Guest Post: Shannon Robinson, ALA 2013 – ACRL Arts Report

Shannon Robinson is the Fine Arts Librarian at Denison University.

The American Library Association (ALA) Annual held in June 2013 was my first ALA conference. I was awarded the New Members Round Table’s (NMRT) Professional Development Grant to attend the conference. I have been a member of NMRT for about a year. Similar to ARLiSNAP, NMRT members are students and new professionals. The group focuses on career development and leadership opportunities within ALA.

In the past year I also joined the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) Arts section. ACRL Arts is the area of ALA that supports librarians and specialists working in the visual and performing arts. At the conference, ACRL Arts held a committee meeting followed by two presentations.

Amanda Meeks and Michelle Strizever presented Uncovering Hidden Art Collections about their summer 2012 work as the Smithsonian Libraries interns for artists’ books. Amanda and Michelle are also co-coordinators of ARLIS/NA’s Book Art Special Interest Group. Librarians who catalog and maintain artists’ book collections face many unique challenges. Many library staff members don’t understand preservation needs of artists’ books, which are actually artworks. Book art collections often share funding with other, more popular collections and book art collections would greatly benefit from better cataloging (including visuals in the item records). During their internship, Amanda and Michelle curated an exhibit of artists’ books from the Smithsonian’s collection. To promote the exhibition, they held a well-attended opening reception and blogged about the collection on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

Alex Watkins made the case for Why Open Access Matters for the Arts. It doesn’t seem like a strong case; after all, Alex reminded us, arts journals are the lowest journal prices of all the disciplines. However, universities around the world can’t necessarily afford these journals. Art history scholarship about a community (particularly non-western) can’t even be read by that community! For patrons of these libraries, open access is the only access. Another important point Alex made is that paywalls create a divide between academia and the public. The general public is very much engaged and interested in the arts yet cut off from much of the research and intellectual conversation about the arts. Open access invites the public to participate in this scholarship.

I was very impressed with both presentations and met new librarians at the meeting. I recommend joining the ACRL Arts listserv and, if you are a member of ACRL, join the section – it’s free! NMRT and ACRL Arts have made my ALA membership worthwhile.

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