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New Art Librarian Ashley Peterson
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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!


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.


Job postings

Library Assistant (Full Time & Part Time openings), Academy of Art University, San Francisco

PT LibrarianArt Institute of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX 

 


ARLIS/NA Canada Call For Proposals: Book Chapters on Art Libraries in Canada

Attention all Canadian art-librarian hopefuls! Here’s a great project to be involved in, if you have worked at, or are interested in, one of the many art libraries our country has to offer. If you’d like to get published, do an interesting research project, and support the efforts of Canadian ARLIS members, take a look.

The first edition of the History of Art Librarianship in Canada: Essay in the History of Art Librarianship in Canada came out in 2006; the second edition would ideally come out in 2015, and needs to be expanded to include more libraries as well as recent developments. Some discussion about the project, and a short list of art libraries to be profiled, is in the 2013 Annual Report.

There are two deadlines for proposals: April 25th (if you’d like to have your proposal discussed in Washington next month), and May 30th (the extended deadline). I encourage you to send a query before April 25th, even if you can’t complete a full proposal by that day.

The full CFP has more details, but here are some excerpts:

This initial project was generously sponsored and funded by the National Gallery of Canada Library and

Archives and first made available online in 2006. We would like to continue this tradition of excellence by

publishing a second edition that will include additional essays on libraries, institutions and related resource centres not profiled in the original publication.

 

We have compiled a list of libraries that could be included, but realize that logistically some may not be able to commit to a full research project of this nature at present. So the committee is eager to hear from you directly and encourages you to submit proposals for the second edition of the History of Art Libraries in Canada. Our hope is that your input will help us build the structure for this anthology of library histories.

 

….

 

It is understandable that histories will vary in length and include diverse types of documentation, so we

encourage any potential contributors to apply, even if primary supporting sources for your library’s story

would be oral histories, memoirs, or other unpublished ephemeral information sources. As was the case with the first edition, the History of Art Libraries in Canada vol.2 will profile the establishment and evolution of collections, spaces, visual and information literacy services, as well as the profession of art librarianship in Canada.

 

The working committee is eager to profile as many libraries as possible, so we encourage you to submit

a proposal if you are capable of researching, documenting, and writing an essay within roughly the next year. Although an official publication date has not been finalized, we hope to have a clear picture of the libraries to be included by Spring 2014 and begin compiling and editing the publication by 2015.

 

….

 

If you are interested and can realistically work within this timeframe, please consider submitting a

proposal (Microsoft Word document preferable) that includes:

Institution name;

Primary author(s) name and job description or professional connection to the institution;

Estimated length of text and a general overview of the content for the entry (roughly 250 words; a bulleted list of topics is acceptable);

Whether rights-cleared images will be included for reproduction;

General bibliography of sources.

 

Submit all applications by email to:

Daniel Payne dpayne@ocadu.ca

Canadian Member-at-Large, ARLIS/NA Canada; Head Reference & Instructional Services, Dorothy H. Hoover Library, OCAD University

Application Deadline:

Please endeavor to have proposals submitted by:

Friday 25 April 2014 (so that results can be presented on Sat. 3 May at the ARLIS/NA Canada Chapter meeting at the 42nd annual ARLIS/NA Conference in Washington DC).

The committee realizes, however, that this leaves little time for preparation of materials and planning for research allowances, so an additional deadline will be offered for those that need an extended preparation time period, set at:

Friday 30 May 2014 


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