Report from 2018 ARLIS/NA Annual Conference in New York

Submitted by Chris Needham

I was honored this year to be chosen as the ARLIS/NA Mid-Atlantic Chapter’s recipient of the Caroline Backlund Professional Development Award to attend ARLIS/NA’s 46th Annual Conference in New York City. I had never attended a national conference before, and it was a great chance for me to gain a better understanding of the professional landscape. I graduated from The Catholic University of America’s Library and Information Science program with a focus on Cultural Heritage Information Management in 2017, and have an interest in the visual arts stretching back more than a decade, including a BA in Art History and Post-Graduate Certificate in Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime. Yet my professional background is in working with legal and government records and information where I’ve had more than twelve years experience, and I’ve been trying to get a better sense of how to leverage this professional experience on subject matters more related to my academic and personal interests. I had hoped that the conference would give me some insights as to how to proceed professionally, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I began my week in New York by taking part in the ARLIS/NA Yearlong Mentoring Program, where I was paired with Andrea Puccio from the Clark Art Institute. Not only did she take my unorthodox background in stride, but we had a shared sense of humor about New York museums. She had numerous practical suggestions for helping me achieve my professional goals, as well as tips for navigating the conference, good sessions to attend, and getting the most out of a week in one of the best art cities in the world.

Throughout the week, I attended numerous panels, many of which related to my interests in the intersections of art, law, and cultural heritage issues. “Common Ground: Provenance Research Agendas in Libraries, Archives and Museums” was a nice change from many provenance presentations as it was very focused on libraries and archives and the roles they play in this type of research, which I’ve found is often overlooked. The Auction Catalogs SIG introduced me to some of the issues that make auction catalogues a challenge in collections, and the ways librarians are trying to encourage use and advertisement of these resources. While I was familiar with the project from my work on copyfraud, I felt like I had a much better understanding of the technical challenges and possibilities of the project after attending “PHAROS: The Photo Archive Re-Imagined for Digital Art History”.

My favorite session was the Provenance SIG, which featured a talk by Anna Rubin, the Director of the Holocaust Claims Processing Office of the New York Department of Financial Services, and one of the lead entities involved with reuniting American heirs with artwork taken from them during World War II. Her detailed presentation both illustrated the importance of archives and libraries in tracing artworks as well as frankly discussed the challenges associated with research of this type. She also walked through the research steps her office takes, including specific resources used. Both from my post-graduate work and as someone who assists in conducting legal research, I found this talk really inspiring, illustrating the ways my professional and educational background can come together on topics within the umbrella of ARLIS/NA.

In addition to various conference sessions I attended, I was able to meet a number of people concerned with some of the same issues I was, including non-librarians and students, and catch up with some friends from library school. The poster topics were also some of the most varied and interesting I’ve seen at a professional conference. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention I took part in one of my favorite travel activities—trying to see every possible art exhibition. Free entry to many of the museums with my conference badge didn’t hurt. By the end of the week, I’d visited more than 20 museums, libraries, archives and historic sites, including taking a conference trip to Yale on Thursday.

By the end of the conference, I really felt a renewed sense that art and museum librarianship and many of the issues involved with it are something I’m passionate about. Spending a week talking to people in the profession, attending sessions and exploring different types of libraries gave me a better sense of ways I could be part of this larger professional community. I would not have been able to attend the full conference, let along the mentoring session or Yale trip, had it not been for the Backlund Award and I’m appreciative to the ARLIS/NA Mid-Atlantic Chapter for sponsoring my trip.

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