Distinguished Service Award: Mary Williamson

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.