Lois Swan Jones Travel Award Conference Summary, 2012 ARLIS/NA Annual Conference, March 29–April 2, Toronto, Ontario by Mark Pompelia, Rhode Island School of Design

My conference participation at the 2012 annual conference of the Art Libraries Society of North America in Toronto, Ontario began in earnest at the joint meeting of ARLIS/Ontario and the Canada chapter of the Visual Resources Association held on Thursday, March 29 in the Alsop building at Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD-U). Invited to speak to the groups on utilizing social media in the library, I spoke for approximately a half hour from a prepared outline. My goal was not to explain why libraries should use social media—the topic was justified by my invitation to speak upon it, but how to use it, which outlets, etc., using Rhode Island School of Design and other schools as examples. Making use of a live Internet connection, I guided the audience through the basics of Google (how search results display, incorporating meta tags, map results, etc.) to the Yelp online user-reviewed business directory, publication platforms including the use of blogs and micro-publishing outlets such as Twitter, and finally Facebook as a culminating destination spot for many different source items such as RSS feeds, photographs, events, etc. The presentation was videotaped and I received very positive results afterward along the lines that the audience felt they could see themselves adopting social media in their libraries and that I explained how things worked in order for them to understand both the strategic reasons for doing so as well as some of the technical details so it would not be such a daunting mystery, such as HTML code. I’m very pleased to have had this experience with ARLIS/Ontario and VRA Canada.

The above presentation conflicted with my original plan to attend the ARLIS Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgendered-Queer (LGBTQ) Special Interest Group (SIG) meeting at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

On Friday, March 30 I chaired the Materials Special Interest Group. I tried to organize MATSIG to be held off-site at the materials library at Studio HoK, a well-known design firm in downtown Toronto, but staff shakeups there left it impossible to schedule. With an audience of just eleven people, it was only 25% of the audience that had gathered the previous year at the joint ARLIS/NA-VRA conference in Minneapolis. However, this group presented a critical difference in that there were almost no lurkers: nearly everyone had begun to amass a materials collection in some way or other. Because of this, the round of introductions was very illuminating. Also on the agenda were the issues surrounding the lack of a single taxonomy for materials description, collecting materials versus purchasing them from a consultancy such as Material Connexion, the services and products offered by Material Connexion, further development of the MATSIG blog, material|resource, and the creation of a resource page to be handed out to newcomers to materials collections. I will try to organize the 2013 MATSIG gathering on the campus of Art Center in Pasadena, home to one of the most extensive materials collections, the Color Materials Trends Exploration Lab (CMTEL).

On Friday evening I attended the Opening Plenary presentation by Diana Thorneycroft. An artist from Winnipeg, Thorneycroft stages and photographs dioramas that address and expose social issues from current or recent Canadian history. Most often these are done with humor and even dark humor, the latter of which ultimately led the artist to difficult topics that could no longer be dealt with humorously. The presentation thus ranged from being lighthearted to disturbing, which was an unanticipated trajectory and perhaps led to some audience discomfort. Immediately following the plenary address, then-President and ARLIS-TXMX’s own Jon Evans took the stage to present an illuminating history of ARLIS/NA upon the occasion of its fortieth anniversary, leading to the 40th Anniversary Celebration in the foyer immediately outside. Although in a cramped and crowded space, it was nevertheless the first opportunity for most attendees to greet each other and raise a glass of complimentary champagne. I spent the remainder of the evening reconnecting with colleagues from the Texas-Mexico chapter, as well as those from New York and New England chapters—my previous and new homes.

I was very pleased to see on Saturday morning the expansion of the poster session offerings, allowing many interesting and worthy projects and initiatives to be highlighted in a casual and approachable forum. There was literally something for every possible interest. I was able to stop at four: number 7 “Digital Images in Teaching and Learning at York University”, number 8 “In the Studios: Research Instruction for Art and Design Students”, number 12 “Public Domain and Creative Commons-Licensed Image Resources”, and number 19 “What is a QR Code?”. The digital images session addressed the concern that digital images acquired at great expense through purchase and/or subscription are underutilized and that this is a widespread problem, including at RISD. The research instruction for art and design students session was especially relevant for me as a librarian at RISD as the speaker’s strategy of visiting students in the studio, participating at critiques, etc. is exactly what we are encouraged to do. The session on the public domain and creative commons as a source for images underscored the increasing difficulty in acquiring digital images from a single source: today’s student and professor must become aware of these two sources as part of their understanding of the legal landscape when using digital images, and the librarian plays a critical role to educate image users to become sensitive to all the various concerns. The session dealing with QR (Quick Response) codes was helpful in that, while we are already using them at RISD, I benefited from hearing different ways and different destinations for the codes to connect patrons with library resources and services.

Immediately following those poster sessions I attended the Exhibits Opening Coffee that was generously sponsored by Erasmus Amsterdam/Paris and the ARLIS/NA membership. This coffee break coincided with the opening of the exhibitor hall and was a fine introduction to an important part of the conference experience: personal contact with vendors and distributors. It also provided a more practical forum after the previous night’s celebrations for members to greet each other and network.

Of the late morning sessions, I was drawn—pun intended— to “Colouring with Artists: Librarians Coordinating and Facilitating Information Creation and Appropriation in the Studio.” My position at RISD places me on the periphery of the research and instruction services but I do have a role to play in terms of liaising with cognate departments within the school. While not quite an embedded librarian—others occupy that space, I am increasingly aware that outreach must take on a different and expanded form. I was especially interested in the paper presented by Paul Dobbs and Greg Wallace at Massachusetts College of Art and Design that dealt with a participatory exercise teaching the ethics of image appropriation. Starting with fairly simple concepts and exercises, the “game show” becomes increasingly more intricate and complicated, using contemporary examples that made headlines at the time.

Like many other conference attendees, I then attended the ARTstor User Group Lunch. This well-attended event was devoted nearly entirely to the promotion of the Shared Shelf service from ARTstor. Previously known as ARTstor Hosted Collections, Shared Shelf is a means to ingest locally created digital image content that is then served alongside ARTstor content, providing users with a one-stop search portal. This has long been a desire on the part of visual resources librarians, as most patrons are not willing to search a handful of different image databases when they prefer to search just one. However, where Hosted Collections was free, Shared Shelf has a complex and complicated equation based on number of assets, not size. This strikes me as odd and expensive, given the low cost of server space, especially since it had been a free service that suddenly exploded into costs that run into the tens of thousands of dollars—and without warning. Many schools had to give up their hosted content. Others had to scramble to pay for an entirely new and persistent expense stream. Still others are now weeding their digital collection since each asset now has a defined cost. I do not know if Shared Shelf is in the future for RISD: I cannot discount the general happiness of those who no longer have to maintain their own local digital asset presentation system (after they’ve gotten over the sticker shock) and in a school without strong centralized instructional technology support, I may have to examine Shared Shelf in the near future, if nothing else than to play it on the radar of the RISD library director.

I then attended the meeting of the Visual Resources Division. In addition to general news, announcements, and updates, I was asked to participate on a panel discussion regarding the continued conversation of the collaborations between ARLIS/NA and the Visual Resources Association. This topic both preceded and continued after the joint conference the year before in Minneapolis and is now part of a process that will soon see an agreement of memorandum of understanding regarding future joint conferences. The other panelists spoke to their own experiences of collaboration, such as the Summer Educational Institute for Visual Resources; mine was the experience of having served on both VRA executive boards that organized the first joint conference in 2002 in St. Louis and the second joint conference in 2011 in Minneapolis, noting the difficulties in doing so, the challenges and successes, lessons learned and lessons forgotten, etc. It was a fruitful conversation and perhaps not surprising given that the group were VR professionals within ARLIS, that by the end of the discussion, everyone—from seasoned members to new—wondered why the two groups haven’t merged! With the current ARLIS/NA president-elect being one of them, this conversation may just not fizzle.

Following the coffee break sponsored by Worldwide Books, I then presented in the session, “Marketing Librarians, Practice, and Spaces in the 21st Century” with a paper on the RISD Material Resources Center. This paper was slightly modified from a paper presented at the 2011 annual conference of the Southeast College Art Conference (SECAC) held on the campus of the Savannah College of Art & Design. The other two papers dealt with contemporary approach to branding and the development of a digital library multimedia creation services unit at the University of Calgary. A healthy amount and distribution of questions was afforded to each speaker, though the paper on branding assumed a corporate approach and this led to some contesting of the major tenets. Although this session was well attended, I was disappointed that my paper was scheduled in a session opposite others that were very appealing: digital humanities and social media. I’ll have to follow up on that content through the proceedings.

While interested in the metadata session that followed, I instead chose to attend the “Promotion and Teaching with Visual Special Collections” that was sponsored by University of Toronto Mississauga Library and supported by the ARLIS/NA Alternative Voices Fund. In the RISD library one of my closest partnerships is with Special Collections, so I was pleased that all three papers presented strategies and projects that further integrated content from their respective special collections. I was especially interested in the efforts at Johns Hopkins University to develop visual literacy with rare books since visual literacy is at the heart of our instruction efforts and this paper presented a new avenue to pursue.

I skipped Convocation in order to have dinner with former colleagues but was able to attend the Convocation Reception at the spectacular new Frank Gehry Building at the Art Gallery of Ontario that was sponsored by the Libraries of the Art Gallery of Ontario, OCAD University, Ryerson University, University of Toronto, and York University. The event description urged attendees to eat beforehand or after, but there was no shortage of delicious edibles. The program at the reception featured welcoming presentations by President Evans and from OCAD University President Sara Diamond, herself a performance artist who is an advocate for libraries. It was a splendid evening.

On Sunday morning I chose to spend time in exhibits and reconnect with colleagues I’d not yet seen as well as make a few new introductions. During the late morning session slot, my first two attempts to join sessions were thwarted due to overcrowding, so I wound up attending “Remix, Reuse, Rework: Fostering Learning Beyond the Classroom” and am so glad I did. Wow! Each of the three papers presented topics that are easily among the most current and contemporary developments of instructional technologies. The first paper presented an architecture-based app that utilized data layers and GPS to deliver scholarly content via smart-phone or smart device based. It felt like a tech commercial that had finally been realized. The second paper explored what works, and sometimes what doesn’t work, in the traditional use of memes, mash-ups, and remixes. And the third paper presented Mimi, a homegrown educational software suite. This last paper was of particular interest since RISD has its own semi-homegrown educational platform called Digication and I could compare the two, especially since Mimi was developed at another art school. This session was easily one of the best, most exciting—and entertaining—session I’d attended anywhere in some time.

In the afternoon I attended the session, “Urban Mapwork: Art, Libraries, and the City,” mostly out of a general curiosity but also because I’m interested in the ways that new technology tools are harvesting and finally using all the different layers of data that are available. The first paper compared public art projects in two dissimilar cities and how libraries can help researchers develop the sense of the constructed environment. The second paper presented the Digital Maps Collection at the University of Toronto, which was truly fascinating. But it was the last paper that was most interesting: dealing with locative media to map archaeology data and reconstructions, joining traditional scholarly discourse with emerging interactive technologies. This is exactly the sort of thing that I think we will see more of and that librarians can play an important role.

The remainder of the afternoon was filled with closing ceremonies. The closing plenary presented a straightforward yet gorgeous summary of library architecture from throughout Canada, which appeared to be far more ambitious than anything we have in the United States. Following that feast for the eyes and mind, the Oxford University Press Launch of Benezit Dictionary of Artists Online was truly impressive in its multi-layered and interactive interface: users are presented with image and text resources in a deeply intuitive manner that found a very happy audience at ARLIS. Then the Exhibits Closing Reception sponsored by OUP immediately followed, which continued the pleasant mood from the Benezit debut. I did not have any meetings that night save for attending the informal gather of the Summer Educational Institute at the nearby Marriott. As a charter member/founder of SEI, I was very pleased to discuss current SEI practices and outlooks, curriculum design, etc.

Looking back during the writing of this report, the 2012 annual conference of the Art Libraries Society of North America in Toronto was a very rewarding experience, both for my handful of commitments and presentations and for the programming where I was able to sit and learn from others. The social events ranged from the top notch in elegance to scrappier affairs that were equally engaging. And the backdrop of Toronto served as a perfect context for currency and diversity among the membership and its endeavors. At this point in my career, I find ARLIS/NA to be an indispensable organization and the conferences to be always unique, one never like the other. So I’m especially grateful to the ARLIS/Texas-Mexico Chapter, where I still maintain a membership from two thousand miles away, and its Lois Swan Jones Travel Award program, for selecting me as the 2012 recipient and ensuring my ability to attend the conference and have such a successful and enriching experience.