In conversation with…

Have you ever wondered what the ARLIS/UK & Ireland Chair does? David Pulford, Library Subject Advisor at the University of Birmingham, is our current Chair and, in this special edition of ‘In conversation with…’, has given me all the insider info on what it’s like at the top.

David Pulford

How did you first get involved with ARLIS/UK & Ireland?

 In 2001, when I started working in the Barber Fine Art Library at the University of Birmingham. The University is an institutional member so I received the News-sheet.

You are currently serving as the head honcho, AKA ARLIS/UK & Ireland Chair, tell us about your route to the top:

 My involvement with ARLIS/UK & Ireland began in 2005 when I volunteered to be the local representative on the Conference Working Party, organising the conference in Birmingham. After the Birmingham conference I joined the Professional Development Committee, where I helped to organise various visits, workshops and conferences. I served briefly as interim Chair of the ARLIS/UK & Ireland Cataloguing and Classification Committee in 2011 and as an Ordinary Member of Council in 2013/14.   Fewer people seem to be offering to come forward to serve as Chair and I was asked by Chris Fowler, the then Chair of ARLIS/UK & Ireland, if I would be willing to stand as Chair Elect. As I was the only candidate no election was necessary and I was appointed to the post at the Annual General Meeting.

What is the remit of the Chair, and in practical terms what does the role entail?

As the rules and regulations put it,

The Chair is responsible for oversight of the Society’s business and in consultation with the Council, for the direction of the Society’s activities, policies and programme.

Duties range from chairing various meetings to ‘representation of the Society in appropriate contexts’ and ‘drafting and signing of correspondence on behalf of the Society, especially when an “official” response is sought’, for example when writing to various institutions expressing our concern over the fate of slide collections. I also line-manage the ARLIS/UK & Ireland Business Manager. Ideally the Chair has a full year as Chair Elect which is a way of breaking gently into the role by shadowing, attending meetings etc.

What kind of experience does someone need to be Chair?

Experience of chairing committees and setting agendas, knowledge of what ARLIS/UK & Ireland does and of the wider issues facing the world of art libraries, as well as an ability to prioritise, certainly helps. It sounds rather a tall order but actually the Chair works with lots of very supportive and knowledgeable people who are friends as well as colleagues so it isn’t as onerous as it sounds. It helps to be a good listener, to enjoy meeting people and to love art and libraries. Anyone with those qualities would soon pick up the necessary skills.

What do you find challenging about being Chair?

 ARLIS/UK & Ireland needs to modernise and rethink the way we do certain things in order to remain relevant and viable in an age of rapidly changing technology and changing roles at work, with the resultant increasing pressure on time and other resources. As Chair I have the responsibility to see that this happens. That’s a big challenge but it feels good to be in a position to guide how things work out. Having to make the decision to postpone the Dublin conference until 2017 and disappoint so many people was very tough even though Council and the Conference Working Party agreed that it was the right decision under the circumstances.

What have you found to be most rewarding?

Spending time with other ARLIS/UK & Ireland members. Getting through Council agendas in the allocated time!  Finally, the 2015 conference dinner in Cardiff Castle.

The role of Chair sits within the ARLIS/UK & Ireland Council, I wonder if you could tell us a little more about Council and what they do?

Council has oversight of everything ARLIS/UK & Ireland does and fulfils our obligations as a society to the Charity Commission. There are the officers (Chair, Hon. Secretary, Hon. Treasurer) and ordinary members, all of whom are elected (usually unopposed because not enough people stand to make elections necessary). The chairs of committees and the editors of the Art Libraries Journal and ARLISmatters are also members of Council. Personally, I think this is all rather unwieldy and not as transparent as it might be, and should be reviewed as part of our wider review of membership and structures between now and 2017.

Why should art library and archive professionals get involved with ARLIS/UK & Ireland?

The chance to meet with fellow professionals from other institutions, some of whom may have more in common with you and share more of your interests and concerns than colleagues in your own institution.

The opportunity to take part in projects, running events and gain experience and skills which wouldn’t come about ‘in the day job’.

ARLIS/UK & Ireland is highly regarded so you and your institution get extra prestige.  I was really touched by the messages of congratulations I got from the academic staff in the Art History Department when I announced I had been appointed Chair Elect.

The chance to take part in amazing visits, inspiring networking events and informative workshops.


Alexandra Duncan, Central Saint Martins (UAL)


Don’t forget, ARLIS/UK & Ireland is currently looking for its next Chair Elect. If you’re an experienced art librarian, passionate about what you do and want the opportunity to have a hand in steering this national organisation over the coming years you could well be the one for the job. For more information about the role, or to express your interest, please contact David Pulford directly: