ARLIS/NA Conference, Denver

Convocation Program Presentation, 2008

First of all, I want to thank everyone who was involved with my nomination and selection for this honor. I am overwhelmed at the thought of you working on my behalf. When I learned of the award from Deborah, I found myself totally speechless for the first time in my life! Fortunately, I've recovered and I'd like to share a few highlights from my career as an art librarian with you. 

I have been incredibly lucky. Lucky first of all to realize that I could combine two loves into a career. I have used libraries since I was a child in a very small town in central Kansas--the library was my playground and it opened my consciousness to a wider world--and then in college, I had a job working for the KU Libraries. I also loved art history and was embarked on earning a graduate degree in the field when I realized I didn't know what I was intending to do--I just liked sitting in a dark room looking at pretty pictures and thought anyone who didn't major in art history in college was working way too hard! I attended library school at Emporia State University in Kansas--not a prestigious library school but one I could afford and where the faculty allowed me to direct all my class projects toward art librarianship. The faculty didn't actually understand subject librarianship but were flexible enough to allow me to do projects on art resources for my reference class and to catalog art books for my cataloging class. 

My next piece of luck was to send my resume to the ALA job placement service where an H.W. Wilson staff member saw it at the summer 1971 Chicago conference. They contacted me for an interview, I flew to NY, and was hired as an indexer for Art Index. For the next 4 years, my job was to read art magazines and determine what the articles were about--what an education! It also meant I was living in NY when the first ARLIS/NA annual conference was held in a classroom at Columbia University and I attended. I participated in the organization of the New York Chapter and served as the first Secretary-Treasurer of that chapter. I had an unbroken string of attendance at the next 16 annual conferences and it was there that I began to meet colleagues from all over North America and where I truly received my education as an art librarian. 

I was lucky that Jean Finch, the 2nd President of ARLIS/NA, was the art librarian at Stanford and recommended me for the job at Univ. of California, Berkeley in 1974. This was a new position as the Art History/Classics Librarian at Berkeley but it had been open for 2 years by the time I applied. Although funded by the library, the Classics Dept. had a say and they wanted someone with a PhD in Classics; the Art History Dept. had a say and they wanted someone with a PhD in Art History; and the library had a say and they wanted someone with an MLS who could serve the two academic departments and keep the faculty relatively happy--or at least out of their offices. I've always known I was a compromise for all of them but I spent 7 years there working with a fabulous collection, colleagues, students, and faculty. I also got involved in the Northern California ARLIS/NA chapter and served as the chapter's Vice-chair/Chair from 1979-81. 

It was at the 1981 ARLIS/NA conference in San Francisco that I had my first interview for the position as art librarian at Kansas. Leaving Berkeley was difficult but it was both a personal decision--returning to my family and my alma mater--and a professional one--going to a brand new branch library with lots of space and money to build a collection. It also meant involvement in a new ARLIS chapter, ARLIS/Central Plains, where I now have a group of valued colleagues. 

So what has ARLIS/NA meant to me? It has been the source of education, of support, of information, of fellowship, of wonderful conferences, of opportunities to visit different cities and get special tours of the art and architecture, to attend incredible parties. ARLIS/NA has been there throughout my professional career as my primary professional organization. Many of you won't realize that there was opposition to the founding of ARLIS. Some art librarians felt we should ally with Special Libraries Association and work within their structure. Some felt ALA, as the most prominent library organization, was the right home for us and others lobbied for uniting with College Art Association. But there was something about having our own Society and our own conference--a conference that would allow programming to address our needs and allow us to visit a variety of locations where our local members would host the conference and show-off the local sights. 

There's something about knowing our colleagues across this continent and being able to call on them for advice and help. We see reference questions posted online, requests for advice on vendors and equipment, notices--especially right before conference--of volunteer opportunities to serve the Society. 

My advice is to use ARLIS/NA. Make it your professional association. If you don't like some of the policies or practices of the organization, get involved and help shape the future. If you want a Directory of Members, as I do, let the officers know. If you ever feel the conference programs aren't relevant to your needs, volunteer to develop something that does address a topic you care about--chances are that others will be interested as well. 

Use the connectivity available through ARLIS/NA. I love the fact that I know the director of the library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the director of the Fogg Library at Harvard. If you or one of your clientele has a special request that involves another art library--impress your patrons, drop some names, and use your connections. Many of us work in single-staff libraries or as the only art library specialist within a university, a museum, or a public institution. We need each other. 

I regularly prepare a report on the ARLIS/NA annual conference and distribute it to the entire KU Library staff. I report on the program sessions that I attended and provide links to any handouts or Power Points, I talk about the museums I saw, the tours I took, and I always report on the parties--I am the envy of the Library that I have such a great organization. 

Being an art librarian has been the perfect career for me. Several years ago, we had a new Library Dean who asked me, "Susan, why haven't you ever become an Assistant Dean?" My immediate reply was: "but why would I? I'm already an art librarian." 

May each of you be blessed with the same sort of LUCK that I've experienced in having a career in a field that you love--and I hope that I've given you some idea of why receiving this award from ARLIS/NA and my colleagues is so meaningful to me. Thank you.