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Sometimes Lady Luck does pass my way.  I was recently awarded this year’s Winberta Yao Travel Award from the Mountain West Chapter of ARLIS, which means that not only do I get to attend the joint ARLIS/VRA conference in Minneapolis, network with colleagues and attend useful workshops, but I don’t have to pay for it.  Win win.  During the conference I will also be meeting my new mentor as part of the year-long career mentoring program.  She is the librarian and San Francisco MOMA, so is sure to be a great source of advice on my career development.

The recognition I have started to get as a result of winning this award is very validating.  The art librarian at UNM invited me out to coffee.  My boss at Bunting was kind enough to forward the announcement to the art history department, so I’ve been receiving congratulations from fellow students and professors.  It seems this kind of thing may truly be the key to the kingdom – get your name out there (for a positive reason, of course!) and the ball will start rolling.  Let’s see where it goes from here.

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Obviously the last few months of 2010 became a more time-consuming phase than expected.  Grading, office hours, editing the departmental journal, publishing a new ARLIS book review….combined with an intensive research project on Teotihuacan iconography and continuing the Santa Fe gallery commute twice a week combined to throw me into a whirlwind.

The new year brings a new semester and new opportunities.  Likely a new whirlwind as well, though I am resolved to chart the process more often.  The most exciting change is starting my research assistantship this week at the Bunting Visual Resources Library, where I will be cataloging for the VIRCONA (Visual Resources Catalog of Native American Artists) database.  This is a great chance for me to get back in a library and get some new experience. 

This spring also brings my first symposium.  I will have to determine a research project suitable to present to my colleagues, which is somewhat daunting.  Luckily I am taking two courses in Native American art with two of the professors I would like on my committee, so their input will be valuable.

I’m in a mode of considering next steps – not actively job searching, but recognizing the need to plan ahead for the next year and beyond.  Without a plan, I feel like I don’t make consistent progress, and my plan right now feels too random.  It seems that the time is coming for me to review my progress over the past year and determine where I want to go from here.  I need to figure out my long term goals and structure my short term goals.  I’m keeping myself involved in a variety of ways, but I need more focus.

My ultimate career goal is to become an art librarian.  All the choices I have made over the past few years have been working towards that point.  But there are a variety of paths I can take towards that eventual destination – that’s where the tough decision-making comes in.  I have made significant strides towards a greater knowledge of art and proficiency in all areas of librarianship.  Where is my effort best utilized at this point?

I’m a natural list-maker.  On days when my thoughts are muddled, lists take the place of the flow of my thoughts.  So of course the first thing I did was to outline this process with a list.

Question: What are the qualifications of art librarians, and how does my resume stack up?

1. An academic background in art in combination with an MLIS. 

*What I have: My BA in art history.  If at all possible, I would definitely like to get my MA.  I am also constantly adding to my knowledge of art as part of my job and the independent research and book reviews I have taken on.

*Next steps: Keep researching.  Take graduate level classes when possible.

2. Knowledge of databases and resources specific to art.

*What I have: Experience with a wide variety of databases from my job as E-Resources Associate at UNL.  Many of these were art-related.  I also researched these tools and other art resources in an extensive collection development research project for my MLIS.

 *Next steps: Look into new resources and make sure I’m conversant about the existing ones.  Look over my collection development paper and see if it’s still relevant.

3. Cataloging and metadata experience

*What I have: Various experiences through work, internships, and coursework.

*Next steps: Keep up to date with skills and trends.  Look into online training/workshop opportunities, as well as other continuing ed. opportunities.

4. Professional involvement

*What I have: Association memberships, conference attendance, blogging, publishing, internships and networking.

*Next steps: find a mentor, seek more publishing opportunities (possibly in a scholarly art/library publication).  Keep up with trends in art librarianship through blogs and discussion lists.  Blog about these topics more specifically.  Brainstorm new ways to be more professionally active.

5. Reference skills

*What I have: Experience as a virtual reference librarian.  My research experience should also come in handy.  Customer service experience is also useful.

*Next steps: I am considering the wisdom of volunteering to take some reference shifts, possibly at the public library.  I have heard very conflicting views on volunteering professional time, so I hesitate.  Perhaps I will find a part-time position.

6. Experience working with special and digital collections.

*What I have: Experience through my internships.

*Next steps: Keep up with current trends. 

7. A resume and cover letter to set me apart from the crowd.

This is, of course, always a work in progress.  I’m constantly tweaking my resume and writing individualized cover letters for different types of jobs.  I need to ask more people to look at my resume and give me advice – new sets of eyes always help.  I had a good response last year, but it’s probably time to do it again.

After I compiled this list, I started looking over some of the information I’ve collected over the years about art/visual resource librarianship.  One of the most useful tools I came across is the ARLIS/NA “Core Competencies for Art Information Professionals” (which fortunately has a lot of overlap with my current list. I probably had it in mind at the time).  In the next few months I’m going to review this list carefully and consider how I want to use it to help me prioritize and move forward.

Some other short term goals:
-Update online portfolio
-Compile a physical portfolio (for interviews, and just to have everything “in writing” and in one place)
-Organize my internship notes
-Create sample projects (subject guides, bookmarks, syllabi, etc.)

This is a longterm career outline. If I try to tackle it all at once, I will get overwhelmed. But it feels good to have a bit more focus.