Pondering 21st Century Collections Competencies for Art Librarians / Sarah Falls, Director of the Joint-Use Library, Tidewater Community College

During the 2000-2005 Strategic plan cycle of ARLIS/NA, an important goal for developing the core competencies of Art Information Professionals was set forth. A few years later, in 2003, a subcommittee of the Professional Development Committee published its findings, creating a template of knowledge and skills for all arts information professionals. This work was very important at the time, and remains an essential guide to the profession. To update this work, the ARLIS/NA Executive Board chartered a task force which reports to the Professional Development Committee to conduct new research and write new competencies.

Working on this update will be challenging—how do you communicate the essence of a profession without becoming too prescriptive, or bogged down in the minutia of the everyday? Collections work, for instance, can be quite detailed. And, in the original document, technology was viewed as a separate competency. However, considering present workflows, it might be more integrated into many aspects of work.

One area that I believe will be particularly challenging to update will be Section 6: Collection Management, Development & Organization. In thinking about the trends and technological developments of the past 15 years, developing a new list of competencies will require language that is succinct but also flexible enough to anticipate what may come next. The competencies as a document help to guide new professionals as they move through LS education programs, anticipate how to form themselves as employees during the job hunt, and help those of us more seasoned professionals continually retool and reconnect. Institutions use them to write job descriptions, and faculty members who teach Art Librarianship use this document in their courses—so getting it right is paramount.

But how do you get it right in the ever changing environment of arts and scholarly publishing? I’m not sure, but thought I’d use this space to explore some of the changes and trends that impact work with arts information collections, and particularly those that have emerged since the last iteration of the document.

Trends impacting art subject collections since 2003:

-eBooks. I could go on and on here, but in 2003, it would be 2 more years until the advent of the Sony Reader and more years to the Kindle, Overdrive and other delivery systems. As we all know, there has been a dearth of arts publishing available from academic vendors such as eBrary and others—and while adjacent subject areas such as history, philosophy that produced text-based works have helped art librarians through Project Muse, JSTOR Books and other sites, eBook purchasing is still not proforma in Art Libraries-mostly due to copyright of images and format.


-Open Access. This is a huge challenge. Understanding how to integrate OA collections and resources into discovery systems can be a critical part of collection development now. And as amazing as these collections are, OA books (from the Met for instance) must be added to each and every local catalog via a MARC load to fully integrate them with institutional resources. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just pull up a page through Worldcat or some other utility, and check off the boxes next to OA collections we want displayed with our own? But for now, the collection manager must understand how to ask for packaged MARC and must know who to work with on their campus to implement.

-Digital Humanities and image databases. How do we integrate these scholarly resources into our collections? How do we make them accessible to our users as resources? How do we help our colleagues the content creators make them sustainable, so if index them, we have them for a while?

-Ebay and internet purchasing of rare materials. ARLIS members maintain strong working relationships with dealers, who identify and make available to us unique materials. But life is becoming harder for these same dealers due to the rise of internet purchasing. It’s a blessing and a curse, but managing these relationships while understanding how to find rare and special collections works online can be a balancing act.

-Access and Discovery tools. Aggregators such as Primo, Worldcat Local, Browzine and other sites and apps pull content together in new ways. Worldcat local can be configured to display results geographically, but might miss the most important sources on a topic. And Primo pulls together all sorts of information, but again, the results may have varying means of depicting relevance that sit far outside the methods of Art and Art History. How these tools are configured can have real impacts for how collections are used.

In conclusion, I’m sure there are many other trends and technology to explore in the context of collections development and management. The five I’ve explored above are pretty big topics in and of themselves—but repeatedly updated the Core Comps over time, we will be better able to address their impacts on work with collections within our profession.



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