Taking the Plunge: Art Librarianship as a Career Option
ARLIS UK/Ireland Professional Development Committee
Goldsmiths, University of London, 19 April 2017
A personal reflection
I have recently begun considering professional development. I also harbour a longing to return to my arts background. In relation to this I am keen to learn more about the art librarianship world, and this event proved to be timely and ideal.
Professional experiences & diversification
The atmosphere was informally welcoming, while the talks were informed and encouraging. The overall session was a manageable length, taking up an afternoon, with talks from professionals working across a variety of libraries. The day concluded with a really useful session from a recruitment specialist. Sandwiched between these talks we had a short break and a chance to chat to other attendees and presenters.
Nick Brown from Christie’s Education chaired the event and opened it with an introduction.
Artist as Librarian
My favourite phrase from this talk: “Storage of memory”
The first speaker was Antonia Lewis, Subject Librarian at Goldsmiths. Antonia’s talk was really inspiring; we heard about her journey from an arts education and practice background and into a librarian role. I was especially interested to hear the aspects of her role that worked directly with students in opening up access and collections. For example, producing subject guides, delivering workshops and helping students to hold an exhibition all sounded like fantastic aspects of the job that appealed to me personally.
Librarian as Archivist
I noted from this talk that the role allowed opportunities for “strong independent working”
Next up was Jonathan Franklin from The National Gallery. Jonathan gave a great explanation of how a museum collection operated in relation to other institutions. Working at the British Library I was mostly familiar with this function of a library. He discussed how the museum’s mandate was outward-looking, with a focus on serving the public. Jonathan also talked about the value of his professional involvement in various bodies and organisations.
Librarian as Artist
Inspiring expression: “responsible for how people interact with material”
Althea Greenan, Curator at the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmith’s, then gave an encouraging presentation, talking about how her artistic practice and the collection she was working with led into her current role within the specialist collections. The talk became a ‘show and tell’, with collection items from the Women’s Art Library handed out. These slides, pamphlets, journals and newspaper-format artists’ information demonstrated perfectly the value of the physical object within a digital world.
Diana Palmer, a recent graduate, talked about her development, experience and roles. Diana’s talk emphasised the value of disciplines within the art library world, and she talked about her experience of cataloguing at various institutions.
Practical advice on applications and CVs
The session finished with a very useful presentation from Jeremy Clarke at Sue Hill Recruitment. Jeremy gave valuable tips on job applications and writing a CV. This was followed by a practical exercise, looking at sample CVs and discussing them in groups.
Well worth attending
Nick concluded with a Q & A and an invite to join the committee for drinks afterwards.
My background is in the arts, and I have often felt as if I entered the library world via the back door. It was reassuring to hear that most of the speakers had also come from an arts background and had achieved satisfying careers within the art library profession. I’m glad I attended the event: it made up my mind that I want to work with an arts collection.
Rachel Brett, British Library