Gerd Muehsam Award: Past Recipients

Distinguished Service Award: Mary Williamson

ARLIS/NA Conference, Montreal

Convocation Program Presentation, 1995

It is a tremendous honour to receive the ARLIS/NA Distinguished Service Award, and I cannot but be conscious of the eminence of previous recipients at past Convocations. I thank you all very much. 

I would like to share with you for a moment a few reflections on what it means to be an art librarian in Canada. C'est avec audace que j'adresse et inclus mes respectés collègues du Québec, en parlant de la profession de bibliothécaire d'art au Canada. 

Qu'est au juste être bibliothécaire d'art au Canada? It means to be immensely proud of this conference in Montréal, and of our colleagues here, in Ottawa and Québec City. They have laboured tirelessly for months to make this not only the usual stimulating ARLIS experience, but also to set the scene for us to enjoy Québec's artistic and architectural patrimoine, and the cultural difference that marks this historic city. 

Also, to be an art librarian in Canada is to envy our southern neighbours their sheer numbers, and their ability to use those numbers to make a difference. For example, I doubt that we could emulate our U.S. colleagues who have mounted an impressive campaign in response to the threatened closing down of the Guggenheim Museum library in New York, and to the library's questionable phoenix-like rebirth. Big cuts have just been announced in the Canadian Parliament to the budgets of all our national cultural organizations and agencies, and more are promised in future budgets (although universal medicare IS still intact in Canada!) All of this affects all of us. Some art libraries will close, and others will be absorbed by the general collections. Canadian art librarians care deeply, but we are few, and we are scattered across five time zones. Those of us who live in St. John’s, Newfoundland, are closer to Paris and London than to our colleagues in Vancouver, British Columbia. Un de mes plus chers rêves serait de nous voir exploiter les nouvelles technologies de communication, afin de coordonner nos activités et de faire une plus forte impression que nos nombres justifieraient. 

I think that I speak for all Canadian art librarians who are members of ARLIS/NA when I say that our membership is a tremendously important part of our professional lives. ARLIS/NA has provided a forum for us to meet together, and to discuss issues that affect us as Canadian art librarians, but also it forces us out of national isolation and exposes us to valued colleagues throughout North America: to their ideas, expertise and enthusiasm. Une grande partie de ce que nombreux d'entre nous connaissons sur le sujet de bibliothéconomie d'art, est due à notre partipation à ARLIS/NA. Personellement, j'apprécie enormement l'amitié de mes collègues américains et canadiens, amitié qui serait impossible sans la société. 

But it must be said that many of us in Canada continue to be concerned about continuing cultural penetration from the south. American NAFTA negotiators and media czars are publicly committed to overlaying, if not replacing, arts and entertainment and publications produced in Canada with their own. For us this represents a kind of cultural colonialism which no other country has experienced to the same extent. I mention this to explain the ambiguous feelings which we express from time to time. We love our American ARLIS/NA colleagues, but we feel a particular responsibility to protect and celebrate the arts in Canada in the face of powerful economic forces from outside. 

Although I retire this June, I intend to draw strength from ARLIS/NA’s vitality for at least a few more years. Once again, I thank you all ... et à mes collègues québécois--merci de nous avoir accueilli à cette mémorable conférence. Il m'est spécialement précieux de reçevoir ce prix à Montréal.

Distinguished Service Award: Margaret Webster

ARLIS/NA Conference, Minneapolis

Convocation Program Presentation, 2011

Margaret Webster

Margaret Webster Dear ARLIS and VRA friends and colleagues,

Thank you so much Greta for nominating me for this incomparable distinction; thank you so much Greta and Ann for the kindest of remarks. I am deeply honored and humbled to have been nominated for and to have received the ARLIS/NA Distinguished Service Award during this second joint conference here in Minneapolis. This honor is magnified because I am privileged to share the stage with my esteemed colleague, Eileen Fry, who is tonight's recipient of the VRA Distinguished Service Award. Thank you ARLIS/NA.

I am grateful that I entered visual resources during a period of unprecedented growth as it blossomed from a clerical position into a true profession. It spoke to my personal passion for creating order and putting things into classified cubby holes. It also allowed me to work with both the faculty and students in a flexible collaborative way. I quickly discovered that not only could I organize my growing collections but that I could passionately debate the pros and the cons of how to do this with equally fervent ARLIS/NA and VRA colleagues. Furthermore, my ARLIS/NA cataloger colleagues frequently directed my thinking in crucial ways; they made me think about what I was trying to accomplish and questioned my methodologies. As Sherman Clarke noted in his letter, those trips to ARLIS/WNY chapter meetings in Judith Holliday's VW Beetle were eye opening; I was privileged to sit in the back and listen to Judith and Sherman hash out the intricacies of AACRL and MARC. The VRA Core which is now hosted by the Library of Congress is a collective and collaborative result of many of these discussions held with countless colleagues.

It is in both ARLIS/NA and VRA that I found mentors, colleagues, and friends who shaped my career and inspired me as a professional. My career began in the pre-Internet era in a stand alone visual resources collection; fortunately an abundance of professional colleagues who were somewhat scarce at Cornell were easily found within the membership of ARLIS/NA and VRA. These types of connections are now much easier to establish and maintain thanks to the marvels of technology that provide the communication tools to support rewarding often virtual collaborations. These associations resulted in the establishment of many enduring life-long friendships.

I was twice honored to serve on the ARLIS/NA executive board—once as a regional representative and once in the presidential sequence. These terms on the executive board allowed me while ostensibly serving you to mature as a professional and as a manager and to significantly widen my circle of critical colleagues. Yes, the work was substantial, but I can assure you that I received far more from ARLIS/NA throughout my career than I have given in return. If you have not done so already, please consider serving ARLIS/NA as a member of a committee or on the executive board; you will not be sorry.

Being mentored should logically lead to becoming a mentor. This is the heart and soul of being a professional and a member of a professional organization. Conference mentors are critically important as new members are introduced to and learn to become productive members of ARLIS/NA; career mentors are critical as we learn and navigate through our professions. Mentoring and being mentored represents the give and take that shapes the continuity and constantly renewed energy of our profession as it changes over time. Art librarianship broadly defined continues to support learning, research and knowledge; how this is accomplished has and is changing as we move from the analog into the digital arena and as art librarianship is integrated and merged into different aspects of the structure of our institutions and changing cultures. It is this legacy that our current members and leaders must impart to the next generation. I am proudest of my former employees and colleagues--of which Greta Bahnemann, Eric Schwab, and Sarah Goldstein are shining examples--who are continuing the tradition of excellence and making their own marks as art librarians, visual resources specialists, imaging specialist, and metadata librarians. They are my special legacy.

I continue to participate in and am interested in our constantly evolving profession as a consultant, advisor, and friend. I will always treasure the people I have met, the things that I have learned, and experiences that I have had as a member of ARLIS/NA. I am deeply appreciative of this highest of honors. Thank you.

Distinguished Service Award: Joan M. Benedetti

ARLIS/NA 42nd Annual Conference, Washington, DC

Convocation Program Presentation, 2014

2013 ARLIS/NA DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD Acceptance Speech, by Joan M. Benedetti; DSA Ceremony held in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Jefferson Building, Library of Congress, May 3, 2014

Note: Benedetti's remarks have been rewritten to delete references to slides that accompanied her talk at the ceremony, but a video of the entire Convocation, produced by the Library of Congress, can be seen at: To see Jon Evans' introduction, go to 58:40 on the video; Benedetti's remarks start at 1:03.


Joan BenedettiWhen Gregg Most told me about this award a couple of months ago, I was of course thrilled — and terrified. Just like Ted Goodman, I immediately thought: "What am I going to wear?" and then "What am I going to say?" I decided—following Ted's lead—to tell you some things about me that you might not know. You could call it a "case study."

Childhood pictures confirm I already had a book in my hand at age one. I was the daughter of two librarians who had just received their library degrees from Columbia University. My dad's part-­time job was typing cards for the Avery Index. He was in the Merchant Marines and became the head of the Merchant Marine Library. My mom headed two New York Public Library branches and then four Illinois regional systems. Incidentally, they were both artists!

In spite of my parentage, I never thought about being a librarian! I wanted to be an actress!! I had parts on the Indiana University main stage and at their Brown County Playhouse. I.U. was where (after marriage and my first baby) I got my B.A. in theater with a minor in art. But at my mother's urging, I went to talk to a friend of her's, the head of the new library science program at I.U. This was unfortunately before BJ Irvine got to I.U.

I thought—well, if I have to be a librarian, I'd like to be a children's librarian—after all, I loved children's literature. My first professional job—circa 1960s-­was as a children's librarian in Gary, Indiana—my acting experience came in handy for story hours!

By 1967 I had remarried and we moved to Milwaukee, where—by chance—I got a job as Decorative Arts librarian at the Milwaukee Public Library. Who even knew such a job existed?

Fast forward to 1975—Los Angeles—in the midst of a recession—and two more kids. After an
8-­year hiatus as full-time housewife and mother, I was ready to go back to work! It took a
while, but a chance encounter at a cocktail party with a CalArts trustee changed my life.

Edith Wyle (yes she would turn out to be the grandmother of Noah Wyle—but not yet) was turning an innovative and well-­loved L.A. gallery and restaurant called The Egg and The Eye into a museum called the Craft and Folk Art Museum—or CAFAM. I didn't know anything about museum libraries, but I asked her if she had thought about including a library in her new museum—and she said "yes."

I started at CAFAM in 1976. They were putting on the first annual Festival of Masks—thousands came—and came again year after year for over 20 years!

I started as a scab—a volunteer—in a small room shared with a copying machine and other volunteers-­but I was head of the library! Shortly after starting to work at CAFAM-­another encounter enriched my professional life forever—

I met Eleanor Hartman, head of the L.A. County Museum of Art—LACMA—Library, and heard about this new art library organization—ARLIS. ARLIS gave me the confidence to be a real art librarian. And I met Judy Hoffberg, who lived in L.A. and was working on the 1977 ARLIS L.A. conference—a most wonderful introduction to Los Angeles!

By 1978, three successful grant proposals after I had started at CAFAM, we moved the library around the corner from the museum into a small Spanish-­style cottage. I had the first of many interns and my first part-­time assistant—and we were there happily for 10 years.

At the 1983 ARLIS conference in Philadelphia, we heard that L.A. would again be the conference site in 1985—and Joyce Ludmer (who was the UCLA art librarian) whispered in my ear—"You could do it—you could chair the conference!" Somehow, with an amazing conference committee, we got it done. The Convocation was held at the old Getty—now the Getty Villa.

In 1989 the CAFAM building was closed for earthquake retrofitting and the whole operation moved into the nearby landmark department store—the May Company. The library was on the mezzanine overlooking the perfume counter. Michelle Arens became my first—and only—full-­time assistant! We had just received another big grant from the Irvine Foundation.

The grant was to develop a Center for the Study of Art and Culture (CSAC)—an adjunct of the library and a "think tank" for the museum. Among the things CSAC did of which I am most proud was to produce a series of workshops on Diversity and Inclusion, specifically targeting teams of museum staff and board members. Teams from 14 L.A.-­area museums signed up.

Toni Peterson and Elizabeth Byrne were on the advisory board that included scholars of art and culture from all over the U.S.

But just three years later the May Co. department store closed and we moved back to CAFAM's original space, now safely retrofitted and redesigned by Hodgetts + Fung. All the offices and
the library were moved into a neighboring building.

benedettiSo—I designed yet another library—are you keeping track? This was CAFAM Library #4 and we got a fancy new sign: it was called the Edith R. Wyle Research Library. But my idea to name the library after the founder didn't help in the long run because two years later CAFAM closed again—this time we thought it was forever.

Many meetings were held in the library to decide what to do. It was decided to sell the permanent object collection, and instead of packing up the library—­which I knew would make it disappear forever—we decided to give it away. Then everyone was laid off.

This was when my ARLIS network really came through for me. After 21 years, I was a volunteer again. I got on the phone to Southern California chapter members and we received proposals from 8 area art libraries to take the CAFAM library and—oh yes—the "archives"— that is 32 years' worth of institutional records, including catalogs, announcements, posters, film, video, and thousands of exhibition and event slides that would otherwise have been thrown away.

The library—around 7000 volumes at that point—was given to LACMA. Thanks to Debbie
Smedstad, who was then the Head, I went to LACMA too as a part-­time cataloger.

And the CAFAM Library went back to the May Company, which by that time had been purchased by LACMA and was now known as "LACMA West." This time it went into what had been a back room of the linens department. But it looked pretty spiffy when it was re-­done.

CAFAM, by the way, reopened 18 months later-­minus its library and archives and its permanent collection, which was sold at auction.

And the CAFAM archives—32 years of staff files that were almost thrown away—first they went to UCLA Arts Special Collections and then they went to UCLA Special Collections—and I got to work on them a couple of days a week for almost 13 years! Several graduate fellows helped me process 250 cubic foot boxes into 550 archival boxes—225 linear feet-­it's one of their largest collections. The finding aid went up online last year.

During all this time, ARLIS helped keep me sane. Mari Russell and I co-­chaired a panel on Native
American Contemporary Art for the 2001 L.A. conference. And I got to work as writer and editor on the conference publications.

2 years later I retired from LACMA—and that began one of the most satisfying periods of my professional life—finally I had time to write! I reflected on the differences—and the similarities—of working in a relatively small, specialized art museum and a very large encyclopedic art museum-­and I persuaded the ARLIS Publications Committee to let me edit a book about art museum libraries and librarianship, which was co-­published by ARLIS and Scarecrow Press in 2007.

Four and a half years ago I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I envisioned my life there as an idyll of reading for pleasure and enjoying the eight wonderful Santa Fe museums.

But of course, I've become involved with the ARLIS/NA Mountain West chapter.

And my husband Beny and I live within sight of the Museum of International Folk Art, which has the largest collection of international folk art in the world-­so naturally I have been working
with their support group, the Friends of Folk Art.

At the 2013 Folk Art Flea Market, we made over $92,000 for the museum.

But I have a new bumper sticker on my car that says: "I'd Rather Be Reading."


Distinguished Service Award: Daniel Starr

ARLIS/NA 43rd Annual Conference, Fort Worth, TX

Convocation Program Presentation, 2015

2014 ARLIS/NA DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD Acceptance Speech, by Daniel Starr; DSA Ceremony held at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel, March 22, 2015


Daniel StarrI started working at the Art Institute of Chicago's Ryerson and Burnham Libraries when I was fourteen years old -- one afternoon a week during school and full time each summer.

My first job was to paint yellow acrylic dots on the spines of books being moved to storage. You can still see my handiwork today if you visit the stacks: pristine runs of bound journals back to the mid-sixties; anything earlier: a bright yellow dot.

I was lucky to learn about library work at the end of the analog era from Miss Schoneman, Miss Vivian, Miss Fillis, Miss Chin, and so many others who took me under their wing.

These dedicated librarians (with the occasional Mrs. and the rare Mr.) trained me, and taught me the importance of tempering work with a sense of humor. One afternoon when I was shelving books in the basement, Miss Fillis startled me appearing at the head of a solemn delegation to recite a poem that began: Danny's The Elf Boy Who Dwells in the Stacks and Impishly Tweaks you if you Dare Relax Near to his Lair, Where he Lurks Melancholic, Never Venturing Out for a Frolic."

I continued working in this nurturing environment throughout College and Grad School and was lucky enough to get my first professional position there as Reference/Catalog Librarian just as I finished my MLS, a member of the last class to learn cataloging by typing cards.

The highlight of my week in those days was the arrival of The New Yorker. I would make myself a martini, settle in for the evening and pretend to be a sophisticate. I also looked forward to the less regular arrival of the ARLIS/NA Newsletter, and avidly read the cataloging column. So it was natural for me, a presumptuous 27 year old, to answer an ad in the New York Times for Senior Cataloger at MoMA (accurate typing required). Cataloging in New York--what could be better?

Daniel Starr and Carole Ann FabianI grew up in Chicago; but I became an adult at MoMA. I learned the craft of cataloging, helped by my colleagues in ARLIS.

I learned to be a reference librarian by working with a string of amazing ones: Paula Baxter, Hikmet Loe, Eumie Imm Stroukoff, Jennifer Tobias, Janis Ekdahl, and later, Linda Seckelson. They would give a collective shudder to read one of my early efforts: "Dear Ms. X -- I am sorry but we do not have the staff nor the time to do your research for you, nor do we have any material to send to you -- Sincerely yours, ..."

Also, to paraphrase Nelson Rockefeller, all I ever learned about management I learned at MoMA by leading the union of professional and administrative staff for a dozen years negotiating contracts, handling grievances, and being on far too many committees. I'm pleased and proud that Danny Fermon so ably continues in that role of the activist librarian.

Then fourteen years ago, thanks to Ken Soehner I moved uptown to the Met -- a simple career: three great libraries in three great museums. The one constant has always been ARLIS/NA.

I thank Susan Craig and her committee for deeming me worthy of this honor, Carole Ann and the Executive Board for their hard work, my good friends Sherman and Ted, who nominated me, and to those who wrote in support. Sherman has been a conference roommate and cataloging sparring partner for over thirty five years; Ted is the hardest working person I know, not only at our house (lucky for us) but also for Avery and ARLIS/NA.

To my husband, Gary Miller, you deserve special thanks for putting up with library stuff all these years. Of course, you can't avoid it. Art librarians were there when we met on the Great Lawn of Central Park during a Metropolitan Opera performance 31 years ago and have been part of our life together ever since.

Ted Goodman and Sherman ClarkeI'm grateful to my siblings, Bob, Loriel, and Steve for being here tonight. Please ask them to fill in the embarrassing details of my past at the reception I know you are all eager to get to.

Finally, to you, the members of ARLIS, both past and present, who are such inspirational role models, generous colleagues, and good friends: that shy little boy who dwelt in the stacks thanks you.