking about the contention that can exist between an artist and an institution (e.g. museum) in regards to preservation. Some artworks weren’t meant to last forever and their ephemerality is part of the artists’ intention. My bibliography isn’t even close to being an exhaustive list of resources related to the topic, but in what I read, I noticed a lack of connection between digital preservation as viewed through a librarian/information science lens and digital preservation as approached by those working directly in art institutions, like museums and galleries. I found it pretty interesting to think about and want to further explore these thoughts in the future.

Preventing Lost (Art) History: Problems and Practices of Documentation in Digital Art Preservation

Training Student Reference Assistants in the Academic Art Library: Tips for New Supervisors

With an abundance of paraprofessional and professional positions in art librarianship requiring supervisory responsibilities, newly graduated librarians may find themselves navigating the confusing territory of “recent former student supervising students.” Especially in academic art libraries, professional and paraprofessional staff must be responsible for cataloging, reference, outreach, and collection development, and thus try to maximize their availability by calling upon student employees to staff the circulation desk. Student workers, especially undergraduates, are likely hired under the presumption that they will handle beginner-level tasks such as checking books out, shelving, and labeling. However, in my experience the opposite has been true. When a student is the first point of contact at the circulation desk of a library, they will inevitably be faced with reference questions – and if there is not a librarian in close proximity, they should be prepared to answer those questions appropriately.

While in graduate school I read an article detailing the impact of student reference assistants in music libraries, and it stayed with me as I supervised student employees in an academic performing arts library. In this article from the journal Notes, Beth Christensen, Mary Du Mont, and Alan Green undertake a survey of music library reference services and conclude that “…heavy reliance on student employees may have a negative effect on the overall success of answering reference questions in music libraries,” referring specifically to the high level of patron dissatisfaction associated with assistance received from student employees (2001, p. 47). Due to the many similarities between searching for music resources and searching for art resources (multimedia formats, complex metadata, foreign language resources, copyright roadblocks, and more), the same may be true for visual arts libraries. As a result, I have gathered a few of my thoughts on preparing student reference assistants–specifically undergraduate students–for success.

We have all been warned that the reference desk is a dying concept. As research librarians become more mobile, we find ourselves better suited to embedded environments like classrooms and lecture halls. But, no matter where we find ourselves, we will always need someone to be back in the library, staffing the circulation desk. That person is often a student. I currently work in an all-undergraduate school, which means that our circulation desk students are just starting to learn how to do their own academic research, yet we are entrusting them with the ability to answer reference questions from their peers. For a new supervisor managing front desk students, this can pose a challenge. We want to set our library up for success, and we want the face of our library to be someone with strong art subject knowledge. However, when the professional staff is limited and the expertise of subject librarians is maximized elsewhere, this is not always possible. This means entrusting students to conduct successful patron interactions and, when necessary, delegate. I have found that it is helpful to address student assistants at the beginning of their employment and advise them to seek out a librarian for any questions they do not feel comfortable answering. In my library we have even compiled a list of questions that students assistants should be able to answer and questions they should transfer to a supervisor. This type of list depends upon the policies of your institution, but I have found that having a clearly stated guide to which students can refer is helpful in encouraging an understanding of when to consult a librarian and when to be ambitious and try to answer a question on their own.

Knowing that many of your more ambitious students will still try to answer every question on their own, it is important to convey the complicated nature of searching for resources in the arts. Many of my students are discouraged that when they type a few keywords into the library catalog they do not immediately find the results that they expected. In order to provide student employees with the skills to correct their mistakes and the foresight to understand their own searching capabilities, it is beneficial to use each mistake as a teaching opportunity. If a student presents you with a list of failed search queries, take the time to show them why the query failed and how to improve their search strategies, rather than just doing the work for them. You may find that the next time they are faced with a difficult reference question, they will be more willing to come back to you for help, or if they are fast learners, they may figure out how to do it themselves. Allowing students the opportunity to develop a contextual understanding of how and why some search strategies work and others do not is crucial to success for a new researcher in the very complicated field of art librarianship.

Finally, prepare your students to be successful customer service representatives. Any student reference assistant should be able to provide a satisfactory response to any patron’s question, whether they know the answer or not. A trick that I learned while working as a library page in a public library is to instruct student employees that they are never allowed to say “no” to a patron. For example: If they search the catalog for a book title, and the title does not appear, instead of saying “No, we do not have that book,” they should think of a way to continue the conversation with the patron by offering them another solution such as “I do not see it in the catalog, but would you like me to ask the Librarian for help?” or “I do not think we own this book, but can I direct you to Interlibrary Loan?” There is no better resource for teaching your student employees this reference strategy than the American Library Association’s Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers (which I will link to below). If you have any student employees who have worked in retail or public service, they may already have a strong understanding of how to politely handle patron inquiries, but if they are new to this type of work, referring frequently to this guide may help to guide them along the way.

The challenge of working with student reference assistants is inevitable. Not only do student employees often have varying ranges of comfort conducting information searches, but even if we hire the perfect prospective art major to sit at our circulation desk, chances are that this student will be graduating in a few years, and we will need to search for someone new. When we find ourselves in the role of “supervisor,” it is our responsibility to assure not only that we maximize our time spent training student employees, but that we graduate students who know more about research and information retrieval and can act as mentors to their peers.

Christensen, B., Du Mont, M., & Green, A. (2001). Taking Note: Assessing the Performance of Reference Service in Academic Music Libraries: A Progress Report. Notes, 58(1), 39-54. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/900862

 

Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers. (2016, August 02). Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/rusa/resources/guidelines/guidelinesbehavioral

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!

Alt-Career Spotlight: Joanne Fenn, Collections Manager/Museum Registrar for the Kent State University Museum

This series of interviews features individuals who have received their MLIS/MSIS, but do not currently hold positions solely dedicated to art librarianship. Some may work in libraries and  have an interest or duties related to art librarianship, while others use their information science skills in fields outside of the traditional library setting.

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

I work for the Kent State University Museum, informally known as the “Fashion Museum.” The Kent State Museum contains important collections of fashion and decorative arts. Its seven galleries feature changing exhibitions of work by many of the world’s great designers. Closely linked to the Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman School of Fashion Design and Merchandising at Kent State University, the Museum provides students first-hand experience with historic and contemporary fashions, as well as costumes representing many of the world’s cultures. An extensive collection of American glass, fine furniture, textiles, paintings and other decorative arts combine to give context to the study of design. The Museum serves both the University and the community through exhibitions, public programs, and research appointments in the collections.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your current position?
I have a B.A. in art history, and M.A. in arts administration, and an M.L.I.S.
Prior to KSUM, I worked for 10 years at The Cleveland Museum of Art in their Asian Art department and Registrar’s office.

I am the collections manager/museum registrar for the museum, with the academic rank of associate professor. I find that I need to explain to most everyone what I do. I am responsible for the intellectual and physical organization and care of the collection. The university considers my work as teaching in a non-traditional way; as a practitioner. It is a similar rational for why librarians have an academic rank.

What brought you to your current position?
I was looking for a change for a myriad of reasons from work/life balance to expanded opportunities. The timing was perfect.

What does a typical work day look like for you?
As you can imagine, collections work means the typical work day varies. Some of my favorite variations involve working directly with students hired to help me, and teaching collections management workshops for graduate library science students. I also work with faculty helping to augment classroom pedagogy through use of the collection. Because of the nature of the collection (predominantly light sensitive textiles) there is not a permanent collection gallery. The museum is in exhibition-change mode frequently, and we also travel in-house exhibitions and individual loans. The work ranges from desk work (contracts, “database” projects, grant writing) to projects that require physical strength and agility (installing/de-installing, packing/crating, etc.).

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market?

Of course to obtain hands-on museum experience through volunteering and internships. Recognize that this is a highly competitive field, so get as much education and training as feasible. Also, be positive; it will happen!

What are some of the current challenges you see in your field or the art/information science field?
Keeping up with technology in a way that serves museums, but does not replace the experience.

Tell us something fun about yourself! What do you do in your spare time? If you could take a trip to visit any library or museum in the world, which would it be?
In my spare time I like to exercise and run. I greatly enjoy spending time with my husband and children, especially if it involves a beach.

If I could visit any museum in the world? That’s difficult! There are so many fascinating collections. I’ll just work my way through as many as I can (especially if it involves a beach).