Our second VREPS member profile is Milwaukee-based Jasmine Burns. She has been helping with the local plans for VRA 32 and will be working the registration desk whenever she can. She will also be moderating the VREPS-organized Session 4, “The Teaching Turn: From Static Collections to Dynamic Learning Centers,” on Thursday, March 13, at 10:35 (sponsored by Scholars Resource).
Jasmine earned her MA in Art History from SUNY Binghamton while also serving as the Assistant Curator of Visual Resources there. She was a graduate student assistant for Marcia Focht (the VR Curator), who mentored Jasmine and gave her a lot of freedom and responsibility. She had the opportunity to work on major cataloging and digitization projects, including scanning and cataloging a slide collection of medieval images, which was particularly interesting as her academic focus was medieval art. As Jasmine began working on her MA thesis, she says that her research “veered away from looking at objects in their original cultural contexts and moved towards looking at them in their current archival and digital states.” During that time, she also received a Kress Foundation Travel Fellowship to attend the College Art Association’s THATCamp, a Pre-Conference Forum on Digital Art History. Things all came together in her thesis, “Digital Facsimiles and the Modern Viewer: Medieval Manuscripts and Archival Practice in the Age of New Media.”
“I really got to dive into issues of access, preservation, and theories of materiality,” she says, which led her to apply to MLIS programs for archives. She is currently enrolled at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Archives/Archival Administration program. Although she was already qualified for VR jobs with an MA and her experience at Binghamton’s VRC, Jasmine says that fellow VRA members advised her to pursue the MLIS. “At the conference in Providence, I kept hearing people say get a library degree!” We discussed the MLIS as a companion degree for those who want to specialize in a narrower information management field, such as Visual Resources.
Because she already has the art history background as well as hands-on experience, she can focus her coursework to better prepare her for a VR career. She specifically chose courses in electronic records management, digital libraries, preserving information media, and academic libraries, as well as a fieldwork course to gain more experience. She was just hired for an internship with the Digital Collections at the UWM library, where she will be working on a joint project with the American Geographical Society, digitizing and cataloging some of their materials for the online collection. “The AGS gets a lot of public inquiries,” she says, “so they are working to make their materials available online. I will be working with one other intern over the next year to scan a variety of materials, mostly manuscripts and written documents.”
I asked Jasmine to talk a little more about her work at Binghamton. In addition to the VRC, she interned with the University Art Museum. “I worked with the director on a preservation project to take works on paper out of their frames and store them properly.” The director was new and taking the opportunity to reorganize, which include this four-month project to disassemble framed works on paper, most of which had been framed in the 1960s and were no longer housed in archivally-sound enclosures. Jasmine told me that the catalog for these items was handwritten in index cards, but that the museum was not yet ready to create an electronic catalog; however, the rehousing project helped gain more intellectual control over the materials. “I left it all ready to go!” she says.
I switched gears a bit and asked Jasmine one of my Big Questions: What are her thoughts on how the profession will change (or need to change) in the next five years, especially given how much it has changed already? “I think the focus on digital imaging is going to continue to be a big deal. We are seeing more and more that these responsibilities are being merged with the already cumbersome load on VR curators.” She also believes that we need to be mindful of the long-term effects of digitization and digital preservation. “These issues are obviously being addressed in the literature, but how much are we actually applying in our everyday work? It will happen one day that we try to access an image, and the file format just does not exist anymore!” VRA focuses heavily on digital asset management, which we both agree will be absolutely necessary for successful VR management. Jasmine noted that, appropriately, most, if not all, of the VRA conference sessions have something to do with technology.
On a related note, I asked her what kind of advice she has for current students and recent graduates. Jasmine is in a bit of a unique position as someone who has worked as a VR curator but is also a student. “What I see happening already, just from job searching, is that traditional VR curation is only a small portion of the job. Job postings call for someone with multiple degrees, and, more and more, specifically an MLIS.” She also notes that and there are so many job titles that encompass essentially the same position, such as project archivist, VR curator, digital collections librarian, and even art information professional. “It makes us seem like we are part of IT,” she jokes.
But mostly, she advises students and recent graduates to get hands-on experience. “I never would have gotten this internship [with UWM Digital Collections] if I did not already know how to use the equipment. Plus there is only so much that you can learn in a classroom.” For example, her graduate assistantship with Marcia Focht at Binghamton led her directly to where she is now. Marcia, who at the time was the VRA secretary, encouraged Jasmine to attend the conference in Providence last year and to get involved with the community. “I am so happy I did,” says Jasmine. “Everyone is so nice, and they are genuinely interested in you and want to give you advice.”
“I think it is definitely a niche field,” she continues, “And it might seem difficult to enter at first, and the amount of education required might be overwhelming, but just from attending the VRA conference and participating in the listerv, I realized that this is the community to which I belong.”
Marie Elia is the Processing Archivist in the Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo Libraries. If you would like to participate in the profile series, please get in touch at email@example.com.