ARLIS/NA Conference, Pittsburgh

Convocation Program Presentation, 2000

Probably no one in ARLIS/NA's history has more experience in getting up and speaking in front of the entire membership than I do, but at past conferences I needed only to talk with members about the society's activities and achievements during the past twelve months. 

However, when Chuck Wayne and Merrill Smith asked me to prepare 15 minutes or so of "reminiscences" about my experiences with ARLIS/NA, I was faced with a real quandry -- how to select and organize into some coherent whole memories of more than 15 years with the society and our members? 

I remembered almost at once that public speakers are always advised to use a lot of humor, so my first thought was that it might be fun to share some narrowly averted behind-the-scenes conference disasters -- like the time in Chicago in 1993 when our first members to register were told by the conference hotel that they were fully booked and we only then found out that the hotel had scheduled an enormous Chicago Cubs Fan Club meeting to overlap with our conference and somehow neglected to inform us, or the time in Los Angeles in 1985 when one of our members fell and broke her arm on the way onto a bus to the convocation and then-Western Regional Representative Susan Malkoff and I spent most of the convocation driving around L.A. trying to find a hospital emergency room that would take an out-of-town patient. 

But then I thought that perhaps the start of a new millenium might not be the best time to be dwelling on disasters, past or not. In looking at this year's conference program, and recent ones from ARLIS and other library conferences, it appears that technology and its specific ramifications for libraries and related collections remains a dominant theme. Our brave predictions of ten years or so ago that technology would become such an integral and integrated part of art libraries and visual resources collections that a separate Computer Section or Round Table would no longer be needed may have come true, but it does not mean that we have completely come to terms with the changes technology have brought to libraries, librarians, and library users. 

The same is true of the management of professional organizations, and I thought it might be fun to look back at the ways in which technology has transformed how the day-to-day business of the society is conducted. 

I became the executive director, then called executive secretary, of ARLIS/NA almost exactly 20 years ago, in early 1980, and I had been editor of the society's newsletter for two years before that. The first president, then called chairman, of the society whom I worked with was Wolfgang Freitag. He was located in Boston, as he still is, and I was at that time living in Iowa City, Iowa, which is where the society headquarters were relocated from Washington, D.C. Wolfgang did most of his ARLIS work at home, and with the difference in our time zones, most of our communication seemed to take place via answering machine, which at that time was still a fairly new-fangled device. I would come into my office in the morning, or return after running errands, and rewind the tape on my machine. If the tape was full, as it often was, I knew it contained an incredible message from Wolfgang, covering answers to a myriad of management and financial questions I had left for him, plus ideas, suggestions, and questions of his own. I would make copious notes, look up or compile information and call him back, and often get his answering machine, and so the cycle would continue. 

Membership and conference records were handled almost as primitively as communications in the early days. My predecessor, Charley Mundt with the management firm of J.D. Ferry & Associates in Washington, had computerized the membership records to a certain degree, but they were not in any condition that was transferable. PC's were still a thing of the future, so I went to the data processing center at the University of Iowa to see if they could help in any way. Does anyone else remember when university computer centers had to justify their existences to the parent institution? Well, they did in 1980, and Iowa's computer center tried to do this by contracting for outside work in the community. They were happy to take ARLIS/NA on as a client, but this meant that all the membership data had to be input from scratch and then proofread by me, well over a thousand records. 

I would receive enormous weekly printouts on that 11x15" green-and-white striped computer paper our offices were full of at the time, mark up any additions or corrections by hand, then take the printout back to the computer center for them to do the inputting, then get a new printout for proofing, and on and on. So, even with computerized membership records, updating of information was done no more than once a week, less often if the computer was "down," as frequently happened. Conference registrations were done completely manually until the mid-1980s. Remarkably, I think they were quite accurate, but to say the work was labor intensive hardly begins to describe it. 

And then there were the ARLIS publications. I remember reading about Judy Hoffberg producing the first issues of the ARLIS/NA Newsletter on some sort of Dickensian type-setting machine that a friend allowed her to use late at night in what I always imagined to be a dark, cobwebby basement lit by flickering candles. Until the 1990s I had to use the more traditional method of taking marked-up paper copy to a typesetter and then correcting page proofs. During the 1980s the typesetters themselves gradually moved to computerized typesetting, but we were still not able to submit copy on disks because we received material from so many different contributors for the newsletter, ART DOCMENTATION, and the Occasional Papers. The typesetters could accept only certain word processing programs and needed everything in ASCII file format, which few of us knew how to produce at that time. 

So, hard copy it was until several years after we moved the ARLIS headquarters in with Association Managers in Tucson in the mid-1980s, and they developed the skills and acquired the equipment to produce at least ARLIS/NA UPDATE entirely in-house except for the printing. 

Even more painful is the memory of producing the three reproduction indexes that I did with Greenwood Press in the 1980s. Greenwood required "camera-ready copy," which meant that I had to type the entire manuscipt myself on special coated paper with my trusty IBM Selectrix II typewriter. The Selectrix did a pretty good job of self-correcting if you caught an error while you were typing, but any mistakes not noticed until after you moved to a different line, or any smudges from the copious blood, sweat, and tears called forth by this nervewracking process meant the whole page had to be started over from the beginning. I'm sure I threw away at least three ruined pages for every one that was completed in truly camera-ready form. 

By the time I left ARLIS/NA in 1993, we had made a lot of progress with our publications -- ARLIS/NA UPDATE was being produced in-house, the conference publications were submitted on disk, and we had even adopted the somewhat revolutionary idea of producing some of our monographs with limited projected audiences strictly on demand, printing copies only when they were ordered. The per-unit cost was higher, but we avoided big up-front printing charges and warehousing costs. 

At the same time, we were making advances in communications as well, getting beyond the telephone and answering machine stage. When we moved ARLIS/NA headquarters in with a management firm in Tucson in the mid-1980s, I got our first computer, an IBM 286 clone that was still in operation when I left in 1993. Although I know that many ARLIS members were using computers regularly in their own jobs by then, the first ARLIS president I remember using a computer for society business was Clive Phillpot, who was president in 1989. 

At that time Clive was working at the Museum of Modern Art in New York but living in Philadelphia and making the daily commute by train every day, two hours each way. He did ARLIS business in New York, in Philadelphia, and on the train in between. I well remember visiting him in Philadelphia and having him proudly show off his brand-new white Apple, which he claimed was preserving his sanity by making him able to transfer files easily from one place to another. 

With the 1990s came widespread use of faxes and e-mail. The fax I have to say was a mixed blessing for ARLIS, at least for me and the editors of our publications. While the technology undoubtedly made it easier to transmit documents over long distances, it also had this strange side effect of encouraging everyone to wait until the absolute last minute to send anything in. My husband operates on the theory that no matter how late you are, there is always someone later than you, and it seemed for a while as if the ARLIS/NA membership was out to prove this theory en masse. I believe that at one point we even had to require that reports and publication contributions be submitted by mail in order to get legible copies -- this before the days of plain paper faxes. 

In one instance, however, the fax was definitely a lifesaver -- when we were planning the Western Regional Meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1991. The meeting was coordinated by Winberta Yao at Arizona State University to coincide with a major book fair in Guadalajara, so she had to be in constant communication with the organizers of the book fair. It would be charitable at best to say that at that time phone service to Mexico was less than reliable, but for some reason the faxes almost always went through, so that was how most of our communication took place. Without the fax, Winberta would probably still be hanging on to the end of a phone line, listening to, "If you want to place a call, please hang up and dial again." 

E-mail has, of course, been a great boon to a society with members scattered throughout the continent and some abroad, and ARLIS-L has been a wonderful means of stimulating discussion and facilitating exchange of information. However, there have been issues to deal with, chief of which is how to keep fully involved our members who have lesser access to computer technology. 

Early on, it was suggested that Internet voting for ARLIS/NA elections might stimulate a larger turnout, but so far we have not been able to ensure that everyone would be able to vote that way. I thought of this particularly just recently because this month I had the privilege of participating in the nation's first Internet presidential primary in my home state of Arizona. There were many dire predictions, and several legal challenges, beforehand, warning that potential voters from minority and lower socio-economic groups would be disenfranchised, even though the traditional methods of mail and in-person voting were still offered. I have not yet seen a breakdown of the voters by ethnic or income group, but I did read that more people voted in this primary than in the actual 1996 presidential election in Arizona, so this does seem to be the wave of the future, though I did kind of miss the trip to the church where I normally vote and getting my "I Voted" sticker. 

I have to admit too that as we did more and more ARLIS business by e-mail during my last couple of years with the society, I missed the phone conversations with members that gave the personal touch to a job in which I saw most of the membership at best once a year. 

I've talked so far mostly about ways in which the society has changed over the past 20 years, so in closing I'd like to touch briefly on a couple of ways in which it hasn't changed. Merrill Smith mentioned in a letter she wrote to the Distinguished Service Award Committee that one of the unique aspects of the job of executive director is it involves having a new boss, or set of bosses, every year as a new president and board are elected, and Merrill mused as to how many other ARLIS members could survive such a situation. 

Well, that does present its challenges, and I remember that when I used to attend meetings of the American Society of Association Executives, most of whose members face this same situation each year, it was kind of a running joke that if you got stuck with a real stinker of a president or board, at least they would be gone in a year. However, I can say in all honesty that I have never worked with any stinkers in ARLIS/NA. Each board has its own personality, as all ARLIS presidents quickly recognize -- some are quiet/some are loud, some like to discuss everything to the last detail/some like to move quickly and act decisively -- but I've never seen any real friction among board members, and I've never seen a board that didn't put the best interests of the membership as a whole first. 

The same is true with presidents. Some presidents come in with clear ideas of what they'd like to accomplish/others are more interested in hearing what others would like to do, some want to be involved in the day-to-day business of the society/others would rather just deal with the big picture, some are on top of every deadline/some need a little reminding, some love to perform in public/others would rather eat nails than get up and make a speech. But, again, I have truly enjoyed working with each and every ARLIS/NA president I had the privilege to, and most have become dear personal friends. 

You are very fortunate in having such a dedicated and hardworking group of colleagues who have over the years taken on the not inconsiderable task of guiding the society to its present level of success. 

Finally, this is certainly an occasion that led me to think about what it is that made my years with ARLIS/NA so satisfying, professionally and personally. My thoughts were drawn to an article that appeared in the fall 1999 issue of ART DOCUMENTATION. It was by Michael Gorman and entitled "New Libraries, Enduring Values." One of the enduring values of libraries and librarians that Gorman defines is service, and, in fact, on page 8, he says that "Librarianship is a profession defined by service." 

As art librarians we provide service to a variety of types of library users -- students, faculty, museum curators, artists, and the general public. Sometimes our service is more valued than others. In my work with ARLIS/NA, however, I was in a very special position, in that I gave service to my peers -- other art librarians and visual resources curators -- who have always let me know that my services were appreciated, but never so much as this evening. I cannot think of a group of people from whom I would more value receiving an award such as this. Thank you enormously...