Eric Wolf

Head Librarian
The Menil Collection
April/May 2012

Researching my PhD dissertation in many of Italy's finest libraries (the Vatican Library, the Marciana in Venice, the Reale in Turin and the Centrale in Florence), I had an epiphany: I didn't want to spend the rest of my life teaching and writing on one artist; I wanted to work in a collection like these and help people the way the librarians at these institutions were helping me. In short, I wanted to be an art librarian. So, upon finishing my doctorate (always finish what you start) I enrolled in library school part-time while working as an archivist. Mid-way through I got a job as an original cataloguer, chiefly of Italian language works, at the Frick Art Reference Library of the Frick Collection. I started in February in 2001; that April I attended my first ARLIS/NA conference. 

Every new position I have taken has been a baptism with fire; when starting at the Frick I had never been a cataloguer and was thrown into advanced cataloguing and authority work; when I started at the New York School of Interior Design in 2004, I had never prepared a budget or managed a professional staff; when I began at the Menil Collection two years ago I had no experience working in such a deadline-driven institution where I was expected to work with departments as diverse as development, conservation and curatorial. However, I have never had trouble meeting the challenges that each of these new situations presented because ARLIS has given me a network of the very best, most generous professionals to consult. 

The openness of ARLIS/NA members has enabled me to be a quick study at new jobs and on diverse projects, from starting a Friends of the Library group, to creating digital image databases, to working on museum-wide RFPs for collection management systems. For cataloguing problems I could talk to Sherman Clarke; visual resources issues, Margaret Webster; administrative issues, Pat Barnett. And I, a relative newcomer had such easy access to such people (all three have since won ARLIS/NA's Distinguished Service Award); through work, drinks at the conference bars, phone calls and emails I have met incredible colleagues and life-long friends. 

And the help and friendships made through ARLIS have enhanced my scholarly work. When writing my book American Art Museum Architecture: Documents and Design (winner of the 2012 Worldwide Books Award for Publications at the Toronto Conference), I knew I could rely on ARLIS friends like Eumie Imm-Stroukoff, Carol Rusk, and Milan Hughston to give me the royal treatment in the libraries and archives of their institutions. Without such resources and great service, such a book could never be written.