VREPS Member Profile: Anna Bernhard (VREPS Co-Chair)

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.

annaLike 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 eliam@buffalo.edu.

VREPS Member Profile: Molly Schoen (VREPS Co-Chair)

Molly Schoen is an Information Resources Specialist in the Visual Resources Collections at University of Michigan—Ann Arbor’s Department of the History of Art. She studied English and Creative Writing at Michigan State University and went on to earn her MLIS from Wayne State University.

mollyschoenWhile at MSU, she worked in the Government Documents Library, which led her to pursue library school. She did not start out with the intent to become a Visual Resources Librarian, but Wayne State was offering a pilot specialty program, focusing in Fine & Performing Arts libraries. “The great thing with this program was that there were internships built into the curriculum,” she said, including partnerships with the Wayne State Library, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Library, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and, her favorite, the Motown Museum. “I would intern at one place for 1-2 semesters, then switch.”

Although the Wayne State pilot program targeted work in Fine Arts, most of Molly’s professors never talked about visual resources management. She worked at the Wayne State VRC for a few weeks but said she was not fully aware of VR as a separate profession. Then, her first position out of school was as a Registrar / Librarian at the Mott-Warsh Collection, a private art collection in Flint, MI. “It was a fantastic organization,” she said, “A collection of modern and contemporary art by African Americans, based in Flint, and we’d install exhibitions at different sites around Flint—for example, churches and libraries—and also loan works out to national exhibitions.”

The position was only part-time, so she began volunteering at University of Michigan’s VRC, working under one of her former Wayne State professors, Kim Schroeder. As with all of the other VREPS interviewees, Molly emphasized the importance of mentorship in furthering her career. Kim, then-director of the VRC, and Marlene Gordon, VR Curator at UM-Dearborn and the Chapter Chair of VRA-Great Lakes, introduced Molly to VRA and encouraged her to attend the conference in Providence last year.

Attending her first VRA conference helped Molly feel a connection to her peers in visual resources. “I always felt my job at UM was so niche, and it always took me a few minutes to explain to my friends what exactly my work entailed,” she said. “So when I got to VRA, and there was a joke made about 2×2 cards, I thought, ‘Wow! These are my people!’” Like most of us new to the organization, Molly was also impressed with how friendly and accessible VRA members are. “What I like about VRA is that, since it’s not a huge organization, it’s easy to get involved and share ideas.”

Molly has stepped up this year to become the new VREPS co-chair as Heather Lowe steps down. As a fairly recent graduate, Molly hopes to help new and emerging professionals the way so many people helped her along the way. When I asked her how she thinks VREPS can do that, she said, “I think a lot of it is just getting the word out. When I worked at Wayne State’s VRC, I wasn’t really aware that it was a separate department. I didn’t know about the VRA.” And while many students want to go into art librarianship, not many know how to translate their MLIS degree to work in a broader art and visual resource field. “I was trying to use my MLIS to apply for museum jobs,” she said, “But even though I had museum experience, I didn’t get many interviews because I didn’t have the Museums Studies degree.”

She continued, “The great thing about VRA is that there are no set requirements: The position is a little different for anyone, so a profession in VR can be an option for anyone with a library, archives, or museum background, and it’s very closely related to the art library track, too. So I think if more students are made aware of it, they’ll be glad to know of other options available to them.” The more that students know about the kinds of work VR professionals do, the better they can prepare by finding appropriate internships and courses.

Speaking of internships, I asked Molly for her advice to current students: Predictably, she recommends interning and volunteering, and building a relationship with a mentor. “Also, even if you’re a new student,” she said, “Start looking at job postings. Save the ones you like, so you can see what experiences and skills you should have by graduation.” She added, “One thing I wish I would have done differently is to be more vocal at my internships. I wanted to get more involved but felt too intimidated to ask. Looking back, I should have asked. If you do it in a polite way, show genuine interest, and can bring your own ideas into the internship, most supervisors are pretty receptive.” Her final tip for students and recent graduates? “Apply, apply, apply. Once you’ve written a few cover letters, they become easier. Even if you don’t think you’ll get the job, there’s always that chance.”

Molly presented at VRA 32 in Milwaukee as part of the panel “The Teaching Turn: From Static Collections to Dynamic Learning Centers.” Her talk, “Promoting Visual Literacy Across Campus: a Case Study,” focused on revamping the VRC to better meet contemporary VR needs. To extend the collections’ reach, the VRC moved away from cataloging individual images at item level in favor of creating encoded finding aids as well as converting old finding aids to EAD, for which MLIS students from Wayne State were recruited. The VRC staff visits classrooms to promote visual literacy, collaborates with UM library staff, and works the Department of the History of Art (HART) marketing specialist to incorporate VRC information and announcements into the HART page. Her presentation slides will be uploaded to the VRA SlideShare site.

Molly is excited to get started in her new position as co-chair of VREPS, so be sure to get in touch with her with ideas and questions: schoenm @ umich.edu.


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 eliam@buffalo.edu.

VREPS Member Profile: Kate Thornhill

Kate Thornhill is the Visual Resource Curator at Lesley University College of Art and Design Library in Boston, a position she calls ideal, a mix of her library and art interests. She earned a BFA and a BA in photography and Art History from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth before attending Simmons for her MLIS. She spent two years as the Senior Digital Assistant at the VRC at UMass Dartmouth, which helped her crystallize her path to a VR career.


My junior year I was playing around with the idea of getting a masters in visual culture studies,” she says. “I saw myself gravitating more towards research instead of focusing on becoming a professional photographer. I am interested in everything, so focusing on one career was really hard for me.” Like many VR professionals, Kate was guided by a mentor, Allison Cywin, Director of the UMass Dartmouth Visual Resource Center. “I met her through the art history program, and when I started asking her what the VRC does, I thought, this is so awesome: It’s art history, photography, and research all in one thing. At the time I had no clue it related to library science and information management.”

At the VRC, Kate quickly realized she liked building digital collections and helping people find images. “I thought, how do I turn this into a job? That’s when Allison said I should really look into an MLIS.” Kate completed a rigorous program at Simmons, including coursework in Digital Libraries, Web Development, Digital Stewardship, and Scientific Research Data Management. “Since completing grad school, all my professional interests have dovetailed,” Kate says, though VR management was not covered in her MLIS program, as is often the case. “I think VR gets lumped into digital humanities, digital initiatives, and digital curation studies.” Even though MLIS programs focus on metadata and digital collections creation and management, few programs specifically address how these disciplines are applicable to VR management.

We revisited a topic that Jasmine and I had discussed, the MLIS as a companion degree: Deciding on a subject specialty and tailoring MLIS curriculum to that field. Kate hopes to take her targeted education further, with plans to earn a graduate computer science degree. “It would make digital assets management more streamlined and flexible, and help digital preservation practices. It would also open a lot of doors for working with open source programs and developing tools for VR,” because using open source software is often impractical without in-house IT staff to manage it.

On a related note, we discussed how tech-savvy VRA members are, and how capable they are with respect to managing digital collections. Kate says, “It makes me wonder how much VR collaborates with ASIS&T and SAA because they do a lot so much with managing/preserving digital collections. I think there should be more collaboration between professional organizations because there are so many special interest groups focusing on DAM,” but many people are intimidated by working with their digital assets. “That’s where professional development should come in,” Kate says. “I’m a strong advocate for continuing professional development and doing research in the library, but it’s hard with limited budgets and finding a balance between work and life,” which is why she thinks professional organization membership is valuable. “I think it’s really important to be actively participating, maybe not necessarily serving on committees, but showing what you are doing and how you are solving problems because there are others trying to figure out the samethings.” Kate described how the VRA listserv helped her recently while working with IRIS. Through the listserv, Kate was able to connect with a Visual Resources Librarian at MIT. “She took time out of her day to sit with me for an hour just to learn some basics about IRIS. It was tremendously helpful!”

Kate and the LUCAD library are currently making plans for a big move, relocating across the river to Cambridge. “The new library is going to be transformational for us,” Kate says, but it requires a massive overhaul of the collection, including a weeding project scheduled for summer 2014, and a deaccession project for the slide collection among other projects to be executed this summer. The slide collection currently consists of 50,000-60,000 slides, though 80% of the slide collection is in ARTstor. “Right now my team (2 student workers) and I are focusing on new media, graphic design, and illustration. We’re finding a lot of slides that aren’t in ARTstor but I have to be mindful of how much of the slide collection is kept because of limited space (for slides) in the new library. But, like many VR Curators, my goal for the future isn’t so much to focus on slides.”

Kate has the opportunity and challenge to build the program from scratch. “I have a number of projects going on: research and instruction-based, DAM-based, and overall VRC vision- and mission-based.” But, as a relatively new curator, her main goal in her first year is to get to know her community. “I started by revamping the VRC’s digital image research LibGuide: http://research.lesley.edu/artimages. It’s going to be a continuous project (forever evolving) but some areas I’ve focused on building include digital image course specific guides and building a “special topics” in image research page. This is for non-art images because a lot of the questions I get from art students about images are not art based. I’ve also built an ARTstor help guide with some homegrown video tutorials along with a page dedicated to copyright and fair use.” This led us to a discussion about who uses the VRC, and Kate’s answer is that “Faculty, students, and staff do. It’s really great. This semester I have been working one-on-one with an instructor and students for a Fashion and Body Adornment class specifically focused on integrating visual and information literacy into studio art practice. Also, I’ve been addressing the elephants in the room: Google Images and Tumblr.

Another project Kate is working on involves the Fenway Libraries Online consortium (a group of small/medium sized academic libraries) and DAM systems. “We are currently working on a Digital Repository Review, not just for VR but for all library and archive digital collections. This is one area I am very excited about because I have a strong interest and developing experience with managing research data and working with institutional repositories. I have a long term goal to start collecting student at LUCAD to deposit into our future IR. It’s going to take a lot of work since ultimately it’s an institutional effort, but I would love to develop arts research data management services for Lesley.”

Kate believes that VR managers can be leaders in data management across disciplines. “We create and manage materials for digitization and similar concepts cross over for born-digital content. We understand the workflows for proper digital curation. For my final internship at Simmons, I ran a study at UMass Medical School with their Repository Librarian to assess biomedical PhD student research data needs. Along with this experience, library school, working in a VRC, and getting a degree in photography bells were ringing that research data management doesn’t only have a place in eScience. I see VR experts in tune with the repository management side and teaching data literacy skills. We are the ones who should support the visual arts community and developing their data management needs.”

This flexibility and interdisciplinary knowledge base comes from the broad skill set that is required of VR managers. With this in mind, I asked Kate for her advice for students who want to get into VR. “Focusing on digital curation is going to be important, and thinking about how to help faculty and students manage their research or non-research digital collections. And look at the job ads! A lot of the classes I took were based on what jobs wanted, for example, hard skills like XML and XSLT.”

And of course there are the internships: “My work experience at UMD, Tufts, Simmons, and UMass Medical School positioned me to have a lot of experience and projects under my belt to start at a job like the one I have now. I pretty much had no life for 2-3 years, haha.” But knowing where she wanted to be, looking at what current VR curators do as well as reading postings for new VR and digital initiatives positions helped her plan a curriculum. “I knew I wanted a job that would be in a field that’s only going to develop more. I think [MLIS education] is what you make of it. That’s the challenge: Knowing where you want to be.”

Kate will be attending SEI this summer, so be sure to say hello!


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 eliam@buffalo.edu.

VREPS Member Profile: Sarah Gillis

Sarah Gillis is the Assistant Registrar for Image Management at Worcester Art Museum (WAM), a role that encompasses “image manager, photo archivist, digital asset archivist, database administrator, and copyright guru all wrapped up in one position.”

gillisSarah knew she wanted to work in museums but was not sure what path to follow to get there. As she finished up at University of Southern Maine with a B.A. in Art History, she says, “I was in a panic as to what to do next! Museum Studies? Art History?” At the time, she was working at USM’s Department of Art Image Library, first creating records in their FilemakerPro database and then moving on to digitizing. “That was where I was first introduced to the concept/definition of metadata,” she says. “I was honestly shocked when I started working at the VRC that I had this natural affinity for cataloguing and organization. There was a huge light bulb moment where I found my calling!” Noting Sarah’s understanding and enjoyment of working with metadata, her supervisor encouraged her to study archives at Simmons College; she received her M.S. in Digital Archiving/Image Management in 2012.

Although Simmons now offers a Digital Steward Certificate, there was no digital archives track when Sarah attended; instead, she created her own curriculum, finding the traditional archives program too restrictive for her career goals. “I wanted to study proper archival processes,” she says, “but also learn about digital archiving/preservation/stewardship and how the two fuse together for the future.” And although she knew she wanted to work in a museum, she says she is happy she studied library science: “They don’t teach you this stuff in Museum Studies programs if you want to work directly with a collection. There’s a lot of database work expected out of registrars nowadays, and traditional [museum studies] programs focus more on theory and ethics rather than programs and processes to follow.” She added that when she was hired at WAM, “My boss said that he needed a librarian.”

Sarah is currently working on a project with WAM’s collection of 8 x 10 glass negatives of exhibitions at the museum, dating back to 1905. “Glass negatives are my thing,” she says. “The detail is just phenomenal when you digitize them and bring them back to their glory in a new format.” The collection needs re-housing and cataloging, and Sarah wants to digitize the images and publish them in an Open Access format, “so people can experience the digitized exhibition catalog (already done) and see the show as it existed at the time.” One inventive use that Sarah is pursuing for the glass negative collection is populating the media fields in TMS for object records. Some museum objects are not easily accessible for photographing, she says, “so if someone needs images for PR or a publication, I’ll assess the analog rendition to see if it’s suitable. We’re slowly digitizing the collection, but leaning on the amazing old photos is an added perk to continually visually flesh out the collection. There are over 36,000 objects in the permanent collection.” Here is an example for the sculpture “Young Mother” by Bela L. Pratt. “The black-and-white image was a glass plate,” she says, “and the more colored one was an old print that was starting to silver-off.” By digitizing the glass plate collection, Sarah both enhances the collection record and makes people aware of the photo archive.

We switched gears a bit and talked about professional organization membership and participation, which can be expensive and daunting for emerging professionals. Sarah finds the networking aspect of membership invaluable, such as when she was able to contact Greg Reser about embedded metadata questions and received supportive and friendly response. She acknowledged that the museum field has not always been as collaborative as libraries and cited a remark from one of her Simmons professors, Martha Mahard, about LAMs [Libraries, Archives, and Museums]: The M isn’t for show. “It’s our responsibility too to make information retrievable and shareable. I’m passionate about that and try to make tiny steps to making it easier for Ms to stand up to their role.” She continued, “I like that VRA unites people in different fields—libraries, archives, and museums—who all have a common goal. I love being a member of VRA.”

Although she was unable to attend the VRA conference this year, Sarah was funded by the Kress Foundation to attend SEI last year, about which she was unequivocally enthusiastic: “It’s amazing!! It’s students, mid-career professionals, new professionals, all getting up-to-date on the best methods of visual resources. It’s five days of geek-dom.” Sarah also belongs to the New England Museum Association and values these local connections. “What I am doing as an information organization professional at an art museum is, if not unique, then not quite commonplace yet, so there are always lots of questions, and I love being able to strategize and talk it out with people.”

In light of that, we discussed the changes taking place in the VR field: “I feel that there will be more implementation of embedded metadata in workflows, and that there will be an increase in digital archivists’ roles,” she says. “I’m hopeful to see it become more dynamic in its presentation of visual information. With visual informatics, open source discovery resources such as SCALAR and linked open data, we’ll hopefully be burgeoning into a new era of visual information management and organization.” These big concepts and quickly changing roles can be daunting for students who are looking to build their skill sets and gain experience. Sarah’s advice echoes a common recommendation: “If you want to pursue a particular field of study, immerse yourself in it. Internships are the gateway to connections and other opportunities. Employers want to see the skills you have rather than what you studied.” She notes that it is particularly difficult to break into museum work: “It’s a tough gig, and you need to be dedicated to the cause you believe in to get into it.” It’s not all unpaid grunt work, though; we reminisced about how, as an intern, you get to do all the cool projects! “I miss the days of being left alone with a box of photographs. No one to bother me, just the photos to tend to. Now my phone rings constantly….”

Sarah also advocates that students go to one major conference (VRA, ARLIS, SAA, AAM) before graduating. “People notice you and they don’t forget you. Getting involved is so important. Your internship supervisor, fellow conference attendees—these will be your colleagues when you graduate.”


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 eliam@buffalo.edu.

VREPS Member Profile: Jasmine Burns

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_burnsJasmine 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 eliam@buffalo.edu.

VREPS Member Profile: Maggie Murphy

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 eliam@buffalo.edu.

maggieI 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.