Call for Papers: ARLIS/UK & Ireland Cambridge Conference 2020

We are pleased to announce the Art Libraries Society UK & Ireland will hold its annual conference from Wednesday 22nd – Friday 24th July 2020, at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge

Over the past decade, the importance of museums, libraries and archives within the UK and Ireland and beyond, has been subject to increased scrutiny as a result of rapid social, political and technological change. Common to all three sectors is a need to deliver within a challenging funding environment. This year’s conference, Museums, Libraries & Archives: Back in the Frame seeks to explore how museums, libraries and archives can respond to the current challenges in a creative and innovative way.

In so doing, we seek contributions which engage with a multiplicity of related topics, from future approaches to art librarianship, issues associated with the critical decolonising of the art and design library, the changing context of art and design publishing, the dialogue between women’s and feminist art practices and the art library, and the opportunities and challenges that open access and digital approaches offer the art and design library.

We wish to look at present practice and future opportunities – as well as looking back at the way museums, libraries and archives have historically worked with one another in the promotion of fostering excellence in research, and the dissemination of culture and creative collaboration in the spheres of education and outreach.

Papers which propose solutions to the current challenges we all face, will be welcomed. Underlying our theme for this year’s conference is an exploration of whether the current challenges and threats to our sector, can be a catalyst for positive change, and how those changes might be realised in practice. Put another way: have they, in effect, worked to put museums, (art) libraries and archives back in the frame?

Themes we are interested in focusing on at the conference include:

  • Women’s/feminist art practice(s) and the art library, to respond to the conference setting of Murray Edwards College, housing the New Hall Collection, a permanent collection of modern and contemporary art by women artists. This may include the role of art libraries in enabling and enhancing the visibility of women artists’ work and supporting its development; representing women’s and feminist art history; discussion of projects and collaborations relating to the support and promotion of research and work by women artists/designers or feminist art practices; issues around the cataloguing and classification and archiving of material on feminist/women’s art and design and its history, and the representation and role of gender in art library collections.
  • Decolonising the art and design library. Critical approaches to art librarianship, to reflect issues of diversity and inclusion and decolonisation initiatives in art libraries; how are art and design libraries challenging and interrogating knowledge canons in their collections and actively working towards change in their collections and practices? What work is being, or could be, done to work collaboratively within and with other organisations and institutions on decolonisation issues?


  • Open access/digital approaches in the art and design library. How are art and design libraries and archives responding practically to the opportunities and challenges of digital provision and open access to research materials? Developing art and design-related digital/online projects in libraries and archives; widening access for users through promotion and information literacy approaches; rethinking collections in light of open access initiatives and digital metadata developments.


  • Art and design publishing and libraries in the 2020s. How are art libraries responding to the changing context of art and design publishing in the third decade of the 21st century, particularly in relation to ever-shrinking budgets and different kinds of demands on our resources? This may include issues of self-publishing, institutional or specialist publishing, and more informal, under-the-radar approaches to the provision and sourcing of art and design materials, in the context of both decolonisation and social and technological developments. Is art and design publishing becoming more diverse, reflecting voices outside the mainstream? There is perhaps an increasing interest in offering tangible, physical and perhaps unorthodox materials, particularly in contrast to the fast-developing digital, open access model of information, to respond to the need to seek out new ways of making art and design library collections relevant and dynamic.


  • Future approaches to art librarianship. What skills will the art librarian need in a world of changing funding and digital contexts? How will art and design librarians need to change and develop new skillsets and initiate new approaches in order to develop professionally and ensure the relevance and future of the art library in the context of global public funding crises and an increasingly digital research context? What direction will the profession take in the future? Is the art and design subject specialist an endangered species?


We invite proposals from those engaged with any aspect of arts librarianship or archival practice and from all career stages including students, emerging professionals and non-professionals and those working in related fields. We welcome contributions from scholars, artists and makers, activists and thinkers as well as cross-disciplinary proposals of relevance to the profession.


The format of the conference will include full presentations, shorter lightning talks and workshops.

Presentations – Full presentations will be half an hour in length and include time for questions. Presentations will be grouped within the conference themes.

Workshops –  Conference workshops will be 45 minutes in length and must be interactive, and relevant to one of the conference themes. They are an opportunity to share learning through doing and discussion. Please include in the proposal a clear plan of how the workshop will be delivered, any equipment that will be required and how this will be provided and what you hope the participants to gain from taking part.

Posters – We are delighted to be offering poster presentations this year, as an alternative to full presentations and workshops. Standard conference display boards (size A0) will be available and poster presenters are encouraged to prepare visual poster representations of their innovation or research, in keeping with the conference theme. Time will be allocated for delegates to view posters and there will be prizes awarded in this category of presentations.

Lightning Talks – must be no more than 10 minutes and consisting of no more than 10 slides. Topics might include new projects, ideas, research or a case study able to be adequately introduced in a short space of time. The 10-minute time limit will be enforced and will be followed by an opportunity for questions.  Lightning talks are a good opportunity for those new to conference presentations such as those presenting dissertation research, and can also be a forum for experimentation and testing ideas. Whilst fitting within the conference themes would be preferable, lightning talks can cover different topics if relevant to contemporary art librarianship.


The Submission Process

All proposals must include:

  • Title of the paper/workshop/poster/lightning
  • Author(s) of the paper
  • Type of proposal: Presentation, workshop, poster or lightning talk
  • Paper abstract (500 words maximum for presentations and workshops, 300 words maximum for posters and lightning talks)
  • Speaker’s name, professional or organisational affiliation (if any) and email address
  • Biographical note on the speaker (150-200 words maximum)


All proposals must be submitted by email to no later than Monday 16th of March 2020.

The e-mail subject line should read “ARLIS UK & Ireland Conference 2020”.

We will notify successful applicants by week beginning 30th March 2020.

The Conference Working Party may suggest amendments to proposals and are keen to offer guidance and support to potential presenters.

Please note: All expenses, including registration for the conference, travel, accommodations, etc., are the responsibility of the authors/presenters. Fees for the 2020 conference have been set, and every effort will be made to make an affordable concessionary rate for current students and unwaged individuals.

Submissions will be reviewed by the Conference Working Party according to the following selection criteria:

  • Relevance to conference themes
  • Interest and freshness of perspective
  • Informational content and clarity of argument
  • The provision or enhancement of knowledge, expertise, ideas and inspiration

While proposals will be judged on their own merit, considerations of fit with the range of other proposals will help us deliver a varied, coherent and dynamic conference.  If a paper has previously been delivered elsewhere the version presented at ARLIS UK and Ireland 2020 must significantly differ from the earlier version.

Excluded Perspectives Fund

Conversations within a specialist sector can become insular and may not reflect a diversity of voices contributing to the profession.  Numerous factors can lead to exclusions from contributing. In response we have initiated a fund in the hope of going a small distance towards removing some of the barriers to access and participation. If you feel your voice hasn’t been part of the conversation and would like to present at the conference but are unable to do so because of the cost please clearly state on your proposal that you would like to be considered for this fund. We will assess applications in good faith and on the merit of how the proposal contributes to an engaging conference for all. For successful applicants, we will waive the conference fee and offer a nominal honorarium of £50. Due to scarce funds there are a limited number of funded places available, and other expenses, such as travel and accommodation, cannot be met.