2016 ARLIS/NA DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD Acceptance Speech, by Elizabeth O'Keefe; DSA ceremony held at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, February 8, 2017
I am reminded of the time someone told Brendan Behan that the Guinness family had been very good to the people of Dublin. "The people of Dublin have been very good to the Guinness family," was his reply. ARLIS and its members have been very good to me. I regard this award as the culmination of a professional lifetime's worth of support and collegiality from ARLIS and ARLISians, and I would like to devote my response to tracing the history of my association with the Society and the role it has played in my career and achievements.
Unlike many previous recipients of this award, I was a latecomer to art history and art librarianship. I was exposed to art and museum-going from an early age, as evidenced by an essay I wrote after a visit to the Met when I was ten. It began, "The best thing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in my opinion was the Cellini Bowl", and went on to describe the piece, made of gold adorned with jewels, as "assuredly worth a king's ransom". It concluded rather sanctimoniously, "The Cellini Bowl is a magnificent work of art, contrasting with its maker's shady doings". Since the Cellini bowl was later revealed to be a 19th-century forgery, that judgment may have been apter than I knew.
But despite this early promise, a family orientation toward languages and literature initially steered me in a different direction. I majored in Classics at Smith, and went on to Trinity College Dublin, where I spent eight years or so failing to complete a doctoral dissertation on an Alexandrian pastoral poet. I enjoyed reading the texts, but had no bent for research.
A nudge in the right direction came from an Irish friend whose field of study, Medieval Irish History, was even less monetizable than mine. She suggested that I, too, consider a career in libraries. Back in the States, I took my first cataloging course at Pratt, and was hooked. Maybe there is an overlap in mental processes between decoding heavily inflected classical languages and coding and interpreting metadata elements.
Five years as a generalist cataloger at Brooklyn Public Library taught me the tools of my new trade, and then I was hired in 1988 by the Pierpont Morgan Library, initially as a cataloger and then as Head of Cataloging and the Reference Collection. Six months later, I was blinking in the bright sunlight of Phoenix, on my way to my first ARLIS conference.
ARLIS was the first professional organization I ever joined. Though for years I tended to skulk in the shadows when the conversation turned to art, fearing to expose my ignorance, ARLIS was actually a very good fit for me. I was somewhat dim and retiring; ARLIS was small, friendly, and very welcoming, with lots of opportunities to get involved at both the national and chapter level. The Society was particularly hospitable to catalogers, thanks in large part to Sherman Clarke. The Cataloging Problems Discussion Group he presided over gave me my first exposure to the idea that catalogers could lobby for changes to rules they didn't like, instead of just whingeing about them. There was even someone from the Library of Congress at the session! I was so impressed.
During my early years in ARLIS, I focused on issues affecting the description of traditional library materials. But as the 1990s wore on, the winds and the currents began to set in new directions, carrying many to strange shores of metadata. The Montreal conference in 1995 initiated the first of many conversations between Morgan librarians and the visual resources community within ARLIS and VRA. This led to involvement with early VRA data projects such as VISION and Reach. It also planted the idea that art librarians could move beyond book cataloging if they partnered with the providers of content, repackaging curatorial information into a sharable, well-established data format.
To test this theory, Maria Oldal and I created MARC records, with curatorial encouragement, for various Morgan collection items. The results were successful enough to persuade the Morgan's director that a library system was the best way to bring together information on all the Morgan's collections into a single database. I was given responsibility for making it happen, with Maria's able assistance. Funnily enough, it was actually an advantage not to have a degree in art history. I could reassure curators wary of non-specialists meddling with their data that there was absolutely nothing of value I could contribute to the description of their collections--except maybe to say that they were magnificent works of art assuredly worth a king's ransom.
In the end, as Maria has noted, all our big lies did come true. But the building of CORSAIR brought to light all sorts of problems with fitting object information into the library data framework. These provided helpful evidence of the need for change, since rule-makers are always more sympathetic to real-world use cases than to hypotheticals. But If I had gone to standards bodies as an individual, I would have had very little traction. Instead, I was able to work through the Cataloging Advisory Committee (CAC) of ARLIS, which had formal liaisons with all the big players in the library standards world.
I joined the CAC in 1997 as the ARLIS liaison to the MARC Advisory Committee. This was my first step into the chilly, sometimes murky waters of standards development-less chilly because Sherman Clarke's many years of participation in various standards organization had built up a reserve of credibility and good will for ARLIS catalogers. And it was by no means a solitary journey. All the work that I did was in collaboration with the many outstanding ARLIS catalogers who served on the CAC or who provided input at CAC meetings or list-serve discussions.
The experience and contacts made through ARLIS led to involvement in other organizations' standards work. There was the VRA's Cataloging Cultural Objects, continuing the conversations begun in Montreal, and the Rare Books and Manuscripts section of ALA's guidelines for the description of medieval manuscripts, and, later, modern manuscripts, and various task forces and what not. Currently I am on a task force working on aligning the descriptive rules for rare materials with the new cataloging standard, Resource Description and Access (RDA). Old catalogers may retire, but they can't stop haggling about cataloging rules.
Maria mentioned that it is difficult to think back to where art documentation was when I entered the profession. It is gratifying to see how things have changed, and I am proud to have participated in those changes, both in the realm of data standards and within the august precincts of the Morgan Library. But I am prouder still to have won the regard and recognition of my ARLIS colleagues, mentors, dare I say friends? I would mention you all by name if I could, but time forbids.
In conclusion, I would would like to extend my heartiest thanks to Maria and Marie Chantal for their persuasive skills and the enormous amount of work they devoted to my nomination; to the DSA committee, which had to read all those letters, and to the ARLIS board for approving the award (special thanks to you, Heather, for warning me to have a box of tissues at my side when I read the letters—it came in handy.)
A compilation of recipients 1974-present.
2015 ARLIS/NA DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD Acceptance Speech, by Ann Baird Whiteside; DSA ceremony held at the Westin Seattle, March 11, 2016
Thank you Mark and Jolene for your lovely introduction. I will say that it is a bit overwhelming. In fact, when I received an email message from Kristen Regina and Elaine Paul in early January telling me that I was this year’s recipient of both the ARLIS/NA and VRA Distinguished Service Awards, I had to re-read the email four times to make sure that it was truly addressed to me. I was on the Boston subway at the time, reading the emails of the afternoon—dealing with faculty needing access to course sites, budget questions, the usual emails—and there was this message. I was sure the email was sent to me in error. When I realized it really was addressed to me, my first thought was “How Amazing”. I have been in awe and delight since. To receive these two awards at the same time from one’s peers is truly the best and highest compliment one can receive. And for these awards to be given here at this joint conference reflects so perfectly on my own work on collaborative efforts across both organizations. It is also a tribute to our two organizations here in Seattle at this time. I am so honored and indebted to ARLIS/NA and to VRA.
I want to thank the group of colleagues who instigated the nomination—Mark Pompelia, Jolene de Verges, and Sherman Clarke—and those who wrote letters in support of my nomination. All of you have been my close colleagues and friends for a very long time. Thank you to the DSA Awards Committee chairs of both organizations, Laurel Bliss and Margaret Webster, and their recommendations for my nomination. And thank you to the boards of ARLIS/NA and VRA for approving the awards, especially the presidents, Elaine Paul and Kristen Regina. And thank you to all the members of ARLIS/NA and VRA, you are what makes our organizations so fantastic and you provide the support that makes us excellent professionals.
Those who have been the backbone for me through my career are my family and friends, and I cannot imagine doing anything I’ve done without them. My husband John, here tonight, has always been there with love and support while I work on different projects and travel. Thank you, John, for your support and your patience with my unending supply of new projects. Our children, Leah and David, grew up with ARLIS/NA and VRA; and they know two important things: that art and architecture librarians and visual resources professionals are the center of the information world, and that we have great parties.
My passion about art and architecture librarianship and the visual resources profession was fueled by my first conferences at ARLIS/NA and VRA. At each of those first conferences, I listened to people talking about interesting topics, about how we could make our work better, provide better access to information, how we could provide new kinds of services; and there is an ethos—the deep sense of how important our work is to our institutions and to our society. As I became more deeply involved through volunteering, it fueled my passion for our work.
Through my association with our two organizations, I have amassed an amazing number of mentors, colleagues, and friends. Each of you has been inspirational and have helped to push me forward as a professional. From my first committees—the ARLIS/NA Collection Development Committee, where I volunteered for a project at my first meeting, and the VRA Data Standards Committee, where we developed the VRA Core and a host of other astonishing initiatives, I have been supported and encouraged by the people in our organizations to be creative, imaginative, and to do things I would never have imagined doing. And I have taken that passion and drive back and forth between my libraries and our organizations.
As I progress in my career, I continue to be excited by the changes in our profession, changes driven by technology, but also by changes in higher education and how people learn and do research. As information professionals, we are a critical part of the infrastructure of our cultural heritage institutions. We can lead the changes required to meet the needs of researchers today by continuing to think outside the box about how we support the users of our collections. We also have the opportunity to take the collaboration skills required in a digital world, and use those skills to develop partnerships with scholars to partner in and support their work.
One of the most important things I have learned through my work with all of you and in my institutional homes is the importance of collaboration with stakeholders. Gathering the stakeholders for any project is the primary key to success. It takes time, it takes energy, and it takes political will to bring people along, to try new things, to develop a new model or service. It also takes patience. I am not a naturally patient sort of person, so the development of these skills has been my personal challenge. And yet, over and over, I find that when these skills are utilized, the outcomes are far and beyond the original goal and expectation. Through the process of collaboration, one builds relationships as well as supportive allies, in addition to successful outcomes. And those who have been part of the process like the outcome as well. These skills are critical to the success of just about everything that I do in my work.
For those of you here tonight that are new librarians or first time attendees, like many before me, I encourage you to use this conference to meet people, to attend committee meetings and to participate in the lives of these organizations; test out your ideas on your colleagues here; use your collaboration skills. You will find support and encouragement and joy that you are here. There are many opportunities in our organizations to become involved and through our organizations you will develop life-long skills and collaborations in and across your institutions, as well as mentors and friends who will be with you for your career. I cannot imagine two more collegial organizations to participate in.
As part of the process of becoming used to the honor of being a Distinguished Service Award recipient, I went to the ARLIS/NA and VRA websites to look at past recipients. What one sees in those two lists is that each recipient has helped to shape our profession and our organizations and to push us along paths we may not have chosen on our own. Each has had a vision for what our profession can be, and each individual has made important contributions to the field. It is truly humbling to be among this august group of colleagues.
In closing I want to thank all the people with whom I have worked in ARLIS/NA and VRA—on the two boards, on the various committees, and on the many projects we have taken on and launched. There are too many of you to name as individuals, and you should all know who you are. I will always treasure the work we’ve done together, what you have all taught me, and my experiences in these wonderful organizations. And, there is so much more to do!
Thank you so very much for this dual honor.
It is a tremendous honour to receive the ARLIS/NA Distinguished Service Award, and I cannot but be conscious of the eminence of previous recipients at past Convocations. I thank you all very much.
I would like to share with you for a moment a few reflections on what it means to be an art librarian in Canada. C'est avec audace que j'adresse et inclus mes respectés collègues du Québec, en parlant de la profession de bibliothécaire d'art au Canada.
Qu'est au juste être bibliothécaire d'art au Canada? It means to be immensely proud of this conference in Montréal, and of our colleagues here, in Ottawa and Québec City. They have laboured tirelessly for months to make this not only the usual stimulating ARLIS experience, but also to set the scene for us to enjoy Québec's artistic and architectural patrimoine, and the cultural difference that marks this historic city.
Also, to be an art librarian in Canada is to envy our southern neighbours their sheer numbers, and their ability to use those numbers to make a difference. For example, I doubt that we could emulate our U.S. colleagues who have mounted an impressive campaign in response to the threatened closing down of the Guggenheim Museum library in New York, and to the library's questionable phoenix-like rebirth. Big cuts have just been announced in the Canadian Parliament to the budgets of all our national cultural organizations and agencies, and more are promised in future budgets (although universal medicare IS still intact in Canada!) All of this affects all of us. Some art libraries will close, and others will be absorbed by the general collections. Canadian art librarians care deeply, but we are few, and we are scattered across five time zones. Those of us who live in St. John’s, Newfoundland, are closer to Paris and London than to our colleagues in Vancouver, British Columbia. Un de mes plus chers rêves serait de nous voir exploiter les nouvelles technologies de communication, afin de coordonner nos activités et de faire une plus forte impression que nos nombres justifieraient.
I think that I speak for all Canadian art librarians who are members of ARLIS/NA when I say that our membership is a tremendously important part of our professional lives. ARLIS/NA has provided a forum for us to meet together, and to discuss issues that affect us as Canadian art librarians, but also it forces us out of national isolation and exposes us to valued colleagues throughout North America: to their ideas, expertise and enthusiasm. Une grande partie de ce que nombreux d'entre nous connaissons sur le sujet de bibliothéconomie d'art, est due à notre partipation à ARLIS/NA. Personellement, j'apprécie enormement l'amitié de mes collègues américains et canadiens, amitié qui serait impossible sans la société.
But it must be said that many of us in Canada continue to be concerned about continuing cultural penetration from the south. American NAFTA negotiators and media czars are publicly committed to overlaying, if not replacing, arts and entertainment and publications produced in Canada with their own. For us this represents a kind of cultural colonialism which no other country has experienced to the same extent. I mention this to explain the ambiguous feelings which we express from time to time. We love our American ARLIS/NA colleagues, but we feel a particular responsibility to protect and celebrate the arts in Canada in the face of powerful economic forces from outside.
Although I retire this June, I intend to draw strength from ARLIS/NA’s vitality for at least a few more years. Once again, I thank you all ... et à mes collègues québécois--merci de nous avoir accueilli à cette mémorable conférence. Il m'est spécialement précieux de reçevoir ce prix à Montréal.