The Early Years of ARLIS/UK & Ireland

ARLIS/UK & Ireland was founded in 1969. Its origins lie in an open letter, sent by Trevor Fawcett to the Library Association Record in 1968, inviting art librarians to consider a collaborative venture. The first AGM of ARLIS (as it was then termed) was held in April 1969 at the Central School of Art and Design in London. 37 art librarians, most of them based in recently-established or newly-expanding art and design colleges, attended (Fawcett himself was the only representative from a university, itself with a new art history programme). The aim, however, was for a comprehensive membership, and members soon came to include art and design (and architecture) librarians and library students working in academic, museum, national, public, private, and special libraries as well as those working with archival and visual resources collections. The Society now has personal and institutional members and subscribers to its publications not only in the United Kingdom and Ireland, but also all over the world.

ARLIS has held an annual conference since 1972, when it was in Aberystwyth. Judy Hoffberg was among the participants there and, upon her return to the US, established ARLIS/NA. Other art library organisations followed in different parts of the world. ARLIS’s first international conference was held in Brighton in 1976. Further international connections have been promoted through study tours, the first being to Paris in 1975. ARLIS has similarly hosted study tours by art librarians from other countries with, for example, the ARLIS/NA visit to libraries and other collections in London and Oxford in 2010.

The first issue of the ARLIS Newsletter (now the ARLIS/UK & Ireland News-sheet) was published in October 1969. The international quarterly, Art Libraries Journal (ALJ), began publication with its Spring 1976 issue. 1976 also saw the exhibition The Art Press: two centuries of art magazines, co-organised by ARLIS and the National Art Library (Victoria and Albert Museum), with a catalogue edited by Trevor Fawcett and Clive Phillpot. In 1977 the Art Library Manual, edited by Philip Pacey, was published, and many other books and pamphlets have been produced on art documentation topics over the years.

The organisation entered the internet age in 1997, when the first iteration of its web site was launched. Arlis.net, which included the Directory of art, architecture and design resources together with a union list of serials, was launched in 2003.

ARLIS/UK & Ireland held its 40th anniversary party at the newly-reopened Whitechapel Art Gallery in 2009, where new and past members met to celebrate the history and many highlights and achievements of the Society.