Winberta Yao Travel Award recipient’s report on the 2015 ARLIS/NA Conference

Thank you, Mountain West Chapter and Travel Award Committee members, for making it possible for me to attend the 2015 conference in Fort Worth. As a solo museum librarian, I seldom have the chance to discuss work with others in my field. This sort of discussion is crucial if we want to keep up to date and provide the best possible professional services to those who use our libraries. I am most grateful for the chance to attend so many excellent sessions, and, even more, for the impromptu discussions in hallways and on lobby sofas. I have come home refreshed with new ideas.

Here are notes on some of the sessions I attended.

What Can I do With This Image? provided concrete practical advice on switching from a model in which publication fees are regarded as a source of income to a more open model. There was also a good deal of buzz about the copyright research tool the Durationator ( It was the subject of a poster session as well. The Durationator aims to be a comprehensive tool for researching copyright information worldwide. My big question remains how (un)affordable this might be for smaller museums and libraries.

The workshop Think Big: Considering Large Scale Digitization stressed the importance of detailed advance planning for large scale digitization projects. There was a helpful group discussion on consortial approaches, and the unique issues these raise. We came away with a good list of available tools to consider, including the Library Digitization Cost Calculator at The discussion group on consortia also offered a look inside the UK project Your Paintings at, which would appear again in the next session. This project of The Public Catalogue Foundation was “to create a complete record of the United Kingdom’s national collection of oil, tempera and acrylic paintings and make this accessible to the public.”

Visualizing the New Frontier: Recent Advances in Image Recognition Technology was a fascinating look at recent advances in and innovative uses of image recognition tools. I made notes of several examples, including the Japanese Woodblock Print Search at, a site where one can upload an image of a Japanese print and discover similar prints in many collections. This is a resource I expect to use in my reference work. Your Paintings was covered in a talk during this session, and was of special interest after what I’d heard during the digitization consortia discussion. I was particularly struck by the nice balances the project has struck: between scholarly and popular use; between automated image recognition and human tagging; and so on. I may write more on this in a future blog post.

Customizing Services to Meet Patron Needs offered ideas about serving groups of patrons who may sometimes be marginalized.

Library Services for Working Artists covered many ways libraries can serve artists directly. This was near and dear to my heart, bringing back happy memories of two public libraries where I counted working artists among our most loyal and fascinating patrons. I remember checking out an audiobook to one sculptor, just a bit of fiction to listen to while working… and then checking out numerous image-laden non-fiction books on a related subject… and finally seeing the sculpture inspired by the books appear on the wall of a local arts center. This is just one example brought to mind by this session.

This Town is Big Enough for All of Us: Managing Assets Across an Organization gave helpful models of collaboration, as did How the Web was Won: Collaborative Approaches to Web Archiving. You may notice that collaborative and consortial approaches were a recurring theme of my conference experience. For a small museum library, cooperation is gold, allowing us to afford resources we could not afford alone, and helping us win grants and other support.

Known Unknowns and Unknown Knowns: Privacy, Secrets, and the Limitations of Archives covered issues ranging from cultural protocols and the need for cultural context to evidence of WWII spies found in the Dunbarton Oaks archives.

Poster sessions provided many interesting ideas for further thought. The sessions by MW members are already on the blog. Some others I really liked were How to Think Like an Artist in the Library (The Artist & The Librarian Project) and a presentation on using Tumblr to increase exposure to and use of special collections. I also find myself wondering if we could use our blog as a place to share more informal “posters” showcasing work we are doing, or ideas we are pursuing. If this is of interest to anyone else, please let me know.

Linked Open Data is an exciting topic, and this session offers a good example of the importance of conference presentations in showing where large organizations are paving the way that those of us in smaller institutions will ultimately follow. I am grateful for the chance to learn from the experiences of those who can afford to be trendsetters.

I also attended the Membership Brunch and Meeting, the MW Chapter Meeting, and the Museum Libraries Division meeting, as well as the Convocation (with a splendid talk by Mari Carmen Ramirez) and the Convocation Reception at the Kimbell Art Museum’s Piano Pavilion. Visiting the Kimball was particularly interesting after having learned about the architecture during the Membership Brunch.

This was a rich conference, so one could not possibly attend everything. It’s nice to know that some sessions were recorded, and will soon be available on the Learning Portal.

In return for the chapter’s generosity in granting me the Winberta Yao Travel Award, I have agreed to serve on the Travel Award Committee. I look forward to congratulating the next award winner, who will attend the Seattle conference in 2016.


Caroline Dechert, Librarian and Archivist, Museum of International Folk Art