Distinguished Service Award: B.J. Kish Irvine

eceiving the Distinguished Service Award is such an extraordinary honor because is comes from you—from my peers in the art library and visual resources professions. What in the world can I possibly say at this time that would have meaning or relevance to each of us. Thanks to Lyn Korenic you have heard an embarrassingly long description of my career. When I received news of the award in December, I was sitting in an Art Library in Bangkok—Chirayoo Dasri’s office preparing to give talks about my library and ARLIS/NA for librarians, and library school students and faculty at two universities in Thailand. At that time my response was stunned disbelief—I really thought Ted Goodman’s e-mail was for someone else. Being in Bangkok, learning about Thai art and university libraries, and sharing information about what we do in North America just seems to be part of what I have been doing since I started working in the Slide Room at Indiana University in 1966. Indeed, you cannot imagine my excitement in discovering a wall of projected slides and drawers of slides in the University Arts Library in Bangkok. My journey first to explore the world of slide libraries and then art libraries has never stopped. My desire to learn about our diverse collections has taken me from visits to most of the major slide & photograph libraries beginning in the late 60s, to art libraries in China in the 90’s, and then to Thailand last year. 

Over these past months, I have given much thought to my remarks this evening. I have tried to recall the comments of past recipients, Bernard Karpel, Antje Lemke, Caroline Backlund, Jacqueline Viaux, Wolfgang Freitag, and Bill Walker. Much to my great pleasure, I announced the award in 1993 for Luraine Tansey when I was President. What a fantastic opportunity since she represented my slide library roots in the profession. After Luraine, awards were made to Mary Williamson, Lois Swan Jones, Bill Dane, Toni Petersen and Pam Parry. These individuals have represented important role models and often mentors for me as well, and I assume for many others here tonight. 

This joint conference with VRA is especially meaningful for me since I began my career as a Slide Room Clerk. My first mentor was the head of the Fine Arts Library to whom I would run every time I had what seemed like a really unusual idea for making the slide collection easier to use—ideas like source & order records for slide production, and what she told was an authority file for artists’ names. One day, she just looked at me and said, "BJ, you think like a librarian. Go to library school!" And the rest is history. My career has always been blessed by extraordinary individuals who encouraged me, challenged me, and provided role models for achievement with compassion. This evening I talk to you as members of my professional family of art librarians, visual resources professionals, art book dealers, and print, slide, and electronic publishers. Today, we represent such extraordinary diversity in the vast range of print, multi-media, electronic and visual documentation that encompasses our daily work lives. When I began in the FA Library in 1969, we only had two pieces of electrical equipment—a timeclock and an electric eraser used to correct catalogue cards. Actually when I was in the Slide Collection, I was responsible for more equipment including light tables and viewers plus 35mm and lantern slide projectors. Today, our libraries and visual resources collections have so much equipment—electric, electronic, and digital that we barely keep pace with how to use it all let alone maintain and upgrade it on a nearly annual basis. 

All these changes have occurred because of our pursuit of excellence as art librarians and visual resources professionals. We as individuals have been at the forefront of change and innovation in our professions. 

When I began my research on the book Slide Libraries in 1968, I had the good fortune of meeting Eleanor Collins, Head of the Slide & Photograph Collection at the University of Michigan. She was so warm and generous, encouraging me to complete my research on slide libraries in the U.S. and recognizing that this was the first such study ever done on this type of "nonprint" or image library. Eleanor became first my mentor in this yet rather undeveloped area of slide or image librarianship. Shortly after this meeting, she invited me to present a paper at the first College Art Association session devoted to slides & photos at the 1969 Boston conference. Other important influences at that time included Nancy DeLaurier at the University of Missouri at Kansas City whom many of you know was also the founding member of VRA, Helen Chillman, Slide & Photograph Library at Yale University, William Dane, Art & Music Dept./Public Library of Newark NJ (including the Slide Collection), Margaret Nolan, Head of the Photograph and Slide Library at the MMA, and Luraine Tansey at UC/Santa Cruz where she helped to develop the first computer-based indexing system for a slide collection. Many of these individuals formed the first "formal group of slide & photograph professionals" which we called the "National Steering Committee for Slides and Photographs" which, as I recall, was led by Nancy DeLaurier and Margaret Nolan. With the early 70s, other significant visual resources professionals also influenced my work including Sara Jane Pearman, Cleveland Mus. Of Art, Christine Sundt, then at the Univ. of Wisconsin, Rosann Auchstetter then at AIC, Eleanor Fink then at the National Coll. Of FA, Smithsonian, Helene Roberts heading the Visual Collections at Harvard University, and Carol Terry then at Stanford. Many may not recall that Wolfgang Freitag, Harvard U., also was an early advocate for the promotion and recognition of slide libraries and, at his request, I co-authored with him, one of the earliest papers on this topic for a book on Nonprint Media in Academic Libraries published by the American Library Association in 1975. 

The late 1960s was an especially fertile time for professional movers and shakers. At an ALA meeting in 1968, Florence DaLuiso, State University of NY at Buffalo, Wolfgang Freitag, and Herbert Scherer, University of Minnesota, were lamenting the sorry state of art librarianship in America noting the critical need for our coming together to discuss and share our concerns and problems. This casual meeting resulted in DaLuiso’s application and receipt of a Title II-B grant from the US Office of Education that funded our first conference solely dedicated to art and visual resources concerns—known as the Buffalo Institute held in June 1969. Do you know that nearly half the speakers at the meeting were slide and photograph professionals—Eleanor Collins, Luraine Tansey, and myself. The art librarians included Judy Hoffberg then at University of Pennsylvania, Wolfgang Freitag, Bill Walker then at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Bernard Karpel, Art Librarian at Museum of Modern Art. It was shortly after the Buffalo Institute that Judy took off to England to gather information about ARLIS/UK & Ireland which had just been founded in 1969. In 1972 ARLIS/NA was born. The Slides & Photographs group in the CAA shifted their focus to the Mid-America CAA and by 1982 VRA was founded. All of these individuals and events helped to shape my professional life. 

Not only have I been blessed with extraordinary role models and mentors throughout our profession, I also have had the benefit of working with many outstanding students beginning in the early 1970s. My first student contacts were through the art history research bibliography course which I have taught since 1969 and then through library school internships. Some of my earliest students have become important leaders in our profession and I am so proud of their accomplishments. They include Katherine Martinez, Harvard U., Elizabeth Byrne, University of California/Berkeley, Jane Carlin, Univ. of Cincinnati, Phil Heagy, Menil Foundation, and Betsy Peck Learned, Roger Williams University. By the mid 1980s I established the dual ma/mls in art librarianship at Indiana University which gave many of us an opportunity to study formally our professional literature and heritage which has evolved through the work of the individuals whom I have named as well as many others. I know many of these former students and IU colleagues are here this evening and I applaud each of you and am most grateful for your being part of my IU family. [PLEASE STAND IF YOU HAVE WORKED AT IU OR BEEN AN IU STUDENT—I know many of you are here tonight in ARLIS & VRA!] 

In the middle of MY library journey in the world, another remarkable librarian and visual resources professional became part of my Fine Arts Library family in 1975—Eileen Fry, our Slide Librarian at Indiana University, who is well known throughout both the VRA and ARLIS/NA serving as an important contributor and conduit between the worlds of printed media and visual resources, and more recently between the worlds of print and digital documentation. It was also because of Eileen that a second edition of Slide Libraries was published in 1979. When I need education about the visual resources world of digital and electronic media, and about classroom technology, as well as immediate wisdom on any topic, I go to Eileen. 

Why do I share what may seem like ancient history with you? I do so because it is a reminder of where we have found our strength and courage to lead the library and visual resources professions into the 21st century. Each of us has pursued our passions to be part of a dynamic and innovative profession which draws its beauty and endurance from the visual arts. At Eileen’s encouragement several years ago I began to paint again, returning to what brought me into this profession in the first place—a love of art. I would hope that all of us, if not already, have found ways to stay connected to the extraordinary beauty and richness of our subject discipline which represents the heart of our professions. We are incredibly productive individuals, but I also think our lives need balance to stay productive throughout our career lifetimes. Christine Sundt calls this connection to art her "cheap therapy". This balance of physical, mental and creative activities is how I stay active and focused in mind and body. And, I encourage each of you to continue to find this balance in your lives and to continue to draw strength, wisdom and well being from the incredible professional families represented by ARLIS/NA and the VRA.