Following her thought-provoking talk at ARLIS, “Artist in the Library: A Case Study”, in which she touched on the underexplored applications of LIS training in a studio environment, we wanted to follow up with Claire Kennedy, formerly the Librarian and Archivist for John Baldessari, to discuss further.
First, can you briefly discuss your current position and some of your main day-to-day responsibilities and priorities?
Actually my current position is Gallery Archivist at L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice, California. I was just hired, as of a month ago. Before this recent change, I worked for the artist John Baldessari as his full-time Librarian and Archivist.
What is your educational background?
I have a degree in Anthropology and an MLIS degree, both from UCLA. In between my two degrees I spent about six years working and taking a few classes here and there. I would recommend to anyone interested in diversifying their training to look into taking a class in something like project management.
Did you “hack” your library degree in order to prepare you for working directly with artists?
No, I didn’t. My background is in rare books and manuscripts. I worked in Special Collections libraries at UCLA, the Huntington and with private book dealers and collectors before working for John. I think the best thing you can do while in an MLIS program is to take all the technology classes you can. Take UX design, or web development if you can. Take archiving classes if you want to be a librarian and take cataloging if you are training to be an archivist.
Can you talk a little bit about ways that you draw on the more conventional aspects of your LIS education? And what are some things you’ve had to learn on your own?
I think the most conventional skills I have used working for John were cataloging books, applying preservation knowledge to re-housing paper-based and photographic archival materials, record retention scheduling and the research skills I picked up in my degree program and working in libraries. As far as the skills I had to learn on my own, I had to learn about how to track auctions, gather provenance information, become familiar with the production and exhibition schedules of an art studio and the needs of John’s production staff. In the private world, you learn how to assess and serve the needs and priorities of your employer. In the MLIS program, it is sometimes taken for granted that everyone will eventually be working in a Public or University library setting. Its too bad that the private working world isn’t discussed more.
What would you consider the most rewarding parts of your job, and what are your biggest challenges as an information professional in a nontraditional environment?
I think the biggest challenge was learning how to communicate the needs of the archive and library to people who aren’t also librarians. I had spent most of my career around like-minded library staff who understood perfectly where I was coming from when I spoke about bone-folders and bindings. When I was the only MLIS working amongst artists, I discovered that I had to learn how to communicate more clearly about the needs of the minutiae of the library and archive. Initially I was out of my comfort zone.
What is a typical day like for you?
Working for John, I purchased and cataloged books, documented artwork in the database, created condition reports for artwork coming in and going out of the studio, performed research for outside reference inquiries, I tracked auctions and processed reproduction requests. There were always new tasks and projects popping up every day. Sometimes I wore multiple hats, where I was helping the production manager move large artwork around the studio, or running errands to lend a hand. We all worked together in the studio to get the job done.
During your talk in Fort Worth, you alluded to the fact that artists often have a need for people with LIS training, but they’re either not aware of the field or not able to articulate their needs using LIS language, so the two communities aren’t connected.
In your opinion, what is the impact of those jobs being filled by people who lack LIS training?
I think that LIS training is essential to perform the meticulous, detail oriented work that we are asked to do. Database management, creating and tracking inventories, cataloging books and other objects, performing research, maintaining any type of project schedule, etc. I believe there are “archivists” and “librarians” out there hired to do this kind of work who don’t have the training, skills and experience we do. As a result, I suspect there are some messes being made. Ultimately we are experts at preserving things and making them retrievable. In a world where there is so much being produced, digitally and physically, our skillset is an incredible asset. All we need to do is promote ourselves! How can we do this? Let’s work together to make ourselves invaluable!
Is there a community of information professionals who work with practicing artists? And how can interested ArLiSNAPers (and others) get involved?
That’s a great question! I don’t think so. I could be wrong, but I am not familiar with any group in Los Angeles. As the Southern California Chapter Chair, along with the chapter’s Vice-Chair Ben Lee Ritchie Handler, I want to reach out to all the archivists and librarians (professional or not) to form a network. We can all help each other, put together show-and-tells as well as workshops.
Do you have any advice for bridging the awareness gap between the two communities?
To be honest, I recommend joining your local ARLIS chapter and being very proactive! Cold email anyone who is working in creative spaces in your area and set up a visit for your chapter. Ask to interview local artists for your local chapter’s blog or website. Start communicating with a local gallery and offer your contact information in case any of the artists they represent need any assistance with their archive or documenting their work. Go to art gallery openings and start meeting people. Build your own resources.
Do you have any tips for job-seekers on how to approach artists about their information and content management needs?
I guess I answered this question above. But my biggest piece of advice is to put yourself out there. Email artists and tell them what you can do for them.
I spent the end of June in beautiful, temperate, layers-friendly Victoria, BC, attending the Association of Canadian Archivists’ annual conference. It was amazing, scary, inspiring, and weirdly comfortable — no business cards were exchanged, but plenty of people wanted to gush about ideas.
I presented on the student panel between two very intelligent and articulate colleagues — my presentation was, let’s say, a bit more informal than theirs, but I think it went well. It was gratifying to hear some of my sentiments echoed in the closing plenary by Laura Millar. The main point I ended my student presentation on, which was picked up again by Millar, was the idea that the archiving profession needs to delve into freelancing models of employment.
This theme has been covered by the usual GLAM publishers (HLS on freelancing librarians; Hiring Librarians on contract work; INALJ on freelancing) — as has, of course, the dearth of cushy, steady, benefits-laden jobs you can hold for thirty years (or at least until all our icons and role models retire). I haven’t seen much discussion on how to freelance in art libraries or art archives, but I’d like to think there’s plenty of project work to be done in preserving and cataloguing artists’ files, implementing digital asset management, developing metadata schemes or collections mandates, digitization, publishing and reproductions management, exhibits and auctions, conservation for artists’ books….
#aca2014 Millar: We cannot wait for records creators, we have to go to them. We cannot do this on our own, we must enlist society to help us
— Sweeney139 (@Sweeney139) June 28, 2014
Millar: we need to engage actively and persistently with our communities if we are to survive #aca2014
— Hannah (@hannahwiseman) June 28, 2014
Millar: funding cuts is not our crisis. Our crisis is a chaotic digital world crashing into itself, destroying trust, authenticity. #aca2014
— ACA (@archivistsdotca) June 28, 2014
My presentation focused on diverse and underrepresented communities that have media-collecting and -preserving needs not being met by institutionalized archiving systems. I focused on virtual communities (because social-network websites are where the best media are being collected, obviously), which meant that everything archival got put into a very technological framework.
I tried not to scare anyone off with the fear of archiving in the digital age (“Imagine you work for a historical society that has collected materials from each and every single resident of the town,” I suggested, to get a scope of the problem/potential of virtual communities), but I’m afraid it’s a very real part of the future of the profession, especially as we start moving from digitization projects to interface design for presenting our materials.
Bringing information-professional skills and techniques to your average website-builder or community-organizer is likely a consultancy task: you start with assessment, then they find enough money for implementation, you make some recommendations for maintenance, and eventually every community or arts group has an archivist-on-call, or a librarian for a half-day a week.
That means we all juggle multiple clients and bounce from one deadline to the next. Many people do not find this a very rosy picture of the industry’s future. Then again, there are those of us that can’t imagine working the same full-time processing or reference job day in and day out.
There are definitely ways to do it right. I’ll be interviewing some freelancing and entrepreneur archivists and librarians in the near future, on this blog, so you can see for yourselves. There’s even an association for independent information professionals, and plenty of opportunities for mentorship, entrepreneurial bootcamps, start-up funding, and guides to the legal and financial steps to declaring yourself a businesswoman.
Ideally, I’d love to do private archiving with artists — which is never high-paying. It tends only to happen when the artist is anticipating an eventual donation of their records to an institution — there, the benefit of getting things organized beforehand is the tax credit offered upon appraisal (in Canada, anyways). While an artist or arts group may want to get the job done, the money, often, simply isn’t there.
[Ironically, I just found contract archiving work in the private sector, which is not exactly walking-the-walk, but maybe I’ll have time for some pro-bono projects with individuals and non-profits. Stay tuned!]
I’m interested to know everyone’s thoughts. There were lots of nodding heads when Millar said it, but I still felt a bit radical suggesting it myself (ah, what the confidence a thirty-year career could give!).
What do you think: are librarians and archivists destined for lots of part-time, contract-based, multi-tasking jobs, helping everyone manage unique information needs? Or will the majority of us find the full-time, paid-vacation unicorn we dream of? Is there a balance between the two?
More scarily: will freelancing mean we all have to learn how to administer databases and provide cut-rate graphic design services? Is there a way to freelance in GLAM-related work that isn’t technologically dependent?
As always, you can also see what’s coming up through the Educational Opportunities Calendar. Keep reading for details about all the great webinars, CFPs, and more opportunities below!
Adventures in International Librarianship: Living and Working Outside of the United States
Are you interested in finding a job in library and information science outside of North America? Are you curious about what it’s like to live and work in a different culture? If so, please join us for a ELIME-hosted online panel discussion on Tuesday 6 November! Our panelists represent an incredible variety of experiences, and have worked all over the world from Switzerland to Azerbaijan to Japan.
You have two opportunities to attend. The first session will take place at 9am EST, and the second at noon EST. Note that the panelists are different for each session, so you could even attend both for a wider perspective. For more information:http://elime.web.unc.edu/interlib/
Call for Proposals: ACRL Image Resources Interest Group ALA Mid-Winter Meeting (held online)
The Association of College and Research Libraries Image Resources Interest Group is accepting proposals for our Mid-Winter meeting, to be held online (using Adobe Connect) on Thurs. Feb. 14, 2013, at 1:30 p.m. CST.
We are seeking proposals for presentations, of about 30 minutes in length, to be followed by questions/answers. Suggested topics include:
Project planning with images
Image collections across systems and platforms
Collaboration with academic departments/community outreach
Visual literacy standards implementation
We are interested in all aspects of image resources and look forward to varied presentations and creative projects.
Please submit proposals or questions to email@example.com. Proposal deadline is Nov. 30, 2012. Proposals need to include:
Brief proposal description (150 words or less)
Submitters will be notified by the week of Dec. 10th, 2012.
Please visit https://sites.google.com/site/acrlirig/ for additional information.
The ACRL Arts Section is seeking contributors for the Seattle ArtsGuide for the upcoming 2013 ALA Midwinter Conference! The ArtsGuide is a semi-annual guide and customized Google Map developed by theACRL Arts Section’s Publications & Research Committee to help ALA conference attendees find arts-related venues and events in and around host cities. You do not have to be a member to be a contributor, but it’s a great opportunity to get involved with the ACRL Arts Section. It’s also a fun way to contribute your knowledge of the area to enhance everyone’s conference experience! You can see previous ArtsGuides here:
Please let me know which section you’re interested in contributing to:
Visual Arts & Museums
Submissions would be due by December 3, 2012. If you’re interested please contact me as soon as possible.
Chair, ACRL Arts Section’s Publications & Research Committee
“Introduction to Spatial Literacy and Online Mapping”
You may use tools like Google Maps in your personal life all the time for locating restaurants and local businesses, driving directions or planning trips via public transportation, but have you considered how this same technology could be used at your library to improve library services? RUSA’s online course “Introduction to Spatial Literacy and Online Mapping” is the perfect opportunity for librarians and library staff from public and academic libraries to gain a basic understanding of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology and learn about specific technologies they may be exposed to at the library. Registration for this course, which runs Nov. 5-25, ends on Thursday, Nov. 1.
If you’ve already taken this introductory course or have a good working knowledge of GIS and want to go further, consider enrolling in “Spatial Literacy II: Incorporation of Maps and GIS”, which shows you how to harness these technologies for reference work, library projects, library administration, collection delivery, instruction, outreach and library promotion. The next session of this course begins Dec. 3.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if several of your staff could take this course and your library could reap the benefits in improved library services? Group discounts are available! Rates for two or more registrants from the same library, library network or library system start at $110 per person.
Learn more about all of our courses and webinars at the RUSA online learning page: http://www.ala.org/rusa/development/onlinece
Register online now for this and other upcoming RUSA courses:
Questions about registration? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 545-2433, option 5.