Reflections of Toronto

Now that we’re in the heat of the summer, I find myself looking fondly on my experiences at the 2012’s ARLIS/NA Conference in Toronto. I was immeasurably pleased to be chosen as the Caroline Backlund Travel Award winner for this conference and am excited to share my experiences with those reading this blog post. At first I chastised myself for not writing immediately after the conference. However, as I look back on what transpired in Toronto, I realized how much the rest of my year has been influenced by this spectacular conference—a perspective I would not have had if I had written this in April.

The first day at the conference for me was all about having fun. Text messages trickled in as far-flung librarian friends arrived in Toronto. Before meeting up with some of them for dinner, I visited the Bata Shoe Museum with ARLIS-DMV officers Sarah Osborne Bender and Anne Simmons. Of particular interest to us was the architecture of the building and the exhibit on the Roaring 20s—those art deco shoes are just spectacular. Afterwards I traveled to the Windsor Arms for a fancy dinner with ARLIS/NA members from Texas, Indiana, and Florida. My, how ARLIS brings people together! The food was exquisite, but the company was even better.

Bright and early the following day I attended the mentoring program workshop. This is the second time I have attended this workshop, although my first acting as a mentor. We watched a DVD of mentoring expert Margaret Law who informs us about key aspects of the mentoring relationship. In between the DVD segments we had breakout sessions to perform different exercises to get us in the mentoring mood. I spoke to my mentee, Kai Alexis Smith from Pratt, before the conference but it was good to finally meet her in person that morning. I highly recommend joining the mentorship program as both mentor and mentee—there is always something new to learn. We even have a virtual mentoring program that is open for any ARLIS/NA member. Did I mention that I joined the Mentoring Subcommittee of the Professional Development Committee this year? Go mentoring!

Following the mentoring workshop it was time for some frivolous fun. I cajoled Sarah Osborne Bender, also my conference roommate, to come with me to the Distillery Historic District after a quick lunch in the Eaton Centre. The Eaton Centre is not a place that either of us would have typically eaten at (a big mall food court), but when the news of the shooting that occurred there a few months later reached us we had a much better understanding of just how many people could be in the space and how frightening it must have been for all of them. From the Eaton Centre we took the trolley to the Distillery District. This Victorian warehouse district with its charming cobblestone streets is home to many artisan shops and art galleries (there was actually a Distillery District tour that sounded like a lot of fun, but alas I did not attend). My singular goal here was to visit the Soma chocolate factory. It was an amazing experience full of Mayan hot chocolate and truffles. Make it a must do on any Toronto visit (you can also buy their chocolate online or at Cocova in DC). We also happened upon some wonderful shops with artist wares in them and some interesting gallery exhibitions.

We came back from our fun trip out in enough time for me to attend the Artist Files Working Group. Beginning at this program I started hearing “Archive-It” follow me everywhere I turned. Of course the paper I was to present a few days later was on using Archive-It at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. We discussed in the Artist Files group how born digital artist material is mostly being ignored and how important it is to save. One plan we are considering is a partnership with the Internet Archive’s Archive-It to capture and preserve this material. Anne Simmons and I are both keen on taking a lead in developing a more stable solution for selecting, appraising, and describing artist files. We hope that we can eventually come up with a way to influence how both small and large institutions approach digital artist files.

The next day the highlight morning session was the Future of Art Bibliography Initiative panel. I began to feel real trendy here as most of the time was spent talking about Archive-It. The Frick Collection and Columbia University are beginning to use Archive-It as a tool in a way similar to my project at the NMWA. The importance of born digital material and the potential of Archive-It were certainly on everybody’s lips. Debbie Kempe (Frick) and Chris Sala (Columbia) spoke of their projects utilizing Archive-It. They mostly discussed the importance of capturing the material and what you are able to do with Archive-It while my talk focused on the back-end user experience, both pro and con, of using the utility. Even though we were all discussing the same thing, we took different approaches in our presentations.

In the afternoon I participated as the moderator for the Changing Landscape for Museum Libraries and Librarians session. This was another first for me, at least in an academic conference setting (I have participated and moderated panels in an even more geeky arena than art librarianship—science fiction conventions. And yes, I do have two cats at home.).  The wonderful session included Sidney Berger from the Peabody Essex Museum discussing the Art Museum Libraries Symposia, Sasha Suda from the Art Gallery of Ontario talking about how important it is for emerging curators to get access to far-flung material through libraries, and Ken Soehner from the Metropolitan Museum Art about the values and objectives of the first art museum libraries and how that fits in with the pattern of values, objectives, mission, and often constrained circumstances characteristic of art museum libraries today. While all the topics that session were extremely interesting, I found Ken’s to be of particular resonance to my experience. I know that it has influenced other librarians’ ideas of how they should run their libraries, such as being open to the public and not just to scholars.

Later that night was the convocation at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was a wonderful space, a lively atmosphere, and the gallery of Canadian artists was quite remarkable. I will admit to ducking out early to have dinner with a fellow librarian at a nearby restaurant. They were participating in the Earth Hour, which is held the last Saturday of March. During this time individuals and businesses turn off all but essential lights and appliances. Although it was quite dark in the restaurant, it was a nice contrast to the hotel conference space where we spent most of the day.

The following day, at 9am, was my presentation as part of the New Voices in the Profession panel. Even though I’ve been a librarian for 5 years, I’ve only been focused on art librarianship for the past 3 years. We had a really fine session; definitely our new professionals are of at the top of their game in the increasingly competitive world of art librarianship. My presentation about the considerations and challenges of archiving websites using Archive-It went splendidly. Of particular interest to me, however, was Katie DeMarsh’s presentation on performing art cataloging at the Albright-Knox Gallery. I’ve been in touch with Katie and the team that is working on that project since then as I am planning on having our library help with the art cataloging of our collection. I have our registrar’s blessing on this as long as we can get the funds to accomplish this task.

That afternoon, a highlight of every conference, was our membership lunch and meeting. Rosemary Furtak, long-time librarian at the Walker Art Center, received the Distinguished Service Award. She couldn’t make the conference—we didn’t know she was very sick at the time and would pass away a few months later on July 8th. A presentation highlighted her remarkable achievements, especially in regard to building a first-rate artist book collection when few knew about the genre. Our museum also has a strong artist book collection, and I connected her achievements with those of Krystyna Wasserman, the first librarian at NMWA and now its Curator of Artist Books. After Rosemary passed away, Krystyna informed me that she was bequeathed many items from Rosemary’s artist book collection. I am honored to announce that Rosemary Furtak’s books on Meret Oppenheim, Surrealist artist and Man Ray model, will become part of our library collection. I am personally amazed by Rosemary Furtak’s influence on libraries and museums even after her passing. I am sad that I never met her, but I am thankful to have gained from the presentation an understanding about who Rosemary was and how important she was to the profession before I was asked to receive the donation.

My last tasks at the conference were participating in the Book Arts Special Interest Group meeting and hosting the 3rd annual ARLIS/NA Veg*n dinner. The Artist Book Special Interest group we discussed the challenges of trying to describe this type of material in our collections and library catalogs. A big outcome of this meeting was a plan to develop a thesaurus of artist book related terms so that others could better describe this important art form. Directly after this I lead a large group of ARLIS/NA attendees to NuNu Ethiopian Restaurant in the West Queen Street West neighborhood. We had a wonderful evening sharing platters of injera—some never had Ethiopian cuisine before this. Living in DC, it’s hard to believe that anyone has not had Ethiopian food in their lives so I was very happy to introduce them to it.

As you can see, this conference has had a ripple effect on everything I have done after the conference, including helping start up the virtual mentoring program, finding solutions for born digital artist file material, inserting the library into art cataloging, receiving donations from the estate of a remarkable art librarian, and eating a lot of tasty food. Although this narrative is a bit delayed, this was the right time for me to write it so that I can reflect just how important attending the ARLIS/NA conference was for my professional development. Thank you again for choosing me for the award, I believe I am putting the information gained to great use. This was my third ARLIS/NA Conference and one of my favorite conferences (of any type) to date.

After the conference I stayed a few more days to enjoy Toronto and visit with friends. I will say one thing—it became very apparent to me how annoying it must be for Canadian ARLIS/NA members to deal with cell phones across the border when the conferences are in the US. I’ll try to remember that as we plan for the ARLIS/NA 2014 Conference in DC.

Contributed by Heather Slania, Director of the Library and Research Center, National Museum of Women in the Arts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *