As of this writing, it’s been just about six months since my degree was awarded. I handed in my last coursework at the end of August 2014, and did some nail-biting while my thesis was graded. But I didn’t actually see my physical degree, framed and signed and in all its majesty, until last week, when I went home for Easter! It was surprisingly affecting — I didn’t think seeing my name all gussied up like that was going to be such a gut-punch of emotion, but I am really proud of that big piece of paper.
Between seeing that and reading this, I thought I’d try my hand at articulating a bit of perspective. It’s hard for me to write a “what I’ve learned” article without hedging my bets a bit — there are things I’ve started to dig into deeper, but I wouldn’t say I’m an expert or that my knowledge has yet paid off in practical terms. I started a full-time job as a corporate archivist the week after handing in my thesis, so a lot of what I can recommend isn’t directly applicable to arts librarianship or even the majority of MLIS/MISt graduates who might be reading this. But, I’m going to tell you what I do anyways, and it starts with how I …
1. Criticize myself.
There is no time for a break, no time to kick back and separate yourself from the field once you hand in your last assignments. Chances are you’ve got a job offer lined up, unfinished research projects, a handful of applications to send out, a move, some volunteer commitments or conferences, or some other thing that should be occupying your time.
But you should prioritize a few hours (ideally with wine) to assess your situation, yourself, and your goals: what gaps are left in your education that will stand between you and your dream jobs? What experience do you lack based on the job postings you’re seeing? What’s the most likely progression going to be for you, from entry-level onwards? How can you prepare for each of those steps?
One of the best little tricks is to go back and read the term papers and assignment you handed in in your first semester. Does it make you cringe now to see how naive you were? Alternatively, aren’t you impressed with how far you’ve come in such a short time?
I never would’ve guessed I’d end up in corporate, but here we are, and I’m trying to look critically at which of the soft skills I’m picking up here (project management, training, research and policy-writing, etc.) are transferable and provable, and which ones I still need to acquire, so that I can start out at higher than entry-level when I get back into art and media work. But I have to acknowledge that some of my discipline-specific skills are getting rusty, so I …
2. Keep abreast.
Are you happy with all the listservs and newsfeeds you belong to? Could you stand to add more, or lose a few of the less-relevant options?
Personally, my feed for information on the profession comes from a couple of Canadian archiving lists, ARLIS, AMIA, SHARP, MCN, and the ALCTS eForum I mentioned previously. I’ve pared down a bit, and there are a few lists I’d like to be on for which I can’t afford a membership.
AMIA, for example, is a fantastic way just to keep in mind all the weird format issues and preservation challenges that multimedia workers face every day — there are always emails about finding a specific fitting for a rare tape player, or how best to clean a certain type of film with flourescent dye on it. If you’re bad at mechanical terminology, I guarantee you’ll pick it up quickly.
I don’t read any librarianship-specific websites regularly (other than job boards, for ArLiSNAP), but because of Twitter I’m constantly seeing blog posts from people like Barbara Fister on Inside Higher Ed, updates to journals, etc. If you want art-specific Twitter accounts to follow, check out the institutions and individuals that the ArLiSNAP account follows. (I follow a more eclectic collection, but hey, here are a couple suggestions.)
I can’t afford individual journal subscriptions, and I don’t have institutional access to that stuff, but I do read up on accessible (OA, PD) things when they go by in my feed. I only splurge on one physical publication, and that’s Cabinet Magazine, which doesn’t keep me up-to-date so much as inspire me regularly on all fronts.
On WordPress I follow things like Archives Gig, SNAP RT, most of the ARLIS SIGs’ and Sections’ blogs, and a few oddballs like Artist-Driven Archives and Failure in the Archives. I’m sure someone will tell me that I should consolidate or aggregate a bit better, but, nah.
I’ve also got a special label in Gmail just for Calls For Proposals from the various listservs: I’m not going to apply for many this year, and most of them aren’t applicable to what I do, but I like being able to see what kinds of research and projects are being asked for, when the various deadlines come up, and which journals and conferences I might just want to consume without contributing to. But, occasionally, I do apply for stuff, because it’s always important to …
On top of the full-time job, I’ve got a few guest posts and articles queued up for publishing, two regular volunteer commitments (ArLiSNAP, and a journal I help copyedit) and some irregular ones (peer-reviewing for two journals), an ongoing data-mining project with a non-profit here in Toronto (no funding, just fun!), writing for ArLiSNAP and my own blog, and maintaining a Twitter presence of questionable quality.
I’ve done two conferences so far this year, and have two more to come (both speaking engagements, one of which is reporting on a yearly survey I run using Google Forms). This weekend I decided to start a project to improve listings of library and archives associations in Canada (probably with the goal of making Wikipedia pages for each). I have at least four copyright-related tumblrs I’d like to start. Now that I’m thinking of it, I volunteered to copyedit a new book by CARLIS, which I should be hearing about any day now ….
I think of all this as essential to keeping myself engaged with the fields I want to be in. As opposed to grad school, where my time was occupied in shallow exploration of a lot of subjects of varying interest to me, now I get to dig deep into the things I’m passionate about, and construct a broader career arc that includes artists’ practices and intents, copyrights and moral rights for creators, the history of print, preservation and access of both art and art-related documentation, and new techniques for analyzing art. Without calling it “personal branding,” I will say it was a lot easier to define some long-term research goals once I distanced myself from the generalist approach of my classes. Which leads me to …
4. Forget about everything I did in school.
No offense to my alma mater, but I didn’t leave school with a huge network of trusted peers and great professors (or respect for government funding for higher-ed, or ALA accreditation, or …). There was little critical education in the classes I took, which is understandable given the breadth of what has to be taught, but it meant I didn’t find people who thought and argued like I do. Being thrown into a room with people doesn’t guarantee you’ll find things to talk about — and the #1 thing I’ve learned since graduating is that there is a huge variance of why people got into this profession, and what it is they want to accomplish within it.
I moved away from Montreal when graduation was in sight, so I may have shot myself in the foot a little there (also I’m not on Facebook and am only a recent convert to Twitter), but I’ve managed to network so much better back in Toronto, without many ties to the people I spent a year and a half interacting with. A lot of it is online, through associations and listservs and volunteer work with eventual face-to-face meetings at conferences — and a lot of it is engaging people on social media once I’ve come to know and respect their work.
I think the best part of my MLIS was the four jobs I did during that time — one RA position, one job in the library, one internship for a design company, one summer contract with a non-profit — because it gave me at least some experience in a diversity of settings. While I am invested in the academic use of the degree, I wasn’t going to get a job without being able to articulate some proven skills and accomplishments. So, yeah, I recycled some term papers as applications for student awards, sure, but I don’t think my classwork and student chapter attendance are worth much now — and I’m sure they’re not all you have to offer the world, either. Which is why it’s good to ….
5. Stay smart about career moves.
I’ve taken to reading Get Bullish for career inspiration and advice; you might enjoy one or more of the following, if these questions are on your mind:
I am also a fan of the Billfold, not just for the voyeurism involved in their “how other people do money” column, but for some of these:
… I think that’s it. Other than “Don’t be ashamed of using a lot of spreadsheets to get things done.”
In this second part of my interview Erinn Paige and Laura Damon-Moore of The Library as Incubator Project we talk about makerspaces and more.
Tell me about your involvement with makerspaces and the class that you teach on the subject.
Laura: We came to the conversation about maker spaces pretty early on, and I would say that our main function was and continues to be as a clearinghouse for stories ABOUT maker spaces in libraries. We are by no means the only clearinghouse/info-sharing hub out there on that topic. I think the makerspace discussion fits really well with the LAIP’s focus on hands-on, self-directed, participatory learning, and we consider maker programs a key part of the “arts-incubating” library. Our online course, the Makerspace Mindset (which runs through University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies Continuing Ed), operates in a similar way that the LAIP does as a whole–it’s a place for story sharing, practical how-to’s, professional development, and lots of discussion about how to approach maker programs and resources in a way that makes sense for your library and your community. Scalabilty is a big thing that we talk about–how a small library can make meaningful maker programming happen without space, time, or extra money.
Erinn: I think the exciting thing about makerspaces in libraries is that it definitely fits into the basic mission of providing access to information, but there aren’t a lot of best practices set in stone yet. Makerspaces are an exciting service model because they really push libraries toward that platonic ideal of information life cycle– people don’t just consume information in a makerspace, they create new information in the form of new stuff. They learn skills by applying them directly to a project. I think Laura’s point about scalability speaks directly to the idea that this is new-ish territory for libraries (though the conversation about active learning models has been raging for awhile in education)– there are hundreds of ways to create a space for this kind of information exchange in a library setting.
Are maker programs finding their way into academic art libraries? Which should we take note of?
Laura: They definitely are happening. We’ve published some neat examples on our website. I LOVE the Hatchery, a web resource published by the Glasgow School of Art Library which documents the myriad ways that the GSA Art Library incubates the work of artists at GSA and beyond. We also were lucky enough to visit the Rakow Research Library at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY this January. This amazing research library is doing a lot to support hands-on learning and making.
These examples said, I’d love to hear MORE from academic art libraries about maker programs that they’re hosting–I know there’s a lot happening and we’d love to share it, of course!
What do you think are the most important issues facing the arts in libraries today?
Erinn: Communication. Both libraries and arts organizations need a crash course in advocacy and PR. Essentially, you take what you do, and you re-phrase it in the language that politicians speak. This is a no-brainer, and it clearly works, and yet libraries and arts orgs seem to perpetually struggle with it. If you’re only talking about what you believe in in terms that make sense to you, you’re preaching to the choir. You have to communicate it to others in the context that means the most to them.
Just for fun – what is your favorite library? Work of art or artist?
Erinn: My favorite library is the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main, which is in the Oakland neighborhood in Pittsburgh and is in this fabulous, monolithic building along with the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. The windows in the upper level stacks look out onto the dinosaur exhibits. Plus, the people who work there are incredibly smart and are doing great things.
Laura: I will always have a soft spot for the library in my hometown, Mount Vernon, Iowa. It is a funky library; the Mount Vernon Public Library collection is housed in the basement of Russell D. Cole Library, the academic library on the Cornell College campus. Growing up I thought it was totally natural to be going to watch a puppet show or to check out picture books in the same library where college students were checking out their books and writing research papers.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Erinn: Follow us! We have a small social media empire and we share great content and ideas from arts-incubating librarians all across the country and the world. We’d love to talk to you and find out more about what you’re excited about at the intersection of art and libraries.
Laura: Definitely that we want to hear from you and work with you to tell your arts + library stories!
Erinn Paige (left) and Laura Damon-Moore (right) are at the helm of The Library as Incubator Project. I recently talked with them about LAIP and their other endeavors.
What is Library As Incubator Project and what motivated you to embark on this adventure?
Laura: At this point, the Library as Incubator Project is a multifaceted information sharing machine. We continue to exist online, through our primary website and in social media neighborhoods. We’ve been lucky enough to publish a book based on and extending the work we do online. We also exist in “real life” through public presentations, professional development workshops, and in-person programs that we do for libraries and other cultural institutions.
At the most basic level, the LAIP began as a way to explore the connection between libraries and creative people. Erinn and I came to Library and Information services with backgrounds in the humanities and creative arts. So the LAIP started as a way to explore the connection of creativity, information, and community, to see how it happens formally and informally in the library setting, and then, because we were hearing so many great stories, we knew we had to share them with a wider audience.
What were/are some challenges and rewards in running Library As Incubator Project?
Erinn: It is a constant challenge to juggle a full time job and the LAIP, which could easily be a full time job in and of itself. We’re both also artists in our own right (hence our interest in the library-arts connection), and supporting a creative life while sharing stories of other people’s creative lives can be a challenge too!
But the place that the whole project sprang from is an elegant support– it’s that egalitarian, helpful library space, AND it’s that hands-on creative space that you find in a studio environment. We’re very project oriented, and so Laura and I and our team will take on individual LAIP projects that interest us, and when we hit obstacles, we have a whole team who can offer critique, just like you get in a studio: what’s working, what isn’t, techniques that could help, skills and resources to apply. By the same token, we also really support one another in our creative pursuits.
Laura: I wish we had more time and more resources to do more, more, more! It was definitely a challenge to settle into a routine as we all graduated and juggled job stuff plus the LAIP. For a while it felt like there were a lot of balls up in the air and we were sort of scrambling to sort out who would catch which one as they fell.
Rewards have got to be the community that has developed around the LAIP. This ranges from our teammates, Katie and Holly, to our awesome site post contributors (cough cough, Rebecca, cough) to the people that we connect with on social media and in person at programs and conferences. When we go visit institutions and talk with people, people are generally excited to talk with us, but WE get so much MORE excited hearing about the amazing programs and partnerships people have going on. It’s the best and absolutely why I keep working on this.
What are your “day jobs” and how do they integrate with managing Library As Incubator Project?
Erinn: I’m the Programing Librarian at New Canaan Library in New Canaan Connecticut, which is a relatively new position for me– I just started in 2014.
Although the actual work of running the Library as Incubator Project ( web building, editing, writing, social media, presentations and conferences, etc etc) all happens on my own time, the philosophical underpinnings that guide our work on the LAIP transfer directly to programming librarianship– namely, that information isn’t always something that you can collect and slap a barcode on in order to provide access. There’s a very real body of “creative information” (for lack of a better term) that can only be accessed in real-world connections: conversations with experts, hands-on learning opportunities, etc. Learning by doing. Apprenticeship.
Working on the Library as Incubator Project has proven, again and again, that Libraries are central to not just an information exchange (resource –> person), but an information life cycle— people learn, people use what they learn to make something new; that new thing sparks conversation and more learning and more making and more sharing. Through the Incubator, I’ve seen proof that we can be the alpha and omega of that life cycle, and I bring that ideal to work every day. That’s what I want my library to be.
Laura: I am the Assistant Director at a small public library in Evansville, Wisconsin, just outside of Madison. My position focuses on Programming and Outreach, mainly with families and youth. I do everything from facilitating early literacy programs to running after school activities to planning and hosting special community programs on weekends, inside and outside of the library.
From a practical standpoint, I am able to integrate LAIP work into my routine pretty easily – I am 80% in my position at the library, so I have one weekday off where I can focus on other things, and luckily, at this point, the LAIP has become a natural part of my weekly rhythm and routine.
Like Erinn, the LAIP has done a lot in terms of directing the way that I approach my job philosophically. It’s about making a space where people feel welcome to explore, learn something new, experiment, fail, try it again, share their work, help others. From another practical standpoint, the LAIP means that we hear about a lot of awesome new initiatives and program ideas. It’s like a smorgasboard of creative arts programming that I get to pick and choose from, depending on what will work best for my community.
Be sure to catch part two of our conversation here tomorrow!
Lindsey Reynolds is the new(ish) Art Librarian at the Birmingham Museum of Art, in Birmingham, Alabama (http://www.artsbma.org). She’s graciously agreed to answer some questions for us here at ArLiSNAP.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your current position?
I got my MLIS degree from the University of Alabama in December 2011. I was fortunate to receive the ARLIS/NA internship award that year, so I went to New York in the Spring of 2012 to intern with the New York Art Resources Consortium (MoMA, the Frick, and the Brooklyn Museum libraries). After that, I took an archiving job at an architecture firm in Atlanta. In mid-2013 I went back to New York to work at the Whitney as the Library Assistant. And last September I started as the Librarian at the Birmingham Museum of Art.
What drew you to this position and art librarianship in general?
I had frequented the BMA as a student and really respected their permanent collection. I enjoy being at a smaller institution – I’ve gotten to know all of my colleagues and get to work on more museum-wide projects. The museum has recently challenged itself to grow from a regional clearing house for travelling exhibitions to a nationally-recognized and locally relevant museum, producing our own exhibitions and providing a socially-engaged, creative platform for our community. I’m excited to be a part of that change.
What are your main roles/duties at your current position?
I have a few interns and volunteers, but I’m the only librarian at the museum which means I am responsible for both the library collection and the institutional archives. So far I’ve been getting familiar with the collection and doing some housekeeping. I’m planning a stacks shift for the summer, and am working on a records retention policy for the museum which will hopefully help to grow our institutional archive. I’m most excited to start acquiring artist’s books.
What is a typical day like for you?
My days vary tremendously, that’s one of my favorite parts of the job. Since I’m the only one, I can really tailor my day to suit my moods – some days I do a little bit of everything (policy writing, outreach, reference, acquisitions), other days I dedicate to one task (cataloging or processing usually), and other days I have so many meetings that I hardly get to sit down at my desk!
What were/are some challenges for you as a new art librarian? Are these related to larger challenges in art librarianship?
At first my biggest challenge felt like finding a job. Now that I’ve tried a few, I think one of the biggest challenges for me, and for museum libraries in general, is staying relevant and visible to my colleagues and to the public. It can be hard to push for more funding since libraries don’t typically generate income – I see it as an opportunity for creativity and collaboration.
What are the most important things emerging art librarians should know?
There are so many opportunities out there! Look around and find a career path that suits you (see the “New Voices in the Profession” panel at the ARLIS/NA conference if you need ideas!)
When you’re applying for jobs pay attention to where the library falls in an institution’s hierarchy – it can tell you a lot about the institution’s priorities and their commitment to the library/archives department.
Just for fun – what is your favorite library? Work of art or artist?
Oh geez – those are unanswerable questions. I’m pretty enamored with Etel Adnan’s work lately. I had never seen her artist’s books until the Whitney Biennial last year, and I think they’re great. I also really enjoy the things that the Office of Culture and Design are doing in the Philippines, especially the Manila Review. They are using publications as a platform for community engagement and are a great example of what social practitioners can achieve and keeping a sense of humor throughout it all.
Name: Sheila Cork
Job: Art Librarian at the New Orleans Museum of Art
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.”
The Library Journal 2014 salary survey results are out.
There are several parts to the article, including a generic presentation of the data. There’s no breakdown by the type of materials the respondents work with, but there is categorization by position type (reference, instruction, metadata, etc.) and by institution type (public, academic, etc.). Personally, I fit into the “archives” and “other organization” slots (not to mention the “Canada / International” category) and there isn’t a ton of data to compare myself to. I seem to have the exact average salary. I guess that’s okay.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of that discussion on the ARLIS-L listserv a few months back, about whether or not the art-librarianship niche has enough specific data to work from. Still hoping someone will take up this torch ….
(If you’re hurting for a research project for a class, this is something you should seriously consider.)
Meanwhile, there is a variety of advice offered in the LJ articles for new graduates, or the soon-to-graduate:
The graduating class of 2013 offered similar reactions to the job search as their colleagues from previous classes. Those who landed a job just prior to or shortly after graduation felt “fortunate”; others found it necessary to compromise in the type of job they sought. Graduates cited another year of “not enough experience for an entry-level position” and “a competitive pool of applicants.” Some advised those following in their footsteps to consider “second choice” options and “to be flexible” in approaching the range of jobs. One graduate suggested the second choice option might turn out to be the most fun.
I am curious to know, in the opinion of our illustrious audience, whether we at ArLiSNAP should post more jobs that are “second-choice”-style: graphic design / web development, project management, or other jobs in libraries and cultural institutions that aren’t specifically about visual resource management (take, for example, the job posts I put up this morning – lots of research and curation, which might be good experience, but aren’t specifically in this field).
I would also take this opportunity to link to the American Alliance of Museums’ salary survey results, but the link to the 2012 survey on this page seems to be broken. If you have useful salary resources, please share them with us in the comments!
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. – Mahatma Gandhi
It’s the “Back to School” edition of #SLAtalk! Whether you are currently a library school student or an experienced info pro, continuing education and professional development are crucial for a successful career. We’re thrilled to be joining forces with our friends at INALJ.com to bring you an hour-long Twitter chat about learning and keeping your skills sharp. Don’t be too cool for school, join us for #SLAtalk and be voted “Most Likely to Succeed!”
Monday, September 22nd
● Session 1 – 3:00 pm EDT (Use hashtag #SLAtalk)
● Session 2 – 9:00 pm EDT (Use hashtag #INALJchat)
What time is that where you are?
► New to doing a Twitter chat? Take a look at “How to #SLAtalk”
Q1 (first 15 minutes) : For current MLIS students, which courses are you most excited about this term? If you’re out of school, which courses did you feel helped you the most with your job or career?
Q2 (second 15 minutes) : Whether it’s at a conference or a webinar, which professional development topics are vital for your continuing education? Which topics are yesterday’s news? What isn’t being covered that you’d like to see?
Q3 (third 15 minutes) : Do you feel that library school prepares (or, did prepare) you for the working world? What are library schools doing to connect students with jobs? What can be done better?
Q4 (last 15 minutes) : How do you see library/info science education programs changing? How do you think library education programs could improve?
Can’t join us live on Twitter? Check the SLA Blog’s #SLAtalk category for the recap which will be posted following the session.