Moderator: Betty Jo Irvine, Head of the Fine Arts Library, Indiana University
Sponsor: Technology Committee
This ask arlis session dealt with strategies for responding to issues affecting the professional lives of art librarians and visual resources curators entering the new millenium. Betty Jo Irvine, Head of the Fine Arts Library at Indiana University, moderated the session. She began her brief introduction to the session with the following advice: “be prepared for change, change, change, and more change.” She added that the art librarian in the 21st century will continue to feel the effect of “rapid professional, organizational, and technological change” that was a hallmark of the 20th century. In addition to change, another important notion to keep in mind is flexibility. In line with this idea, Irvine offered further words of advice: “keep learning, never assume to know everything about anything, be informed, especially about computer and technological innovations, and be involved with ARLIS/NA, VRA, CAA or other relevant associations in order to stay connected to collegial networks”. She next introduced the session’s three speakers: Susan Craig, University of Kansas; Thomas Greives, Arizona State University; and Henry Pisciotta, Pennsylvania State University. Carolyn DeLuca, Metropolitan Museum of Art, was unable to attend the ARLIS/NA meeting. In her place, Thomas Greives volunteered to address issues of technological innovation in the library instructional arena.
Susan Craig, Head of the Art and Architecture Library at the University of Kansas, was the first speaker. Her talk, “Designing the Art Library,” dealt with basic space planning principles to consider when one is facing a situation of new space or renovated space. She emphasized that the pace and type of technological innovation has changed so much in the last thirty years that one must keep in mind that technology will impact the design of the art library. Craig noted that the first critical phase in space planning is the preparation of an architectural program where space requirements, usage, and adjacencies are determined. Here two factors are important—flexibility and coherence. She noted that libraries are evolving spaces and added “flexible spaces require flexible thinking.” She also stressed the need for a coherent and recognizable space. Layouts need to make sense to users and staff and vital are clear paths and good signage. Craig then discussed in detail six factors to consider when undertaking space planning: 1) knowledge of your collection and its policies (size of collection, annual growth rate, storage options, floor load), 2) knowledge of services offered and planned (location of reference services, provision of bibliographic instruction, types of reproduction services), (3) knowledge of patrons and users (expectations of primary and secondary users, noise and activity levels, preferred configurations of study space and types of library furniture), 4) knowledge of staff requirements (work space for gifts and exchange, book repair, technical processing, automation equipment, climate control factors, space for breaks and working with volunteers), 5) knowledge of institutional goals (weeding policy, programmatic needs), and 6) knowledge of partners in the planning stage (administrators and other decision-makers). Other issues or adjacencies to keep in mind in the design of the library include access for patrons with special needs, lighting and wiring needs, multiple floor considerations as well as ergonomics and safety factors. Craig stressed that the art librarian should stay abreast of the design process and maintain good communication with the architects. Craig ended her very informative talk with a repeat of her best advice for designing a library facility: be mindful of the need for both flexibility and coherence.
Tom Greives spoke briefly about his background and experience as an art librarian and art historian. His current position as Reference Librarian and Art Bibliographer at Arizona State University has given him broad experience in general reference and bibliographic instruction while allowing him to also specialize in art and art-related library services. He offers custom-tailored bibliographic instruction sessions, however, each one includes demonstrations of searching the online catalog, art-related print databases, the Art History Resources Subject Guide to Electronic Resources, and the Internet. Greives uses the Art History Subject Guide as a base of information for bibliographic instruction, but also as a ready reference guide for his own purposes. As a component of his bibliographic instruction, Greives also teaches web site design including use of criteria and critical thinking. Greives next discussed several trends in bibliographic instruction. He sees a decline in reference desk transactions as more patrons are accessing information on their own. However, he also observes that librarians spend more time on average with each individual client, so that there is an increase of one-on-one instruction and more time spent on each reference interaction. He also notes that there are increasing numbers of phone call reference inquiries about how to access certain electronic databases. There is also an increase in email reference. At Arizona State University, the reference team shares the responsibility of replying to these queries, many of which are of an instructional nature. Team teaching is also a growing trend as is the need to explain about licensing and access and the need to be more knowledgeable about technological issues and advances. Finally, Greives pointed out the need to market programs and services and the need to measure output. Keeping up with changes in bibliographic instruction and technological advances are key components of art librarianship in the 21st century.
The final speaker was Henry Pisciotta, Art Librarian and Assistant Head
of Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University. He invited
the audience to join him for a few minutes in “wallowing in millennial
angst” as he described conditions likely to effect the future of the subject
specialist. He then offered a strategy, which he termed “fuzzy boundaries”
for dealing with those conditions. He framed his discussion with
six trends or considerations about the future. These trends come
mostly from “information shock jocks” who speak or write about the future
of information technology. Trend #1 The digital library + the
conventional library. Librarians will be faced with the double effort
of having to run digital libraries as well as conventional libraries.
Running two libraries will mean that librarians will have to juggle more
as they do double-duty. Trend #2 We force new media to do the work
of the old (Marshall McLuhan). For example, new media such
as automated circulation systems are forced to perform the work of the
old bins of paper cards. Pisciotta notes that new media have the
potential to do new work if only librarians would allow themselves time
to play with it, to explore the possibilities. Trend #3 Virtual
is a place, not a format (Stephen Abram). Communities of interest
are no longer tied to a geographic place. Virtual communities are
accessible from one’s workstation. Pisciotta suggests that this kind
of mobility raises interesting questions such as: “what are the reasons
to buy a book from a local bookstore and what are the reasons to contact
the local library with a reference question?” Trend #4 Learn,
unlearn, relearn (Alvin Toffler). The fast pace of change demands
a new type of rapid learning that is replacing the traditional kind of
educational approach. Teaching people how to learn a subject, rather
than teaching the subject itself is a trend that matches the type of self-directed
learning that libraries promote. Trend #5 It all fits in this
room (Michael Shamos). Pisciotta referred to Carnegie Mellon’s Univeral
Library project and its spokesperson’s contention that all published human
knowledge is now capable of being digitally stored in a small room.
Shamos suggests that if this storage devise was mirrored worldwide, universal
access to all information could possibly eliminate the need for traditional
libraries. Trend #6 All professions are threatened (Stephen
Abram). Information technologies, reduced resources, and the need
for rapid learning are causing “professional angst.” Pisciotta suggests
that perhaps even library users are feeling threatened by the proliferation
of new information systems and resources. Trend #7 Boundaries
are getting fuzzier (Henry Pisciotta). Pisciotta suggests that the
concept of fuzzy boundaries is a strategy to deal with the above six future
trends. To keep up with the challenges librarians and visual resources
curators will need to expand upon their available skills as well as gain
knowledge of related library functions, new technologies, issues in higher
education, teamwork and information industry developments, among other
areas. Pisciotta notes, however, that expanding into new territories,
or exploring these fuzzy boundaries, will also simultaneously require increased
specialization in order that the complexity of the new tasks is addressed.
Pisciotta ended his remarks by suggesting that just as the nature of art
keeps evolving and finding new forms, subject librarianship has to be an
art if we are to find our own new forms and meet the challenges of our
future in the new millenium.
University of Wisconsin-Madison