ARLIS-NA 2019 Conference Report

by Jennifer Riestenberg, ARLIS/NA-TC Travel Award Recipient

The 2019 ARLIS Conference, held in Salt Lake City, UT, was a fantastic, work-affirming experience, and I thank the ARLIS Twin Cities chapter for the opportunity to attend. The theme of the conference was “incite, insight, in sight,” and sessions and workshops centered on many topics, including critical librarianship, diversity, choosing print vs digital, museum library futures, promoting artist files, and how to manage digital resources.

Conference sessions began with “Catalogers’ Judgements: Ethical Cataloging and Artists from Underrepresented Groups.” Each speaker discussed different cases in their experience in which more critical cataloging practices were necessary, pointing out a need to re-consider our current methods and assumptions. This included representing indigenous artists, reviewing married names of southern, female artists, and being mindful of the privacy of zinesters by using their pseudonyms. One speaker made the interesting suggestion of providing a code of ethics for catalogers, given the importance of the work. Other sessions this first day included: the Diversity Forum, the Book Art SIG, and “Assess Don’t Assume: What Gets Considered When Choosing Print vs Digital.”

The next day, I learned how other museum libraries promote their space with programming in “Museum Library Futures.” The Virginia Museum of Fine Art focuses on making their entrance approachable and communicating how valuable their resources are by using library materials in exhibitions. Other libraries have hosted events such as show-and-tells with staff, artists’ books book clubs, Wikipedia edit-a-thons, and tours for friends of the library. These ideas could easily be implemented in local libraries. Another session that day, “Approaches to Building, Managing, and Promoting Artist Files” focused on best practices for managing artist files, including cataloging practices and promoting them with programming.

The third day, the session titled “Artists’ Book Cataloging Manual RDA Project” with Andrea Joosten of the Hamburger Kunsthalle was especially interesting. Joosten discussed the work of a committee made up of catalogers from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland who are working on an RDA-compliant manual for cataloging artists’ books. Special issues brought up in the session included defining what an artists’ book is, maintaining consistent levels of topic and subject description across a collection, and whether or how to use binding terms. Joosten noted that there is still much work to do, but once complete, we can expect to see an English version released. 

Beyond the sessions, I was able to attend workshops on basic conservation and letterpress. I learned simple and effective ways to conserve paper works, including flattening paper and repairing tears. In the letterpress course, I was introduced to the print technique, and the class collectively produced a broadside. This knowledge helps to inform work with rare and artists’ books.

Salt Lake City also had many interesting cultural institutions I was able to visit, including the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, a small museum with excellent exhibits, the Utah Public Library, which has its own zine collection and stunning views of the mountains, the Natural History Museum of Utah, which holds fossils and interactive exhibits, and the Utah Museum of Fine Art, which showed an amazing variety of art from medieval to contemporary. Finally, the highlight of the experience was the powerful, meditative experience of visiting Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty in the Salt Lake. Expert Hikmet Loe led the tour and provided much information during a Q&A session. 

In all, the ARLIS conference featured many thought-provoking topics, and enabled many fruitful discussions. I approached the ARLIS conference with the goals of learning more about the broader issues in the field and what other librarians are doing to deal with them, and to connect with other librarians; this conference delivered. I left with a stronger sense of where the field is going and how I can meet future challenges, and I look forward to attending the conference again next year.