Joan Benedetti

June/July 2005

In 1976, not long after moving to Southern California, and shortly after I started working at the Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) in Los Angeles, I was introduced to Eleanor Hartman, at the time the Head Librarian the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA), which was across the street from CAFAM. The CAFAM Library was tiny--about 300 books--but I had some ideas about developing it, and Eleanor encouraged me and told me about ARLIS/NA, then less than five years old, and about the local chapter. Judy Hoffberg, the first ARLIS/NA Executive Director, lived in L.A. and was planning the 1977 conference, which was to be in L.A. I hadn't yet come to know the city very well and the 1977 conference and the people that I met there (both Southern California librarians and librarians from large and small museums and other institutions all over North America) really changed my life. Judy had planned a wonderful meeting and fabulous tours and I got to know my newly adopted city from the perspective of its art and architecture. 

Since then, I've been to every ARLIS conference but one. I retired in 2002 but I still look forward to every year's conference, the chance to update my knowledge of art and libraries and get behind-the-scenes tours of beautiful and unusual collections, collectors' homes, and historic sites. The range of topics covered both in tours and sessions is incredibly varied and librarians representing every size and type of collection are speakers and presenters. Just as delightful is catching up with friends with whom one can share the highs and lows of the past year and colleagues who may have ideas or suggestions you can use or simply an abundance of contagious energy. And what fun I've had at ARLIS--at big, lavish receptions and at late-night dinners with a few old friends. 

Through ARLIS/NA and ARLIS/Southern California, I've had a chance to plan programs, lead meetings, coordinate a conference, edit publications, and write articles and book reviews. I've learned about technology, space planning, conservation, copyright, archives, visual resources, media arts, and other topics, which I could not have learned about easily on my own. In fact, because of ARLIS' support, I was able to take more of a leadership role at CAFAM, assisting at the museum level with space planning, computerization, and grant-writing, in addition to developing the CAFAM Library into a regional information center for contemporary craft, folk art, and design with a research collection of over 7,000 volumes. When CAFAM closed temporarily in 1997 and the library collection had to be given away (it was given to LACMA), I was able to call on ARLIS colleagues and shortly had offers from eight major art institutions. 

Working at CAFAM for 21 years and then for five years at LACMA, and now, in "retirement," taking on the editing of a collection of essays on art museum librarianship, most written by ARLIS members, my adventures with ARLIS continue to unfold and the end is not yet in sight!