Art Librarians Choose Vancouver as Their Canvas

By Eberhart George M. | American Libraries, May 1999 | Go to article overview

Art Librarians Choose Vancouver as Their Canvas


Eberhart George M., American Libraries


Some 480 art librarians, visual resources professionals, and curators came to British Columbia March 25-31 to meet, to mentor, and to marvel at the treasures of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the city's art deco and modernist architecture. The occasion was the 27th annual conference of the Art Libraries Society of North America, at the Hotel Vancouver.

Founded by a group of art librarians attending the 1972 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, ARLIS/NA modeled itself after the Art Libraries Society established in Great Britain three years earlier. The society has five type-of-library divisions, in addition to four sections and eight round tables devoted to such specialized topics as architecture, decorative arts, and space planning.

One effect of ARLIS/NA's energetic mentoring program is the sizable number of "First Time" tags sported by attendees. "They promote mentoring," ARLIS/NA President Mary Graham told American Libraries. "One mentee wound up as a committee chair the following year."

The society's members come from a wide variety of libraries and museums, though all are linked by an enthusiasm for their own bibliographical niche. "Some of them may be the only art subject specialist or librarian in their institutions," Graham explained. "Our conferences are small but do-able, and our members are approachable since they all work in similar environments."

If relevant panel sessions are why they came, ARLIS/NA members definitely found them. In fact, the meetings were so densely scheduled that attendees could be solidly booked from nine in the morning to nine at night with only quick breaks for coffee or high tea and some quality time in the 56-table exhibits area.

One well-attended event was a session on "Art Libraries around the World," where speakers from other countries reported on the progress and challenges of art librarianship outside North America.

Margaret Shaw, chief librarian of the National Gallery of Australia Research Library in Canberra, said that her country has a "much greater percentage of square kilometers per art librarian than either North America or Great Britain." The society's regional affiliate, ARLIS/ANZ, has focused on developing techniques to eliminate gaps in the art historical record - "especially capturing virtual exhibitions," Shaw said. "Important art information on the Web will be lost because no one is archiving it."

Olga Sinitsyna, head of arts and children's literature in Moscow's Library for Foreign Literature, said that Russian museum libraries are now open to the public more than they were a decade ago. "They are strongly supported by both the Ministry of Culture and the Soros Foundations' Open Society Institute, which is sponsoring a megaproject this year to celebrate the 200th birthday of Moscow poet Alexander Pushkin," she explained.

Sinitsynsa told AL that art libraries outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg are often isolated, without any network or Internet connections. However, this is changing, and "soon there will be Internet centers in every regional library, university, and museum."

Public library as Roman ruin

Another popular session dealt with the controversial, Colosseum-like central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. …

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