Thursday, August 03, 2006

karen from williamstown, usa

I work in an art library in a small museum in a small town in Massachusetts (USA). Though the museum and the town are small, the library is not; it occupies four floors, has 250,000 volumes, a staff of twelve, and a healthy acquisitions budget, and is a major player among art libraries in the US. One of the things that makes it a wonderful place to work is that it serves many different kinds of people; the library serves the museum staff and scholarly programs, it serves a graduate program in the history of art, it serves undergraduate students and faculty at a sister liberal arts college, and it is open to the public from 9 to 5 each weekday. This means that as the library’s only reference librarian, I get to work with curators, visiting scholars-in-residence, graduate students, undergraduates, college and graduate faculty, and visitors to the museum who want to find answers to questions about artists and works of art.

In addition to providing reference service, I also do Interlibrary Loan, and on a daily level these are the two main parts of the job. Students, scholars, and faculty send me requests for books they need that our library does not have, and I request them from other libraries. During the day I am available to help anyone who comes in, phones, emails, or sends a letter to ask a question.

November 30th, 2005 was such an interesting day that I kept a record of the course of the day. I am always fascinated to know how people spend their working days; what kinds of tasks they do, what kinds of decisions they have to make, how they interact with colleagues and customers or patrons. My hope in writing this piece is that others will be inspired to keep logs and describe their working days. This day is not necessarily a typical day, but it gives a good picture of what it is like to work in an art library.

9 a.m.

The morning’s emails contain several messages with requests to respond to.

Jason V., a graduate student, wants to know whether we can get 3 reels of microfilm (the letters of William T. Evans) from the Archives of American Art within two weeks. Jason is working with our staff of art conservators to restore a Jackson Pollock painting; he will give a lecture on his work in the spring and is researching Pollock’s correspondence. Later today I'll email the reference librarian there and ask whether this is possible.

Gerri S., an art conservator, needs two books and one article on interlibrary loan. Having requested 10 other items within the last several days, she closes her email message with "Thanks, you rock!" She knows this will make me laugh.

Nina P., a museum patron, wants to know whether we have any information in our archives or curatorial files on John Flannagan (to whom she is distantly related), a sculptor who had a show at the museum in 1980. Nina emailed almost a year ago to ask whether we had a catalog of the show and if so whether she could buy a copy. According to the museum shop we did not have a copy of the catalog for purchase, so instead I sent her a photocopy of our library copy. A month ago, however, the museum shop was giving away old inventory to staff and what should I find on a table but three copies of the Flannagan exhibition catalog. I sent one to Nina and she was delighted – now she is hoping to find even more information in the curatorial files. I send a message to a curator to ask whether she can check the file on John Flannagan for any information I can send to Nina.

Anne B., an art appraiser who emails several times a year, has sent a digital photograph of a ceramic plate by Picasso with a charming painting of the head of a goat above a spray of leaves. She requests that I find the plate in a book on Picasso's ceramics, for which she sends the call number, and send any pertinent information: date, edition, size, reference number. A check of all five of our books on Picasso's ceramics does not find that exact image, but I choose a selection of plates with pictures of goats to send to her. I bring the books downstairs and fill out photocopy forms; after the photocopyist makes the copies I will mail them to Anne with a note.

Richard R., one of our curators, emails to say that the idea of having a series of workshops for curators and Fellows on electronic resources is a good idea and a meeting with curators could perhaps be scheduled for mid December of early January. Later I’ll begin to look at what resources might be of interest and type up a list.

10 a.m.

Attend to the morning interlibrary loan tasks. Request renewal for ILLs that are due today, send ILL Reminder notices for ILLs that have already been renewed once and are due today, re-request ILLs that have come back unfilled, check on ILLs that have been Pending for more than a few days and call the places that are supposed to be responding to them. Check in the books that arrive in the mail and take them to student carrels and curators’ offices. It is always fun to deliver books that people have been anxiously waiting for. One of the graduate students who has a particularly good sense of humor calls me the ILL fairy; I keep meaning to bring fairy wings, or maybe one of those bobbly antennas, to work to wear when I deliver her books but I always forget.

11 a.m.

The day begins to bring patrons to the desk. Some of the morning reference desk questions:

Jerry C. explains that he is curating a show at the museum in Kennebunkport on printmakers active in the area. His show will be part of a statewide project, in which museums all across Maine will participate, to highlight printmakers in Maine from the 1700s to the present, which will be accompanied by a landmark catalog. He wants to see several books on American printmaking, and needs copies of pages from them. We have a rich collection in this area, so I show him how to use the online catalog and take him to the stacks and show him where to browse. He ends up finding several books to use.

A patron, who does not give his name, has an impressionist painting by a German artist. He thinks the signature on the painting could be "Rolf" or "Roy." Can we find out anything about this artist? Also he wants to know whether I can give him the name of someone here who could look at the work and tell him what it is and who it is by. We look at ArtNet, an auction sales database, to search the names and find images to look at, but he has not brought his glasses and says he will have to come back. I give him the curatorial secretary's name and phone number, and explain that she can pass his request along to the curator most qualified to meet with him.

Laura F., a grad student, is looking for reviews or citations of a book called "Der Blinde Seher" by Peter Bexte. It is the only book she has found that addresses a topic she is working on, and she is hoping to find other authors who might have used or responded to the ideas Peter Bexte has written about. She had already checked several databases without success. We check Lexis/Nexis, CAA Reviews, Amazon, Expanded Academic Index, and Book Review Digest but find no articles or reviews on Peter Bexte. A search of Arts and Humanities Citation Index finds one citation, an article on music unrelated to Laura's work. Nothing of direct use, but at least we are satisfied that reviews and citations do not exist. The work about blind seers seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

12 – 1 p.m.

In a lull of 45 minutes or so, I work on a project to become familiar with the microfilm collection, which is a crazy grab-bag of stuff: dissertations, periodicals in French, English, Italian, and German, salon catalogs, museum records, and collections of books on art and architecture. I am making a list that will show what is in each drawer and will briefly describe it.

1 – 2 p.m Lunch break! Time for a swim at the college pool.

Afternoon reference questions:

Kurt T., a professor emeritus from our sister college, would like to give a subscription to an art journal to his niece for Christmas; she is an ardent feminist and an artist, so Kurt wants to get for her a journal about women and art, preferably contemporary art, with a feminist slant. We search the Metropolitan Museum and the Getty online catalogs to find several possible titles, and then I find the online websites for those journals. I download pages that explain what the journal is about, and also pages that will enable Kurt to order a subscription. I put together for each journal a packet that will allow Kurt to decide which journal to get, and to order it once the decision is made. He is very happy to have everything found and neatly packaged.

Yoko H., a graduate student, needs a book that is "in process." I run downstairs to retrieve it from the cataloging department. Later we’ll have it rush-cataloged and delivered to her carrel.

Sheafe S., a faculty member, wants to know what would be the correct Library of Congress subject heading for landscape photography, and the call number(s) associated with that subject. Angela in cataloging gives me a URL for a website that allows you to search for Library of Congress subject headings. Not as good as the big red books we used to use, from Sheafe's point of view, but still very interesting - and we do find the subject heading and call number for Landscape Photography.

Short break, spent processing the interlibrary loans that have come in today’s mail.

Richard K., a curator working on a Degas show, wants to know which libraries might have several 19th century popular science periodicals published in France and England between 1870 and 1890 – he is pursuing a theory that Degas might have been influenced by the illustrations in these journals. He would like to travel to see them if they are close enough; if not we may need to get them on microfilm on loan. I search WorldCat and Eureka, two databases of library holdings, to locate the periodicals. Most of them are at Yale, which he can easily visit.

Rachel H., the graduate student with a good sense of humor, needs two books on ILL, rush, as her paper topic has veered in a direction she did not anticipate. I request the books on the spot and she goes away happy.

Susanna B., a graduate student, is "in a panic" as yesterday she returned two ILL books that she now realizes she needs to re-scan images from. I run from one end of the museum to the other, to the mailroom to see whether the books have gone out in today’s mail - they have. Run back again and request them again in ILL, from another library.

Time to go home, at the end of a busy and satisfying day.