Profile: Sheila Cork, Art Librarian at the New Orleans Museum of Art

Name: Sheila Cork
Job: Art Librarian at the New Orleans Museum of Art

NOMA

Walking into the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), one would hardly know that beneath the beautiful marble and tiled floor there is a Special Library, the Felix J. Dreyfous library to be exact. A set of inconspicuous doors lead the visitor down to the administrative offices and the library sits, waiting, on the other side of glass walls.

One woman, Sheila Cork, runs the show as the Art Librarian in a library that is home to over 20,000 titles (mostly monographs), 70 art-specific journal titles, and exhibition archives from 1911 – 2000.

“The biggest thing I found in my life… is to volunteer in something in your field. It will always lead to something,” she says when prompted for advice for young professionals.

Volunteering is how Cork found her way to libraries in the first place. Starting in 1985, Cork began to volunteer at her local library in England. She started with book mending and worked her way up to Circulation Services. When she and her husband moved to the United States, Cork realized that to continue advancing in the field, she would have to earn her MLIS degree.

While working in the Reference department at the Hancock County Library in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Cork studied to earn her masters degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. During the course of her studies, Cork was made the Head of Information Services at the library. Although she liked the promotion, she realized that it was “very administrative and not very ‘hand-on’.”

Seeking a change, Cork applied for the position as an Art Librarian at a “Fine Art Institution” according to the job ad. That “Fine Art Institution” happened to be the New Orleans Museum of Art. Cork and her husband moved to New Orleans in June 2005, two months before Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city.

“We were lucky…we only had puddles to clean up,” Cork said, thinking back to her first days on the job.

Since becoming the Librarian at NOMA, Cork has put into place a volunteer system, with 8 to 9 people (usually undergraduate students) who work 2 to 4 hours a week. She has coordinated the NOMA Book Club, discussion groups, author events, field trips, and programming. Her current projects include digitizing scrapbooks/ephemera and digitizing Works Progress Act project files.

When asked for any closing words of wisdom, Cork replied, “Be flexible about what you do. Be able to work with different people. And never be afraid to clean the windows.”

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