Michael A. Wirtz

Design Research Librarian
Virginia Commonwealth University - Qatar
August/September 2011

When I was getting my MLS, if someone told me that in a few short years I would be an art librarian in Qatar, I would have said: "Awesome. I've always wanted to live in the South Pacific." 

A couple years ago, I took a job as the Design Research Librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University's branch campus in Doha, Qatar (not part of Polynesia, incidentally). I was never able to visit the campus during the interview process, so my first taste of Doha was on the first day of my contract. I arrived terrified. That first night, I remember walking out of the airport and hearing the automatic doors slide closed behind me. My glasses fogged up from the heat and the humidity, the air smelled like spices and car exhaust, it sounded like 1000 people were arguing in 1000 different languages, and my only thought was, "OMG, what have you done?" 

Luckily, the answer turned out to be: "something pretty terrific." I love my job. We're not a huge library, so I get to do a little bit of everything--from circulation to systems (I stay away from cataloging). My primary assignment, however, is to work with the graduate students in the school's MFA program. Because I have an advanced degree in the arts, I also teach the masters-level design criticism course each spring. The students are great. My fellow faculty members are more than willing to collaborate, and the administration provides strong support of the library's endeavors. 

The downside of working for an American university in the Middle East is the relative lack of interaction with like-minded professionals. In this regard, ARLIS has been a critical connection back to the profession. When I attended my first conference in Boston, I thought I would feel like an awkward outsider, but quickly found ARLIS to be full of people who were genuinely interested in what I was doing (or trying to do) and were eager to share their own experiences. I've also made great use of the incredible knowledge base that ARLIS members have built throughout the years. The information literacy competencies are my go-to document whenever I'm designing a new class or integrating information literacy into an existing curriculum. 

My involvement in ARLIS is just beginning, but is quickly becoming a crucial part of my career as an art librarian. I'm just happy that it also happens to be so much fun. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone in Toronto next year, even after the 16-hour flight.