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.
Thank you very much, Liz, for putting together those comments. I don't really know how to respond. Well, there are lots of ways I could respond. I threatened Liz with a dada poem of mismatched meter and no rhyme, composed mostly of MARC field and AACR rule numbers. You're lucky because I'm not a poet. I would much rather sit in a circle talking about cataloging issues than stand in front of you all. But you all are what has made this so enjoyable and relatively easy. I'm really glad that librarianship is a collective activity.
I have been incredibly lucky to find a profession that used my native abilities to stick things in pigeon holes and to describe how things are alike and different. It seems to me that is what cataloging is about. My office neighbor says that the scholars are spending their efforts breaking the boundaries and it is our duty to apply some organization.
You have probably heard it argued that original cataloging is difficult. My colleagues in the visual resources arena say they do only original cataloging. But you don't want to be too original because you would be doing a disservice to the user of your cataloging record. You want to find the similarities to other items you've cataloged. It goes back to Cutter's principles of finding something when you know the author or title, or finding what a collection has on a particular topic. You want to say that author's name the same way each time. You want to express a subject in the complementary way and provide references between related subjects.
Cataloging is always evolving and the past couple weeks have been particularly exciting, as well as frustrating and just confounding. We were greeted this past week with a news release describing a conflation of OCLC and RLG. It is my sincere desire that the wealth of RLG's special programs doesn't get lost among the incredible resources of OCLC. The conflation news followed by only a few days the shocking news that LC would no longer try to control series titles. They're responding in part to a lot of early retirements a few months ago. Many series titles will be just fine, at least in LC's system, the way they plan to do series access in the future. But it's still a shock to the system -- personally and the cooperative cataloging world -- to think of letting series titles just go meander into keyword territory.
We're still trying to figure out how our library catalogs can effectively interact with other means of access like web browsers. That's not new, of course, since you always had to combine the catalog search with a visit to the indexing table or the archives. The seeming ease of electronic access makes us want to have one-stop shopping for researchers at the same time we know that it can't be easy, the synthesis of information is not something that can yet be automated.
My first library job was in the mid-1960s at the Ceramics College Library in Alfred where our work was guided by Lois Smith, a wonderful librarian and Quaker. Her approach to life and work has been an inspiration throughout my career. That was my summer and vacation job; during the year, I was the student worker in the slide room at SUNY New Paltz. The ability to combine love of art with work was too splendid. It was wonderful to be getting out of grad school and library school, and entering the library profession, just as ARLIS/NA was getting off the ground. If I have been able to help new ARLISers into the fold as I was helped, it will have all been worthwhile.
I do value beyond words the people I've met, the things I've learned, the wonderful places we've been, and I thank you from the depths of my heart and soul for this high honor. By the way, I don't plan on retiring right away though I do share my birth year with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Cher, Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and a whole bunch of other boomers.
Washington. January 1975. My first ARLIS conference. I was pretty miserable at the conference, knowing no one and believing I had absolutely nothing to contribute to any professional conversation at a conference where everyone else seemed to know one another. I did not even work in an art library. Sitting alone in a long row of chairs waiting for a session to begin, someone actually sat next to me and turned with a broad smile to say, "hello". That moment I met Caroline Backlund; it marks what I consider the beginning of my career as an art librarian. Who was I? Where had I studied? What did I think of the last speaker? Anyone who knows Caroline can imagine that she engaged me in dialog about what I was learning and made me imagine, almost believe, I had something to contribute. Our world is changing dramatically, but perhaps the singular most important aspect of this organization has remained timeless: the tradition of learning, sharing, questioning, compromising and adapting to change. In 2003 one area of change, and one of our greatest challenges, is accessing information about art objects. Many museums have collections information management systems and provide web access to a portion of their collection. Fewer have rich or deep information about the collections on their internal systems, let alone on the web. And what of standards, the mainstay of shared information in the library world? Much work has been done on developing standards leaving museums staff with bewildering choices about which ones to chose. Bad enough that, most staff has precious little time to move theory to practice anyway.
Now, lets imagine where we will be in 2025. Will data standards exist in museums? Will there be a way to share museum information across institutions? Some colleague have little optimism in this regard. Why would museums go to the extraordinary effort to standardize information when the internal use of the information has never necessitated such measures? Libraries did not create formats and controlled vocabularies to be altruistic; they did so to better manage operations. Might there be economic incentive for museums? It COULD be similar to libraries, improved efficiency of information management. Three areas of labor-intensive activity in museums occur to me as possibilities: Rights and licensing, museum loans, scholarly publications.
First, rights and licensing: A great deal of time is spent handling forms, paper and/or electronic, for licensing works of art. Educational licensing yields little revenue for considerable the effort. If museums actually created a "union catalog" with low resolution images on the web, potential licensees could "shop" for images across museums, use shopping cart type technology, to select images, and self-identify their commercial or non commercial intentions. Museums might actually agree on a standard fee for educational use allowing the virtual licensee to compute the cost of their order, pay, and receive the high resolution files electronically. The public website would obviously become a destination for those doing picture research for publications, postcard, or pillowcases. Those users would "click through" to the rights and licensing staff at individual museums to negotiate the terms of those commercial, and more lucrative, contracts. It is quite possible to imagine that museums could save money on staff, more widely distribute images of their works for educational use, and focus on commercial licensing to better financial advantage.
What would it take? Well first, some agreement on the standards for describing works of art on the aggregated public web site and a commitment to collaboration. If there were a union catalog of art information museum staff could use it for early "discovery" of works of art for research and exhibition planning. A set of standardized forms for requesting and approving the loan of objects from other institutions, for defining the terms of the loan, and obtaining permissions for the use of images of objects during the planning and life of the exhibition could be developed. Granted, objects are not as uniform as books. Their size, materials, fragility, weight, and value are factored into decisions about their loan. Still, the enormous benefit of standardizing any part of this activity, so central in museums, could greatly facilitate exhibition planning.
Think IML---intermuseum loan. What would it take? Once again some standardization and a good deal of collaboration. Finally, might there be a new paradigm for museums to disseminate scholarly information? While it seldom seems possible for museum curators to upgrade information in collections management systems, merely for the sake of improving the records, every day, every week and month of the years curators and educations are writing new wall labels, creating catalog entries for print publications, creating "views" of the objects targeted to particular audiences. Today the result of that intellectual effort has one time use. Workflow in museums does not generally include getting that current scholarship and updated information into the collections management systems for re-use. Meanwhile the cost of publishing collection catalogs in print becomes more and more prohibitive. Why not develop tool kits to help museums harness the ongoing interpretive and scholarly work produced by staff, pour it back into collection management systems, and export it to a global union catalog?
Working together, might criteria for electronic publications, collection catalogs, symposia proceedings, museum bulletins or jornals, be created, and standardized, to reduce the nearly prohibitive cost of scholarly publishing today, let alone in the future? Yes, but it will take standards and collaboration. These ideas may seem implausible but then, who among us could have imagined the world wide web in 1975? How might we in our careers be agents of such change? That brings me back to Caroline Backlund. She stayed with me during several dog days of heat and humidity in New York last August. Although now retired, she was so eager to learn about what we were doing at ARTstor. In retrospect, I realize that she was not learning something from me, she was asking the penetrating questions that I needed to consider and learn to answer as Director of Museum Relations for ARTstor, as always my mentor. This is what must endure between us in ARLIS: the trust to learn from one another and the commitment to share our expertise with those older and younger so that collectively we own the solutions. How fortunate we are tonight to be able to continue the dialog, inspired by artist Joyce Scott, the of the Baltimore Museum of Art and just perhaps a little wine.
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I am deeply honored to have been nominated for, and to have received, the Distinguished Service Award, and I am truly overwhelmed by this recognition that comes from my peers in the art library profession. Thank you.
I hope that I can always be a mentor to others. Sharing information energizes me, and, like so much else, information accumulates with time and experience. I believe that people work best when they understand the context they work in, and understand how what they do, whatever they are responsible for, affects the whole. A library is very much an organic whole, and works best, when all the parts and persons work together with respect and understanding.
I was fortunate to be mentored and encouraged by a talented community of library and project directors like Toni Petersen, Deirdre Stam, and Angela Giral. It was the pre-Internet era. The work of this period established the basis for many collaborations, programs, and life-long friendships among ARLIS/NA members.
My leadership role at the Frick Art Reference Library was an opportunity of a lifetime. I am indebted to a talented staff for what I was able to accomplish from the development of the online catalog FRESCO to the timely Center for the History of Collecting in America.
With the formation of NYARC, the New York Art Resources Consortium, and with my colleagues Deirdre Lawrence, Milan Hughston, and Ken Soehner. I felt like we were picking up from an earlier, unfinished era of collaboration, but this time, with exciting new opportunities and possibilities. Here was the wave of the future--not a trend, but the very soul and survival of libraries. Focusing on the strengths and uniqueness of each of our libraries, we faced the hard questions like the spiraling costs of duplication, whether items or efforts, and the eventual sharing of processes, storage, and technologies.
This is where we need to go, and ARLIS/NA will play an important role as facilitator. The goal of art librarianship has not changed--to support and sustain research. How we bring our experience and expertise together has. I intend to participate in this new era, as advisor, consultant, mentor or friend.
2016, presented 2017: Elizabeth O'Keefe