Fall Meeting Recap

Text and photos by Sarah Osborne Bender

Our day began in a meeting room at the Victor Building where the library for the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery is housed. Library director Doug Litts welcomed us with coffee and pastries. Our program began with a greeting from Martin Sullivan, director of the National Portrait Gallery. Martin graciously acknowledged the value of art librarians and archivists in the research for notable exhibitions such as Hide/Seek, Seeing Gertrude Stein, and an upcoming show on artistic representations of the war of 1812.


Our first presentation of the day was from Erin Rushing, Digital Images Librarian for the Smithsonian as well as the Social Media Co-Chair for the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. She discussed the recent effort to coordinate social media outreach over a variety of platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and the Smithsonian Libraries blog. She discussed the advantages of group participation in keeping ideas varied and fresh. Documentation of social media practices and guidelines is thorough and an internal calendar is used to keep content managed and regularly published. Erin shared examples of the limited marketing the group has done for their social media outlets, mentioning that their flyers and cards have made appearance at conferences. Giving everyone a chuckle, she let us in on what content gets the best response in social media with “pretty pictures” and anything food-related leading the way, followed, surprisingly, by the extreme niche subject of antique sewing machines. She emphasized the value of interdepartmental collaboration in the group and says that the group is looking forward to new platforms and focusing on engaging audiences rather than simply new ways to disseminate information.


Next, Doug Litts gave an informative talk called “Smithsonian Libraries Digital Library: Continuing to Evolve”, a wide-reaching presentation reflecting the broad efforts of the libraries to leverage their holdings with a multitude of digital projects. Having begun digital projects in 1990’s, Smithsonian Libraries has had a lot of experience presenting a variety of materials from their collection in different ways online. Unfortunately, this has resulted in retrieval problems across the many separate resources. The Digital Services Working Group has been created to try to solve this problem by use of federated search and a new discovery system (still under review). Doug also led us through an exploration of some of the online resources offered by Smithsonian Libraries such as the Art and Artists Files database, and a large collection documenting lighting design in New York from the Cooper Hewitt. Many of us were interested in Library and Archival Exhibitions on the Web. He also showed us examples of publications scanned by Smithsonian Libraries and made available on the Internet Archive. Doug noted that almost all of the American Art/Portrait Gallery Library’s pre-1923 monographs have been scanned and they are starting on serials. There was also discussion about the Galaxy of Images, Smithsonian Libraries’ online image library that attempts to free images from the constraints of their physical housing and present them online for use by scholars and the general public. The lasting impression is that Smithsonian Libraries are actively embracing and testing the ideas of what digital libraries can present to online audiences and can serve as a model for our field.


Doug’s talk was momentarily paused for another warm welcome from Mary Augusta Thomas, Deputy Director for Smithsonian Libraries. She spoke briefly about the challenges of being a library system made comprised of 20 branches not only of diverse topics such as art and design and natural history, but stretched across an entire hemisphere.

Our business meeting was brief and touched on the early stages of planning for our 2014 Washington D.C. ARLIS/NA conference. Everyone is anxious for details!

After lunch, the group reconvened at the Freer and Sackler Galleries where we were met by librarians Katherine Phillips and Yue Shu. A brief tour of the reading room and stacks included some history on the founding of the Freer museum and library with emphasis on Freer’s dedication to and continuous support of libraries and books.


We moved into the galleries for a fascinating and spirited tour and discussion with David Hogge of his exhibition Power|Play: China’s Empress Dowager. As a cataloger, I was delighted to hear that the idea for the show came from David’s desire to improve his cataloging skills by creating MARC records for these mysterious glass plate negatives that had languished in the collection since the 1960’s. The result was some great detective work, a fascinating exploration of the Empress Dowager, and a beautifully dramatic installation.

Finally, we returned to the reading room for a quick look at some of the library’s resources on the history of Chinese fashion and related images from the time of the Empress Dowager. Yue Shu showed us a variety of Chinese books, some rare, demonstrating their unique binding, accordion folding, and illustration.


The meeting was a great combination of professional development and enjoyable observation.

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