Diversity in Art Libraries

By aguzmanb

For the observation post I decided to do something a bit different. I will be speaking of three libraries, all focused on art. I will not only speak of public libraries but also private (an internal library) focusing on the diversity of the employees and clients of customers. From here on, I will refer to myself as the author.

Gagosian Gallery (Private gallery)

The Gagosian Gallery has a growing private library – of approximately 3,000 books, not including the approx. 560 books in the private library of Larry Gagosian, the owner, and the approx. 1,000 auction houses catalogs, dating back to 1989 – for its employees, mainly in its 980 Madison and 555 West locations. Currently, the author is one of the two library interns that work under the supervising librarian. The Gagosian library services the professional staff of the company with art history, museum and private collection books for research for current and future – up to a year in the future – exhibitions and publications. Additionally, the interns can utilize the books in-house for university research or assignments given to them by the staff. In short, the Gagosian in general is not  a very diverse company. Since the staff – and interns – are 95% white and of money, the lack of diversity is very apparent. There are some people of color: the security staff is all black, two of the staff are Hispanic and the two library interns are of color – one black and the author, a Hispanic. There is no one of visible disability and few gay men, which seems to be a norm in the art world. The author spoke to some of the staff about the huge disparity in economic and race of the company and got answers like: “it’s always been this way” or “I never noticed, I don’t see color or care how many money people have.” One of the employees went as far to say, “it is better this way, there’s no reason to change if it works. I mean, if it’s not broken why fix it?” So this is what it is like to be ignorant to the lack of diversity in a workplace… Like Vinopal says, effectiveness of bias awareness interventions is the first step to developing insight into how implicit biases affect negative workplace behavior. But, if most think this way and no one is willing to do anything different, who is going to be the person doing the intervention? It can’t be an intern because they are there to “learn,” not give inputs about how things are run. This has got to be one of the most frustrating things in the business.

(This library was chosen because it is a place representative of the gallery world, a once attractive world to the author. This study was specifically about the Gagosian 980 Madison location)

Frick Art Reference Library (Public with membership)

The Frick Art Reference Library is a must for research in the art community of New York City; hence, the author felt she must speak of it. Let’s begin with the staff itself. The woman who does the check in of bags and coats was of color, not sure if black or hispanic. However, the rest of the staff appeared to be white. What was very noticeable was the age of the staff, many being young – at least front-of-the-house. The people who came to visit also seem to be young, and there specifically for research and not for pleasure. It appears that this library is mainly used by students and scholars since the author did not see that many older people come and go. Not much stood out and so there is not much to say.

Thomas J. Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public with membership)

The Thomas J. Watson Library is, as the Met itself, a prestigious institution with great research resources. The library services not only the public but the staff and volunteers of the museum. The Watson Library is a closed stack (non-browsing) and non-circulating collection devoted primarily to art history. Hence, the author had to request books in advance to be able to sit in and observe the staff and visitors. There is a different library on site, the Nolen Library, for researchers who would prefer to use a browsing collection – which the author found out about after the visit. However, the Watson has a collection used by other museums, galleries and school, which is why it was chosen. The day chosen for a visit seemed to be a particularly slow day, however, the staff seemed more diverse than the others visited. The library had  a staff full of different races, sex orientation and gender identity. It was pleasantly surprising. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, however, is a highly regarded institution that has been actively working to create and appeal to a diverse community so it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. It has an initiative that aims “to create ongoing relationships with the many diverse communities that make up New York, to diversify Museum visitorship and Membership, and to increase participation in Museum activities” – which truly shows even in the staff. Of course, it mainly employs people of the white race but it is definitely going in the right direction. This library, and institution, gave the author hope that change is happening – at least in larger institutions.

Vinopal in her article expresses, “we are starkly lacking in diversity based on race and ethnicity (we are overwhelmingly white), age (librarianship is an aging profession), disability, economic status, educational background, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other demographic and identity markers of difference.” And how right she is. Even though the author is a hispanic woman of color, she never really paid attention to the disparity of the art world, including libraries. Vinopal gives a few ideas for LEADERS to ponder over and create change in her article, but real change seems ions away. It is upsetting to notice that there isn’t a very diverse group of people working or visiting art libraries. We shouldn’t have to think of diverse groups by race, sexual orientation or disability, etc., but when most people you encounter are white, it is hard not to.

Vinopal. J. (2016). “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action.” Lead Pipe. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity/

The Metropolitan Museum’s Multicultural Audience Development Initiative:


Preserving Your Digital Life

By aguzmanb

In class we mention Facebook, Twitter or any of the other – what feels like – million social media platforms and how it is information, or does creating a post make you an information laborer, etc. This got me thinking about how when we grew up, or when our parents grew up, we had photo or music albums or videos, maybe letters from our friends or families, and those are safe somewhere in your home. But nowadays most of our lives are online, in the million of social media platforms. So i decided to look for a webinar in preserving these precious memories we save online. I found one in the American Library Association website! It is literally called Preserving Your Digital Life, first aired on April 28 of this year – they have an archive of their webinars, link is below.

The webinar is described as “Our stories as individuals and as members of a community are preserved in each of our homes … —not just in libraries, archives, and museums. … The ability to easily create audio and video recordings leads to deep and rich documentation of events that may be personally important … Preserving these narratives for our families and for future generations means considering how we create the files and how we store them.” It sounded perfect to me! I’ll get to learn how to preserve my memories, and it’ll be simple enough where I can share with my parents and they can do it at home. Once I started watching, I realize this is more for someone who wants to preserve their memories because they may be important in a local or national significance, not for the average person. I’ll comment more on this as I go through the webinar.

The speakers of the webinar were Krista White – Digital Humanities Librarian – and Isaiah Beard – Digital Data Curator – both from Rutgers University. The intention of the lecture is to preserve audio and video files that document our personal and community’s “digital lives.” One of the first things they went over that I didn’t expect – though why didn’t I? – was that we should digitize the photographs, films or other objects that are forgotten but important to us. It is important for us to remember, while digitizing our lives, that certain electronics and softwares become outdated. Hence, the files you are trying to preserve may be lost forever. [This is one of the biggest problems New Media conservation in the art world has to daily deal with.] The best way to figure out which files or works you may want to preserve is to think: how will I feel if this picture, movie or sound recording goes away and I can never get it back? This is something they brought up that I never really thought about – again, why didn’t I? It is something we should keep in mind as you weave through your collection.

I really appreciated the speakers sharing the preservation terminology for those who are not familiar since they may encounter them when going through the settings of the app or software you end up using. Other than sampling rate, I was familiar with all of the terms, whether through art preservation or just life. The continued to break things down by explaining metadata, what it is and how we can use it. As someone new to library science, I appreciated the explanation – it was like Metadata for Dummies. They mainly focused on descriptive metadata – it connects objects to each other, i.e. a birthday video with the birthday photos, – technical metadata – the how and when we create something, – and rights metadata – who has the copyright, and who can do what with the object. For personal use we don’t need to worry too much about copyright but people in cultural institutions do. Then the webinar went into the different file formats and the preservation standards of sound and video. The speakers also shared where to find the guides for such standards, i.e. the Library of Congress, and the National Recording Preservation Board, etc. Storage devices were also gone over. They encouraged for everybody to have three copies of your data, two different storage formats and one backup copy offsite. This I found very extreme for someone just trying to preserve your memories. I personally save my files – photos, videos and documents – on a hard drive or the cloud and on the computer, which seems to be more than enough.

The speakers went into the steps you should take if you are considering preserving and digitizing your files: inventory, device and app evaluation, file formats, create metadata, and data integrity. An important thing to remember – which they stressed multiple times – is to keep the files as unedited and unmodified as possible. Also, to make sure the object is not connected to only one software, i.e. only works on a Mac or on a PC, or an old software on a PC, etc., because it’ll be really hard, if not impossible, to access the content.

The lecture was presented as “primarily intended for individuals, but will also be of interest to local historical societies and other cultural heritage groups.” I believe it should’ve been presented the other way. Although, this was an interesting webinar that will definitely come in handy in the future in terms of my career – if I decided to get into digital humanities or digitization of rare books – however, I believe the steps shown are a bit extreme for personal use. This is of course, unless you believe your family will be – or is – very important locally or nationally and this information may be subject to a study or these files will be donated to a cultural institution. This webinar can be seen as an introduction into a career in library science, information science or preservation since it does go into enough depth to wet your whistle.

Any quotations within the text were taken from the website or from one of the speakers.




Cultural Sensibility in Cultural Institutions

By aguzmanb

Cultural Anthropology in the United States has been plagued by ethical dilemmas from the country’s infancy. From creating ethically questionable projects such as Project Camelot and Project Cambridge – where American scholars were, under the name of anthropology, acting as spies for the US government – to displaying the rituals of other cultures in museums and special collections in libraries – remember that providing a sufficient cultural context in a museum cabinet is difficult, if not impossible. The PERC (Program for Ethnographic Research & Community Studies) article got me thinking about ethics and how they are applied in museums and special collections in libraries regarding cultural anthropology. Here I want to talk about the ethical fine line that is often crossed by museums and what some of them are doing to fix it. There is no doubt that there have been, and will continue to be, huge benefits in having certain artifacts and human remains available to study. Research using museum and library collections have been able to advance knowledge of the development of humans and the society, the history disease and religion, etc. “Display of human remains, both physically within museum galleries and online, is an important part of sharing this information to the widest possible audience. This not only spreads knowledge but may also help to generate enthusiasm for learning about our past; hopefully for the benefit of future generations. Of course, display should be done with careful thought. There is no justification for the voyeuristic display of human remains simply as objects of morbid curiosity.” This, of course, also applies to artifacts of civilizations that still exists, i.e. Native American artifacts.

The benefits of research however, must be set against the feelings of communities with strong connections to some of the artifacts and remains within museum and library collections. In recent decades there has been a growing concern in addressing ethical issues in museums and libraries as its workers have developed a cultural sensitivity and a social responsiveness to a degree unseen before. Most codes of ethics urge museums and libraries to give appropriate consideration to represented groups or beliefs. We need to know, understand and recognize the differences in cultures and seek consultation with others when caring for culturally sensitive material. Something that may seem appropriate to a “non-tribal” institution – such as a public Library – to make available to the public, may not be the case. Decisions about what to exhibit in the museum or library or what to publicize in digital collections, and the means of presentation, space, language, and so on, are critical considering it will influence the public’s perception in many ways. As curators, archivists or special collections librarians, our main responsibility, in my humble opinion, is to the culture you are presenting to the public as it may be an incorrect one – or even a disrespectful one.

One of the cases I read in conjunction to this article was a very simple one that ended with no complications – and as we know, it doesn’t always end this way. The case involves what  the best practices for culturally sensitive material held by a non-tribal institution may be in a specific situation. The Head of Special Collections and Archives of the Eli M. Oboler Library (part of Idaho State University) worked with one of its interns to identify culturally sensitive images. Once found, they felt it was necessary and proper to remove the funerary and ritualistic images of the Fort Hall Tribal – Native Americans of the area – from the digital collection until members of the aforementioned tribe were consulted. These images were taken in the late 1920s and clearly showed the sacred ceremony of the Sun Dance, a ceremony that we know is private, and a funeral of a person dressed in full regalia, thought to be a Chief. These images were retained and published prior to the arrival of the current Head of Special Collections and were paid no mind until this project in 2013. The consultation with the appropriate members of Fort Hall ended in a mutually beneficial agreement: the images in question are to be restricted to the public. The Fort Hall Tribe would also be provided with a digital copy of the other images pertaining to the tribe and, in return, the Fort Hall Tribal Archivist and the Ancestral Researcher agreed to identify the photographs and provide the information to the Head of Special Collections at ISU. Both parties were still working on this particular collection last year, but by the Head of Special Collections reaching out to the tribe, the institution has opened the door for potential future collaboration.

All collections come with some level of responsibility, and, when working with objects and human remains, cultural sensitivity should be one of the most important things we are aware of. The effects of collecting on indigenous people can be devastating to its religion, its  spirituality, and its culture. The removal of sacred pieces, for example, belittles indigenous religion. The museum or library who holds a culturally sensitive collection must make sure it is not culturally inaccurate and religiously offensive. If the institution is currently holding a questionable object, it must work to resolve the issue it may arise, as it is our responsibility.


PERCS: The Program for Ethnographic Research & Community Studies. “The ethics of fieldwork.” Elon University. http://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/org/percs/EthicsModuleforWeb.pdf

Fletcher, Alexandra. “In Respect of the Dead: Human Remains in the British Museum.” The British Museum. N.p., 12 June 2014. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

Ryan, Ellen M. “Identifying Culturally Sensitive American Indian Material in a Non-tribal Institution.” Case Studies in Archival Ethics (2014): n. pag. Print.


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