By A.M. LaVey
I spent 2020 in Belarus researching and writing my master’s dissertation on the topic of traditional textiles — specifically embroidery and ornament as codes of Belarusianness. I was in Belarus in August of that year, when protests began following the contested presidential elections. At the completion of my art history degree and my return to the states, I started a master’s in library and information studies at the University of Rhode Island, and am currently scheduled to graduate in December 2021.
This past summer, working with a Belarusian studies colleague, I was able to set up a professional field experience in visual information curation at the University of Michigan Fine Arts Library. I worked on a project that allowed me to use my combined subject librarianship skills in art and Slavic studies under the supervision of Jamie Lausch Vander Broek, Librarian for Art & Design. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I conducted this internship remotely.
My internship project, in cooperation with the Stamps School of Art and Design at University of Michigan, was to help develop a digital exhibition for the library that focused on social media, protest art, and textiles in the context of the ongoing unrest in Belarus.
I had several objectives for this experience: employing information representation and retrieval standards for visual information; evaluating, gathering and synthesizing information; and using technology to design an innovative resource to communicate this information to a wide range of audiences. I met these objectives through curatorial and digital exhibition design research, training with new technologies and digital platforms, writing descriptions and developing metadata systems for visual resources, serving as the exhibition cataloguer and bibliographer, and liaising between the library and the curator.
As the exhibition cataloguer, I researched a variety of textiles objects that had been collected by the curator within five major categories: flags, costumes, masks, embroidery, and digital ornaments. I researched, developed, and executed a visual resource metadata standard for the exhibit utilizing Omeka content management system, Dublin Core Metadata Element Set and the Getty Vocabularies. For each of the 73 items, I filled out the catalog record with the necessary metadata and wrote a description for it.
After completing the catalog, I developed five separate bibliographies corresponding to the five categories. Starting with the University of Michigan Library collection, I curated informational resources in Belarusian, English, Polish and Russian.
I am grateful to have had this experience. It gave me an entry point into academic/art librarianship and gave me a taste of what to expect. Because of the pandemic, I was unable to visit the library in person — in fact, my preceptor is still working from home —and therefore I feel I did not get a super authentic experience. Still, it should be a helpful stepping stone into future professional employment.
In regards to practical library skills, I learned a lot about the function of library exhibitions and all that goes into curating them. I also got to put my theoretical classroom knowledge of visual resource description as it relates to visual information representation and retrieval into action.
The project is ongoing.
Thanks to the ARLIS/NA Wolfgang M. Freitag Internship Award, I was equitably compensated for my labor.
A.M. LaVey is a bibliographer specializing in Slavic and East European spaces and an MLIS candidate at the University of Rhode Island. Research interests include the intersection of information and textiles and the creative function of visual archives.
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