Hack Your MLIS Program: Visual Resources Librarianship

Hi Arlisnappers! After a yearlong absence, I am back on the blog as a feature post writer and excited to be a part of the ArLiSNAP team once again. I recently graduated with my MLIS and I currently work as the Director of Visual Resources at the University of Georgia.

In April 2014, I shared my tips for hacking your MLIS program to focus on art librarianship. Now I’m back with a better-late-than-never follow-up on how I hacked my MLIS program to prepare for my career in visual resources librarianship. We have discussed how to plan your coursework so you are prepared to manage digital collections before, and this post will focus specifically on what you need to manage visual resources collections.

Visual Resources Center, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Image courtesy of Courtney Baron.

Visual Resources Center, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Image courtesy of Courtney Baron.

What is visual resources librarianship?

Visual resources librarianship is a bit different from art librarianship, though the two fields require similar skills and educational backgrounds. I have worked as a full-time visual resources professional for one year now, so I have a good idea of what the profession involves and what is required to do the job successfully. That being said, each position is unique depending on the needs of the institution. Visual resources professionals historically functioned as slide librarians, usually in art/art history departments or libraries. Now, we primarily manage digital image collections, though slide collections still exist at many institutions, and assist faculty and students with their image needs. We may also manage public visual resources spaces that range from digital scanning and projects labs to libraries with circulating materials.

Become involved in VRA

The Visual Resources Association (VRA) is smaller than ARLIS, but equally as welcoming. Hands down, this is the best way to get – and stay – connected to the field, especially if you are one of the few people in your program interested in art and visual resources librarianship. Not only do you have access to a large network of art and visual resources professionals, but you can also follow news, concerns, and trends on the VRA listserv. I encourage you to be active on the listserv as well since name recognition can help you in your job search later on! Seriously – my predecessor was very active, and I get asked about him all the time. If you have been involved with ARLIS but haven’t yet ventured into VRA, there is a joint conference next year in Seattle, WA, so it will be an opportune time to check out both organizations and annual conferences. There is also a similar group to ArLiSNAP called vreps – visual resources association emerging professionals and students – that you should join. The VRA Bulletin is the journal of the association and each issue contains a wealth of information about current issues and practices in the field.

Focus coursework and projects on visual resources topics

As I said in part one, the best way to ensure you are getting a similar education to a MLIS program that does offer an art librarianship track is to see which courses they require and which electives they offer. I also recommend looking at similar tracks, such as digital content/asset management or archives. I recommend courses on the following topics, since they relate to visual resources: humanities information services, digital libraries, descriptive cataloging and metadata, database design, digital humanities, and digital archives. Basically, looks for classes that focus on metadata, technologies, databases, and managing or curating digital archives, libraries, and other collections. These classes will give you an overview of the information you need and you can focus your projects and papers specifically on arts and humanities topics.

Independent study

In part one, I discussed an independent study on art and visual resources librarianship that I designed as an elective in my MLIS program. If you would like more information on that, I’m happy to share my syllabus and course projects in a later post.

This time, I’m focusing on what you can do independently outside of coursework to build some of the skills you need to work in visual resources.

Photography, Photoshop, and Lightroom 

Knowledge of photography, especially editing software, is very helpful for managing image collections. I still have a lot to learn about photography, but I have heard that ShootFlyShoot has fantastic photography classes. Why is this important? So you understand how the images you work with are produced, and you can produce images if required. Some visual resources positions require original photography of works of art, either from works in museum or galleries, or from faculty and student work. I do not produce original photography in my current position, but I do a lot of scanning, and knowledge of photographic editing techniques is essential. I use Adobe Photoshop, and recommend Photoshop Classroom in a Book to learn the basics of using Photoshop. The book has a disc with tutorials and sample images to practice editing. Adobe Lightroom is a simpler and easier way to edit images and is preferred over Photoshop by some visual resources professionals.


Just like a library book would be lost without a catalog record, images would be lost without good metadata. I believe that metadata is perhaps the most important part of managing image collections. After all, what’s the point of having a collection if your content cannot be easily found? Just as there are cataloging standards and formats for cataloging books, archival materials, etc., these also exist for visual resources collections. Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO) is a content standard for visual resources collections (comparable to RDA) and VRA Core is a metadata schema used to describe images (comparable to MARC). If you have access to Adobe Bridge, you can download the VRA Core panel and practice creating metadata for images. It’s also essential to be familiar with the Getty vocabularies, which are now available as Linked Open Data. The vocabularies will give you the structured terminology for art, architecture, and other materials and are essential tools for the proper cataloging of images.

Image resources

Working in visual resources doesn’t just mean managing image collections. There is a reference and instruction component. You must be able to help others find and locate images using subscription databases, institutional image collections, and free resources on the web. The most popular subscription database for images is Artstor Digital Library. If the institution where you attend school or work does not have a subscription, you can still check out the website or YouTube videos to learn more about how the database works and how to use it. There is a section with free guides, including subject-specific guides, and studying these is an excellent way to increase your knowledge of this resource.

Visual resources professionals manage institutional image collections or archives. These collections can include images from faculty and student image requests, images from digitized slides, images purchased from vendors, and images related to institutional history. In order to properly manage these image collections, you need to know how digital asset management systems work. A broad knowledge of DAMs is important, because there are many different systems out there. The most popular DAMs for visual resources include Artstor’s Shared Shelf, Luna Imaging, and Madison Digital Image Database (MDID). These can be high cost for some institutions, so in-house solutions are also popular.

You also need to know how to locate high-quality and accurate images on the web. Libguides are an excellent way to compile these resources, and many institutions have great libguides on locating images for you to browse and study. My personal philosophy behind libguides, or curating image resources in general, is this: quality over quantity. Your job isn’t to know all instances of where to find images of the Mona Lisa. Your job is to know where to find the best images of the Mona Lisa.

Copyright and fair use

You also need to know how the images you manage, or how images available in subscription databases or on the web, can be used. This is why copyright and fair use comes into play. For general information on copyright law, look at Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators: Creative Strategies and Practical Solutions. For copyright information related to the visual arts, your best resources are from the College Art Association. Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use among Visual Artists and the Academic and Museum Visual Arts Communities was released in 2014 and and the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts was released earlier this year. Study these documents and know them well.

Get experience – if you can

Some institutions don’t have a visual resources collection, but those that do usually need help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a visual resources professional and ask if you can volunteer, intern, or even just visit the collection and learn more about what they do and what a typical day is like for them.

So this is what I recommend doing as a library science student if you are interested in visual resources. If other visual resources professionals are reading this, I’m curious to hear what you also recommend!


Lunchtime Chat!

Mark your calendars for an upcoming pre-conference lunchtime chat, organized by ARLIS/NA’s Professional Development Education Sub-Committee.

Preparing for Pasadena: Crafting Your 2013 ARLIS/NA Conference Experience

Friday, April 5th, 2013

11am Pacific – 12pm Mountain – 1pm Central – 2pm Eastern


Cathy Billings, Brand Library & Art Center

Sarah Sherman, Getty Research Institute

Alyssa Resnick, Glendale Public Library

Lynda Bunting, Blum & Poe


Please join us for an informal and informative discussion about the ARLIS/NA community and our upcoming conference! Learn more about fun things to do in Pasadena, tips for getting the most out of your conference experience, resources available for first-time attendees, and how to get involved in ARLIS/NA. This pre-conference Lunchtime Chat with Cathy Billings and Sarah Sherman (Program Co-Chairs) and Alyssa Resnick and Lynda Bunting (Local Arrangements Co-Chairs) is your chance to ask questions, share advice, and get ready for our meeting!

Chats are free and anyone may attend. The URL for this chat will be announced on ARLIS-L the morning of Friday 4/5/2013. Hope to see you there!

Patrick Tomlin

Alice Whiteside

ARLIS/NA Professional Development Education Sub-Committee

E-forum on Job Hunting: A Conversation About How To Do It Well

Job Hunting: A Conversation About How To Do It Well
May 4-5, 2011

Hosted by Tiffany Eatman Allen and Erica Findley

Please join us for an e-forum discussion. It’s free and open to everyone!
Registration information is at the end of the message.

Each day, sessions begin and end at:

Pacific: 6am – 2pm
Mountain: 7am – 3pm
Central: 8am – 4pm
Eastern: 9am – 5pm

In this free and open e-Forum discussion, our hosts will look at performing a successful job search in library technical services.

Whether you are new to the field or just changing career focus, this e-Forum will provide you with the pointers you need to secure your next position in this continually changing area of librarianship. What can you do to put yourself ahead of the competition? How can you make yourself more visible in the crowded job market? Need a refresher on cover letters and resumes?  How about interview basics? Do you know how to best manage your on-line presence while conducting a job search? We will explore these questions and many more with our two hosts: Tiffany Allen, Library HR insider and Erica Findley, a new graduate who recently landed an academic library position.

Tiffany Eatman Allen is the Director of Library Human Resources at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill University Library. She works extensively with librarians, staff, and Information and Library Science graduate students, and is also currently the Chair of the Library Leadership & Management Association (LLAMA) Human Resources Section. She holds a BA in Political Science and Psychology and an MLS, both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has published in traditional print media, including C&RL News and in The Librarian’s Career Guidebook, as well as several articles written online for LISCareer.com. Additionally, she has served as co-editor of LISCareer.com and as co-author of “Career Q&A with the Library Career People” for LISjobs.com since 2003.

Erica Findley is the Digital Resources/Metadata Librarian at Pacific University Library in Forest Grove, Oregon. She earned her MLIS is 2008 and has held a variety of appointments in ALA. Currently, she is the Vice Chair of the ALCTS New Members Interest Group where she has led two on-line discussions about performing successful job searches. She is also serving on two search committees one for a library staff position and the other for the ALCTS ANO Editor position.

*What is an e-forum?*

An ALCTS e-forum provides an opportunity for librarians to discuss matters of interest, led by a moderator, through the e-forum discussion list. The e-forum discussion list works like an email listserv: register your email address with the list, and then you will receive messages and communicate with other participants through an email discussion. Most e-forums last two to three days. Registration is necessary to participate, but it’s free. See a list of upcoming e-forums at:http://bit.ly/upcomingeforum.

*To register:*

Instructions for registration are available at: http://bit.ly/eforuminfo. Once you have registered for one e-forum, you do not need to register again, unless you choose to leave the email list. Participation is free and open to anyone.

International Librarianship event at Baruch College

SLA-NY invites you to an exclusive students-only event on International Librarianship featuring Jane Kinney Meyers, founder of the Lubuto Library Project.

Jane Kinney Meyers is a professional librarian with 20 years of experience working and living in Africa. While living in Malawi for four years, she developed a network of research libraries for the country’s Ministry of Agriculture under the auspices of the World Bank. Ten years later she returned to neighboring Zambia, where she worked on projects for the American Library Association and Johns Hopkins University. While there, she became involved with services to street children offered by the Fountain of Hope, a drop-in shelter in Lusaka, Zambia. Serving on the shelter’s board, she established a reading program and created a library for the children. Upon her return to the U.S. in 2001, she developed the concept, approach and organization of the Lubuto Library Project, based on the success and impact of the library in Lusaka.

Please join us at Baruch College on Thursday, April 14, 2011 from 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm for a presentation and meet-and-greet with Jane. This event will take place in Room 135 at Baruch’s conveniently located Information and Technology Building at 151 East 25th Street in Manhattan. Please announce your presence at the Public Safety Desk just before the turnstiles to gain admittance into the building. For a map to Baruch, visit:


Please RSVP by noon on Wednesday, April 13th at http://tinyurl.com/april142011.

All students are welcome – SLA Membership is encouraged but not required in order to attend this event.

How to Handle Rejection

After the Failed Interview

by Christine Kelly at Inside Higher Ed

I found this article and thought that others might be interested.  The author makes a great point – most of us go through rejection several times during our job searches.  How you handle those scenarios can be important to your future career.

Lessons for a New Librarian

ArLiSNAPer Meredeth Kahn gives some good advice for students & newly minted libs over on the Librations blog.


  • Envelop your passion into your work
  • Find a need, fill a need
  • Be strategic

Katelyn Angell Questions the Need for Second Masters

An interesting opinion article is in this month’s American Libraries.

Typically, employers expect potential hires to hold both an MLIS and an additional subject-specific master’s or PhD. Upon learning this daunting fact, two pressing questions immediately formed in my mind: How can people on a librarian’s salary afford to earn multiple graduate degrees, and why disregard strong undergraduate credentials or field experience?

American Libraries(CB). American Libraries (Volume 40, Issue 5,  May 2009).
Chicago, IL, USA: American Libraries, 2009. p 39.
Copyright � 2009.  American Libraries.  All rights reserved.

While I’m sympathetic of Angell’s concerns (I have a similar experience), I also understand the need for having a very strong foundation when working in art libraries.

Academic Library Interviews

From the inside out and the outside in: The academic library interview process in a tight economy
C&RL News, April 2009
Vol. 70, No. 4

by Karin Durán, Eric P. Garcia, and Mara L. Houdyshell


A Cover Letter Is Not Expendable

NY Times Career Couch

A Cover Letter Is Not Expendable

Published: February 14, 2009

Q. You are getting ready to apply for a job electronically, and your résumé is ready to go. Do you need to prepare a cover letter? Are they necessary in this day and age?


Resources Page

FYI: There are some useful new links on the Resources page:

  • an index of chapter awards
  • the Bibliography of Art Librarianship by BJ Irvine
  • a link to ARLIS/NA’s directory of degree programs for fine arts and visual resources librarianship

Call for Volunteer(s) – Project Leader for Student Outreach Initiatives

It was great to meet so many of you at the ArLiSNAP meeting during the ARLIS annual conference in Denver.  One of the topics floated at the meeting was ways in which to get more bodies involved in ArLiSNAP via additional volunteer positions. The general consensus was that more people might be willing to be involved if there were a greater range of volunteer positions, both in scale and duties.

To this end, we’d like to announce the first of these volunteer opportunities- a
Project Leader for Student Outreach Initiatives

What we are hoping for with this position is someone interested in taking on the task of researching possibilities for ArLiSNAP to engage more with students. To get us started along this path, we first need to have some idea about where needs exist that ArLiSNAP could fill.  This would involve the project leader looking into topics such as what ARLIS’s commitments and current activities are in regard to students, how individual chapters connect with local student populations, etc. The Project Leader for Student Outreach Initiatives could then compile and disseminate this info either through blog posts or a written summary, in the spirit of eliciting discussion as to how ArLISNAP could expand in this direction.

Anyone with even mild curiosity or interest about this position is welcome to leave a comment.  If you think you might be interested in this position but would like to work on it with others, we’d be into that too. Or if you think another topic would benefit from similar inquiry, feel free to suggest it.

Want to Learn More about Being a Librarian?

Move Forward With Your Library Career – Stop Fooling Around with Your Future

Learn more about this event.
When?   Tuesday, April 01, 2008 4:00 PM – 6:30 PM
Where?   NSLS – Auditorium, Wheeling, IL
Cost   Free

Realize your dreams by getting advice and guidance from a panel of current students and recent alumni, and a second panel of admission representatives from Dominican University, University of Illinois, and the University Center of Lake County. Their presentations will help you:
• Understand the value of the MLIS degree
• Prepare for admission
• Determine your learning style (online or face to face)
• Balance your work, life, and educational needs
• Become a degreed professional

4:00 – 4:15 p.m. Welcome
4:15 – 5:00 p.m. Student and Alumni Panel Presentation
5:00 – 5:45 p.m. Admissions Representatives Panel
5:45 – 6:30 p.m. Networking

ARLIS/NE career panel podcast

On July 17th Panopticon (the Simmons GSLIS art library interest group) and ARLIS/NE co-hosted a career panel at Simmons. 38 graduate students and art library enthusiasts came on a beautiful summer evening to hear five librarians talk about their career paths in art librarianship and offer advice to those just entering the profession.

I’d like to thank my fellow panelists for participating:

Deborah Barlow Smedstad, Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Rachel Beckwith, Simmons GSLIS West and ARTstor

Robert Burton, Weissman Preservation Center at Harvard University

Brooke Henderson, Wellesley College

They were frank, entertaining, and fascinating.

I would also like to extend a special thanks to Anne Reid and Martha Mahard at Simmons College and Darin Murphy from Panopticon.

If you’re sorry you missed the event, it’s not too late. The podcast is available at http://gslis.simmons.edu/podcasts/

rachel resnik

technical services librarian

massachusetts college of art + design

621 huntington avenue

boston, ma 02115

Summary of Backpack to Briefcase: Life after Library School

Backpack to Briefcase: Life after Library School.

Sarah Carter Moderator Introduced the session saying this session was born from the conference last year at Banff, and envisioned something that would help students, and new professionals jumpstart their role in ARLIS. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review Link: Rethinking Information Work

Rethinking Information Work
By Kathleen Swantek, Research Associate, Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Research Institute

“Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.”–Aristotle

This is just one of several quotes used to introduce chapters and set the tone in G. Kim Dority’s recent book, Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals (Libraries Unlimited, 2006).

If you’ve been spending some time this spring thinking about your career—or if you’ve already decided it’s time for a career shift—Rethinking Information Work is a book you’ll want to spend some quality time with. Even if you think you’ve landed the perfect job, this book is worth your time.


full bibliographic record:

Dority, G. Kim, 1950
Rethinking information work : a career guide for librarians and other information professionals / G. Kim Dority.
Westport, Conn. : Libraries Unlimited, 2006.
x, 222 p. ; 26 cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Rethinking information work — 2. Self-knowledge – your career starting point — 3. The traditional path — 4. The nontraditional path — 5. The independent path — 6. Creating your professional portfolio — 7. Growing your career — 8. Thriving on change — 9. Creating your career map — 10. Taking charge of your career.
Library science — Vocational guidance — United States.
Information science — Vocational guidance — United States.
Career development.
159158180X (pbk. : alk. paper)
Add to my list

Net reputations ruin job hopes

Blogging and social network bloopers can hurt your employability

By Tim Ferguson

Published: Wednesday 28 March 2007

From Silicon.com


Networking 101

With conference season upon us (VRA starts next Tuesday, and ARLIS/NA in less than a month!) I thought it would be interesting to get different tips on networking . . .

  • Which strategies have you found to be positive in past experience?
  • What are some things to avoid when you are networking?
  • What’s the most beneficial outcome you’ve experienced from networking?

Please feel free to share your thoughts for the benefit of ArLiSNAP collective wisdom!

Career Strategies for Students and New Librarians

I want to draw attention to Rachel Singer Gordon’s excellent post at the Liminal Librarian blog.  Her Making our Careers Happen post references Meredith Farkas’ Making Things Happen! post at the Information Wants to Be Free blog.

Rachel is also the author of The NextGen Librarian’s Survival Guide, as well as a plethora of other publications on starting a career in librarianship. Many of her tips are worth implementing for those trying to break into the art librarianship field!

Corporate Art/Architecture Librarianship

My question to Samantha, MLS student and corporate librarian in an architecture firm:

Are corporate positions advertised in library job listings or in listings for
architects or somewhere else entirely?

Samantha’s reply:

I ended up stumbling backwards into my position, promoted
from office manager, which I just found on Craigslist. I had 3 library
classes down, and A LOT to learn. I am uncertain as to how/where they
recruited the previous librarian — Perhaps in the New York Times —
which is where we usually hire from. I recently hired a new full time
assistant, and I posted the ad to area library schools, area art
schools, SLA Philadelphia chapter, and the Philadelphia Cultural
Alliance website (philaculture.org) — the last was the winning
location. I don’t see jobs like mine advertised too often, but I have
seen listings either come through across SLA SoloLib or the
Architecture, Building Engineering, Construction and Design caucus of
SLA. Also, I have seen library staffing companies hiring for similar
positions. I bet the Architecture Roundtable of SAA is also another
source, as I have several colleagues in firms that I have made contact
with through there.

My firm is very into being at the cutting edge of the research field, so
they’re starting to get that having their library be at the forefront
helps them attain their goals. I take a very academic approach to my
position, and the firm is starting to support for my involvement in the
greater community –like I’m getting sent to SEI this summer. I share a
lot of the same woes as expressed in the round of job category emails,
as sometimes the library is outnumbered here 70:1 and it can be very
hard to get the resources and attention that I need. Things like OPACs
and automation systems are considered a frill here, as I have heard
echoed by other colleagues at other firms, as well. So I’m still a
little resource starved, but I believe in time I will get what I need —
But I believe a certain sense of salesmanship and self-promotion will be
needed in any library position.

Art/Museum Librarian Student Group

I would like to create an Art/Museum Librarian Student Group at my Library Graduate School. What would be the best manner of going about this?