Welcome to the first of a series of profiles of VREPS members. You’re all out there doing such interesting work, and the VR community is a small one, so let’s get to know each other better! If you’d be willing to spend 30-45 minutes talking to me via Gchat or Skype (video or non-video), or if you’d like to write a profile of a fellow VREPS member, please get in touch with me at email@example.com.
I met Maggie Murphy at VRA in Providence last year, which she attended through a Scholars Resource Travel Award. This year, she served on the Travel Awards Committee. I knew she was working on some interesting projects, so I asked if I could interview her for the VREPS profile series.
Maggie has been the Visual Resources Curator at Queens College, City University of New York, since August 2012, and is a member of VRA, ARLIS, the American Library Association (ALA), the METRO Library Council, and the Association for Information Science &Technology (ASIS&T).
Her path to becoming a VR professional started during her undergraduate work at Sarah Lawrence College, where students design their own curriculum. Maggie’s included a seminar in art history and a studio workshop in printmaking. Her adviser was an art historian who encouraged her to apply for an internship with Cabinet Magazine, a quarterly arts and culture magazine. She researched images and located high-resolution versions for publication. “That was my first exposure to image archives like the NYPL Picture Collection,” she said, “and I thought that was really cool.”
After the Cabinet internship, Maggie served as editorial assistant at the College Art Association’s Art Journal, where she worked more with image submissions and research. This background informed her experience earning an MLIS at Rutgers University’s School of Communication & Information, where she focused on metadata and digital libraries. As she was completing her MLIS program, a friend sent her the job posting for her current position. “Visual resources wasn’t a field that anyone ever described to me in library school,” she said, “but I looked at the description and thought, ‘I could totally do that job.’”
Based on her own experience, I asked Maggie what advice she would give to a current student or recent graduate who is interested in a career in visual resources: “I would say that if they are interested in visual resources, they should definitely take classes or find internships that will expose them to a wide array of metadata schemas and standardized vocabularies, and the use of different digital library or collection management platforms. Visual resources will never be full-text searchable, so metadata and digital collection access will always be paramount in the profession.”
I wanted to know more about how the students and faculty at Queens College use visual resources. Maggie told me that most of the students who are interested in visual resources are actually graphic design majors, and she works to connect them to resources within the collection and beyond. “I make sure to collect and promote information about archives that are releasing high-res images into the public domain for creative use (including commercial use),” she said. “Two recent ones that come to mind are the British Library, through Flickr Commons, and the Wellcome Library.” Students in the graphic design and studio art programs often seek out images for transformative use. “I think that’s a really interesting direction to take: A lot of images have been put into the public domain for that purpose.” She is particularly interested in creating collections of the artwork that these students produce and has started to document and collect the MFA and BFA thesis shows and materials.
[At this point in the interview, we talked about Stephanie Beene’s great presentation about the Lewis & Clark College senior studio projects at VRA in Providence last year. If you missed it, you can see it on Slide Share here.]
Maggie also provides on-demand scanning and image research for faculty for research and instructional use, but, she says, “often they will give me a box of slides to scan, and 60% of those images are available high-res online from the original source, museum or archive. So I really do collect a lot of resources from outside our collection. The truth is that most of the resources used to teach are undergraduate art history courses are readily available to faculty online, so I do work in assembling resources for our graduate courses, and I help faculty find resources for their own research.”
One project she’s working on is a university-wide [CUNY-wide] visual resources consortium managed on the Shared Shelf platform, so that other departments that are interested in using the art department’s visual resources, such as English and history, can have access to them. “There are other CUNY schools, including Hunter College and the Graduate Center, that have been working with digital visual resources for years and years, and it doesn’t make sense for me to start any comprehensive digitization of our slides until I see what they have already scanned.”
Finally, I asked what she sees as the value of belonging to professional organizations, like VRA. She described, how, particularly in the absence of a budget for her department, the VRA is valuable because it connects her with other professionals. “It gives me models for the direction that our visual resources collection can take. [The art department] didn’t digitize when a lot of people where digitizing, and now it seems like that might not be the most valuable thing for us to do because a lot of the resources the faculty use have been digitized already elsewhere. VRA gives me access to people on the forefront of the profession who are done digitizing slides, who are doing new innovative things in their positions, and gives me ideas of where I can take our collection now.”
Marie Elia is the Processing Archivist in the Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo Libraries.