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:


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