In conversation with…

For this inaugural feature I talk to Gustavo Grandal Montero, Academic Support Librarian at Chelsea College of Arts and Camberwell College of Arts (and Deputy Editor of the Art Libraries Journal), about curating, collection development and artists’ multiples…


How did you come to art librarianship?

There was no master plan, like many others I found art librarianship along the way and decided it was what I wanted to do for a living. I studied art history for five years at University, and after that I spent some time traveling in Europe. I loved London, and after a few odd jobs I saw a vacancy at my local public library, applied for it and, to my surprise, I was successful. I quickly realized that it was a perfect combination, books and information, and helping and working with a huge variety of people, so decided to become a qualified librarian, and also to put my subject knowledge to use. While doing my MA in Library and Information Studies at University College London I did my work experience at Tate Library, and joined ARLIS/UK & Ireland. After qualification, I was lucky to my get my first professional job within the sector (Assistant Librarian at Central Saint Martins), just over a decade ago, and have stayed in art librarianship ever since.

Talk us through a typical day for you at work:

My job title is Academic Support Librarian, a senior post within University of the Arts London Library Services. I am responsible for collections and services for Fine art, Curating, and Book art courses at Chelsea College of Arts and Camberwell College of Arts, and have also a functional responsibility for Special Collections, and collection development in general for both libraries. A normal day includes many emails, meetings in the libraries where I work or across the University, information desk and enquiry work, teaching or delivering seminars and workshops (information skills and also specialist session on artists’ books, for instance), attending course committees and meeting with students and academics, supporting staff and occasionally dealing with the unexpected, developing and managing collections in multiple formats (ordering new books, identifying material to be sent to storage or withdrawn), writing a LibGuide, tweeting… There is a great range of duties and enormous variety, working with brilliant colleagues, students and staff, in a creative environment!

Tell us about an inspiring or surprising item in your collection:

We have a rich range of collections, some of them of national and international significance, and it’s a privilege to work with such material. As part of our Artists’ Multiples Collection of editioned 3D artworks, quite unique for a library, we have a set of original Rotoreliefs by Marcel Duchamp, one of a very few in public collections in the UK and Europe. It was acquired by the then Principal, Lawrence Gowing, in 1964 from Duchamp’s studio in New York, and each of the discs has his initials in pencil. This is more than provenance, it demonstrates a commitment to exposing students directly to challenging work, and a belief that a high quality library should be at the centre of the education of artists and designers.

What would be your dream acquisition?

I have a long long list…

What’s the strangest enquiry you’ve ever received?

Working in an art college you quickly learn that there aren’t strange enquiries. Artists and designers have incredibly wide-ranging needs when it comes to information…

Who is your favourite artist/designer?

I am an art historian, I have no favourites!

Finally, what’s your one great tip for people starting out in art librarianship?

Never give up! And read the Art Libraries Journal.

Contributor: Alexandra Duncan, Central Saint Martins (UAL)