Anna Bernhard is the Director of the Stanley G. Wold Visual Resource Center and Library at Colorado State University, a position she began two years ago, and she is the continuing her role as co-chair of VREPS.
Like many in the library sciences field, she studied history, and, like many in visual resources, her path was fairly roundabout. “I ended up in VR more by chance than by determination,” she says. “I had been working as an Archives Assistant in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and as a Graduate Assistant in reference at the Pratt Institute Library while I finished my MLIS and began that painful process of sending out scores of applications.” She had applied for the job at CSU early on but says she had almost forgotten about it when they called. “I came out here and had a traditional academic day-long interview and just had a great visceral connection with the faculty and staff,” she says. “Although I always assumed myself to be more of an archives and special collections person, this work has been great—very versatile and involving a lot of research and interaction with students.”
Anna originally considered enrolling in a PhD program in medieval history. She completed a Master of Philosophy (MPhil), a one-year masters program, at Trinity College in Dublin right after her undergraduate studies at Bates College. “I’ve always been extremely passionate about history,” she says. “I love art, obviously, but a lot of people would assume I have more of an academic training in art than I do. In fact, my MPhil was my opportunity to delve into medieval history and see if I ought to do a PhD. I remember someone saying to me that, at [the PhD] level, you tend to learn almost everything about almost nothing, and I realized I loved learning a little about everything—which is probably why I was drawn to the library world.”
Anna moved to New York and enrolled in the MLIS program at the Pratt Institute, and her first archives position was as a digital archivist/editorial assistant at a Buddhist magazine. She notes, “I know nothing of Buddhism but will now always assert that they are great folks to be employed by — very generously spirited.” They gave her release time to intern with the MET, where she started at the Cloisters (the Medieval branch of the MET, in Fort Tyron Park) and was then transferred down to the main branch, working almost exclusively on the architectural records of the museum buildings.
At the museum, Anna says she learned concrete skills like cataloging and database management, but some of the most valuable experiences were abstract concepts, like working confidently and productively with little supervision. “When you work on a collection you become the expert on that subject,” she says. “You learn to honor a collection while understanding the role and the autonomy of the final research experience. In other words, you do what you can to organize and enable access but understand that you still need to be moving through at a quick pace.” She continues, “The temptation to get obsessed with individual pieces is huge in the beginning. If I were there now I could move through a little faster!”
In her current position at the VRC, Anna says that there really is no typical day. There are the daily tasks like responding to questions and checking out materials (resources and tech tools), but each day is different. “Most days I’ll expect to meet with a student or two about a research paper or their artist statement and work with my interns/students who are working in another room digitizing and cataloging our slide collection.” She continues, “Occasionally, I’ll go into a classroom to talk about research and visual literacy. I see myself as an embedded art librarian more than anything honestly. I love working on research with faculty and students.”
Most of the student and faculty users are generally from the art department, which is the biggest department in the college of liberal arts. Like Maggie at Queens College (CUNY), Anna often advises students about transformative use of resources, especially for students in CSU’s new electronic arts program. “One thing that I do see is that students are very nervous about is copyright law,” she says. “In fact, today I’ve got a lawyer from CSU’s general counsel coming in to give an information session about that very issue for students. I see students feeling very fearful about copyright.” It’s a challenge to make sure the students are aware of copyright issues without feeling afraid that they’ll be hit with a lawsuit if they make a mistake. “Hopefully, this session will encourage them to be a little more aggressive, actually. I do think students are scared, although they can also be a little complacent, and there are a lot of Public Domain resources out there.”
“I see VR management changing a lot,” she says. “I think we’re a little bit in a Wild West moment. Yet I think these changes are dependent on the culture of particular institutions and also their needs. I also think it is shifting in response to the interests and passions of the emerging professionals. One of the great joys and challenges of VRA is how diverse its members are, particularly new members.” An important role for VRA is promoting the work that VR curators and managers do, especially as they are often the lone VR professionals at their institutions. Anna hopes VREPS can help by recruiting more students and new professionals: “We have something in the works to encourage internships with VRA members, which I think will help. I also think that it is important for VRA members to continue to be active in other related associations and be visible.”
She continues, “I think the value in being a member of a professional organization like VRA is in learning to advocate for yourself in a professional capacity. Many, if not most, of us are operating our own little ‘shops’ so to speak, which is great, but it is important to remember you are part of a profession.” Anna makes an effort to define herself as a professional distinct from counterpart faculty or staff members, which she believes creates a natural role for herself as a liaison with those communities and also between them and students. “Being part of a professional network reminds you that you have your own community, even if you don’t see it right in front of you every day.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.