Teaching a Mid-Career Librarian New Tricks: Becoming an Art Librarian

I’ve loved art since my early, awkward adolescence. I remember the first time I saw a Picasso in person. I will never forget feeling lost in a large Rothko canvas. I felt all the feelings and did not know why. It was not for a lack of trying; In middle school, I owned a copy of a book called Abstract Art that I tried to read in fits and starts without success, but lost myself in the photographs of the art works.

I went to Mass MoCA for the first time during the fall of my first year at Smith College and returned several times during my four years. One of my main regrets from my undergraduate years is that I did not take any art history classes; they intimidated me. Nonetheless, I spent quite a bit of my senior year wandering the stacks of the Hillyer Art Library thumbing through art books looking.

Until recently, I decided that poetry was not for me, but really it was because I felt like there was a joke I did not understand. I felt the same way about art history; I believed that I was not sophisticated enough to understand why I was looking at and believed I lacked a facility with language to make critical judgments. It wasn’t for me or so I thought.

I kept going to museums and began to recover from my impostor syndrome. Now, I read poetry and peruse Artforum. 

In December, I became the art history liaison. I embraced the chance to collaborate with the College’s art museum and to select art books. It was also the opportunity to learn about a new discipline with fresh eyes and an open heart.

My journey began in January; I met with Valley colleagues and began to request books and journal articles on the UNC-Chapel Hill’s INLS 749: Art and Visual Information Management syllabus. I reviewed research guides from different universities and colleges to familiarize myself with the main research tools and foundational texts. Finally, I joined the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) and began reading back issues of the association’s journal Art Documentation.

I learned a lot about artist books from reading Johanna Drucker’s The Century of Artists Books (while there is no singular definition, I can say that Ed Ruscha’s Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations is a stellar example). I learned the difference between an auction catalog, a catalogue raisonné, and an exhibition catalog. I made of list of major journals in the field. I followed the College Art Association on Twitter. I began to unpack how the academic study of art differs from connoisseurship. I read histories of the fine arts in the United States. I learned that art history grew exponentially between 1940 and 1960. I read E.H. Gombich’s The Story of Art. 

This is a stack of books I read to learn about being an art librarian next to my stuffed Totoro

I mulled one of the questions posed in Griselda Pollock’s seminal 1981 text, Vision, and Difference: “is adding women to art history the same as producing feminist art history?” I immersed myself in black contemporary art through Kimberly Drew’s digital projects. I bought an amazing book at African-American artists in Los Angeles.

I wanted to do a mini research project about an artist, so after I read Ariel Levy’s profile of Catherine Opie in The New Yorker in March, I requested several books of her photographs, watched a documentary about her process on PBS, and poured over her oeuvre.

I poured over texts aimed at students. The History of Art: A Student Handbook offered a useful frame, “Art Criticism and art appreciation are near neighbors and both are ways into art history.” It helped unpack the difference between art appreciation and art history as a discipline, “art history is the term employed to denote the discipline that examines the history of art and artifacts…the history of art is what is studied and art history is the cluster of means by which it is studied.” I began to understand how art history is “about a historical process.” I discovered that there are many research methodologies for students to pursue from comparative analysis of different works to social context analysis. I started to teach some research sessions including one on Chinese art.

Caro Pinto and a stack of art books

Above all, I enjoyed myself. I loved reading about art and developing new tools for looking artworks of art more critically. My training as a historian helps contextualize much of what I look at and how I approach teaching students about how to do research, mainly, to make them all believe what I could not believe at age twenty, that the study of art is for all of us.

Shout out to the ARLIS-NA Core Competencies for Art Information Professionals

Reflections on a dh+lib Transition

Ahoy!  icon-anchor

The 2016-2017 school year was my busiest year in academic libraries. My role saw a number of shifts; I added art history as a department, broadened my collaborations with the College’s art museum, and now lead the LITS WordPress Team. To make room for these new developments, I realized I had to step away from some projects and committees. Transitions are always an opportune moment for reflections and I realized over the last few weeks that the last few years prepared me for these new and challenging roles.

On May 11, 2017, I sent off my last email as the Review Editor of dh+lib. I sent out my first one nearly four years ago to the date. I’ve loved being a Review Editor on that team, but I realized during this school year that it was time for me to step into a new phase of the dh+lib project to create more space for my growing campus commitments. It was sad to sign off for the last time, but I also felt proud of the work I’ve accomplished in collaboration with the other editors over the last four years. My colleagues even wrote a VERY touching farewell post.

Putting together my final newsletter.
Pen and paper still gets the job done.

My work with dh+lib prepared me for my new projects at Mount Holyoke. Deeper engagement with WordPress and sustained consideration about the editorial process prepared me to move forward on eportfolio projects and WordPress governance on campus. Working on the review with colleagues via email and video conference taught me how to engage in a large scale project asynchronously; I gained experience with project management and blended learning. I channeled that experience into the blended learning projects I consulted on which helped me grow into my role as an instructional designer.

Above all, the relationships I cultivated through this project have been the greatest gift. I’ve learned so much from my fellow editors, the content the editors-at-large selected, and from the original content that the site publishes. I am grateful to remain a part of this project as a contributing editor and the remain connected to many wonderful colleagues.

Congratulations to the Class of 2017

Over the weekend, I celebrated my fourth workiversary at Mount Holyoke College. How the time flies! The last week or so felt like my first weeks on campus: quiet. The middle of May has a unique ‘here today, gone tomorrow feel’ as exams end; students haul their luggage towards cars and buses away from campus, and faculty decamp to their summer routines.

I remember anticipating the arrival of the class of 2017 in 2013 as I prepared for their orientation, their first M&Cs in the library, and in collaboration with colleagues from DAPS and Archives, a digital exhibition. New to Mount Holyoke myself, I read about the traditions, the history, and of course, the class colors and mascots. Quietly aligning myself with the class of 2017, I considered myself a Green Griffin, the mascot for that incoming class. After all, I was a first year, too.

While not a Griffin, I honed my button making skills in the archives that summer and took a photograph of my best work, a blue lion

Summer ended and fall began; the class of 2017 began their college careers and I met some of them in classes and one-on-one consultations. I grew to know some of them better. As the years passed, I enjoyed a certain amount of continuity in the student body; I never felt that before having moved jobs after two years in my previous positions. As I ended year three, I realized that I would watch the firsties I welcomed in 2013 blossom into seniors.

Over the last week, I’ve seen the seniors roving the empty campus. I smile at them, silently wishing them well.

For the students I developed a relationship with, it’s been a pleasure to learn about their future plans and congratulate them. And for the few I’ve known throughout the four years, it’s been remarkable to see them grow into themselves. I am lucky to have born witness to their transformations.


Shaping their narratives: ePortfolios in the Environmental Studies senior seminar

CP’s Note: This story about my teaching collaboration in Environmental Studies originally appears in my department’s ‘Teaching with LITS’ nook on the College’s website. It’s a wonderful look at all the fabulous collaborations that enhance teaching and learning at Mount Holyoke.

Over the last three and a half years, eportfolios have become central to my work. I began teaching in the senior seminar during the fall of 2014 with my first cohort. Each summer, I spend a lot of time revising my sessions to incorporate better writing prompts, new framing for why taking control of one’s online presence matters, and tips and tricks for understand what the internet knows about you.

Finally, I wanted to share some of the resources that have been central to my eportfolio teaching practice:

icon-save The podcast Note to Self continues to transform how I teach students about the intersections of humanity and technology but also how I understand my own relationship with technology.

icon-mobile-phone Gina Neff and Dawn Nafus’s most excellent book Self-Tracking from the MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series helps me scratch the surface of the self-tracking movement and how to apply it to integrative learning.

icon-book The New Yorker enlivens my life on so many levels, but the recent article about #vanlife will enrich my teaching this fall. Three cheers for the serendipity of deep and wide reading!

I took this photograph during the DLF Conference in MKE in November, 2016-it’s become a representation of the pedagogical space I want to create in eportfolio classes.

“If you haven’t spent any time deliberately and intentionally shaping your narrative, if you’re unprepared, like I was, then one will be written for you.” -Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

Students in the Senior Seminar in Environmental Studies meet as a cohort each fall to reflect on their studies, internships, and co-curricular activities. Together, they cultivate their online professional lives.This seminar is the start of their online professional lives. They talk about their online presence and consider all the various platforms that they use. They spend time learning what the internet already knows about them and contemplate how they want to reintroduce themselves online. It is an opportunity to integrate classroom learning, extracurricular activities, and LYNK internships into a personal narrative. These are some of the first steps they will take towards life after Mount Holyoke. What is next after graduation?

Enter the eportfolio. It is a tool to collect writings, reflections and summaries of qualifications.More importantly it reflects a process of integrating a student’s whole life at Mount Holyoke. The seminar is a rare opportunity for students to consider how their experiences in college changed them in the company of their peers. Professor Tim Farnham and embedded librarian, Caro Pinto facilitate conversations about social media and online privacy. Students leave with the tools to take control of their digital lives and self-knowledge about how to connect to new communities of practice whether it be professional fields like civil engineering or activist communities.

Students begin to build their eportfolios in WordPress, which is a useful platform due to its flexibility and transferability; students can easily export their content into other platforms. It promotes student autonomy as they create a coherent online presence. The eportfolio is simultaneously a space to write a biography, describe experiences and goals, showcase projects undertaken at internships and a starting point to develop content that can be transferred to platforms like LinkedIn. Students in this seminar learn to channel Carrie Brownstein and to prepare to tell their own stories lest someone else do it for them. Are you interested in helping your students cultivate a professional online presence? Contact your LITS Liaison.