2020 ARLIS/NA DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD Acceptance Speech by Deborah Kempe; DSA ceremony held online, May 11, 2021
Hello Everyone out in Virtual ARLIS-Land!
Thank you, Daniel, for those more than generous remarks. I am so moved by this effort of my colleagues and friends to make me the recipient of ARLIS N/A’s highest honor. Of course I wish we could all be gathered together today in Montreal, instead of at our respective dinner tables, desks, or wherever each of you may be. For me, it’s from my living room here in Yonkers, New York, overlooking the Hudson River.
It's been too long since we’ve been able to see each other in person at a conference, but it’s also fortunate that with this virtual conference we are able to forge ahead, include more participants, and continue our connections. And personal connections, ultimately, are what this award is all about, because without my ARLIS/NA relationships, I would not be worthy of this award. So, thank you for this wonderful recognition. It means the world to me. I thank everyone who made this possible, all of you who wrote letters of support (you know who you are!), and especially Daniel Starr and Linda Seckelson and their team, who spent so much effort to shepherd my nomination forward. I also thank the ARLIS/NA Distinguished Service Award Subcommittee, chaired by Sylvia Roberts, and the Executive Board for considering me worthy of the award and approving it.
I know that previous DSA recipients have talked about the trajectory of their careers, and indeed it’s always sort of interesting—to me at least—what leads to people's choices and opportunities, so I’ll share a bit of my own story, although upfront I wish to acknowledge that, in addition to building a solid track record, pure luck and white privilege have played a large part in any success I’ve had. Recognition of the latter is important and I support our society’s active effort to counter injustices and create open opportunities for a more diverse and deserving workforce. I applaud this action and aim to be part of it.
So, how did this girl on a farm in Missouri wind up as this librarian behind a desk at a world-famous museum in New York City?
Honestly, I still myself wonder how this was ever possible. Growing up, the closest public library was seven miles away and was really only a storefront room with books to borrow, but it was a godsend for me and transported me beyond my circumstances, as books do for so many. My mom, bless her heart, encouraged my interest in art. I saved my pocket money to buy my first art book, which was on the work of Andrew Wyeth, and here’s a picture of it. My start as an art librarian.
So, fast forward to college and a major in art history. The faculty at the University of Missouri were outstanding, and I flourished with the coursework, even if I wasn’t sure about going on for a Ph.D. I was positively itching to get out and see the masterpieces I’d been studying, so after my degree I worked as a waitress for a year and then went off to explore Europe with a friend. Upon returning to Columbia, I wanted a clear line to a career involving the arts, did not want to go for a doctorate, and decided that a masters’ library degree would be a good solution, so I marched right into the dean’s office at M.U and talked my way into the program. I’d had the chance to meet the phenomenal art librarian at M.U.: Marcia Reed, who went on to become a curator at the Getty, and therefore I had a great role model for my aspirations to be an art librarian. I was fortunate to be a teaching assistant to Helmut Lehmann-Haupt, a leading rare book historian, but I also T.A.ed for the very first “information science” course offered there. Actually, what seemed at that time an incongruous combination turned out to be a good preparation for my career ahead. My first professional job was as a cataloger in the library of the University of Arkansas. From there I broadened my horizon and was able to secure a grant-funded position as a cataloger at the New-York Historical Society, thanks to the Mellon
Foundation. I made the life-changing move to N.Y.C., and never looked back. Next was a move to New York University for three years, and then to Avery Library at Columbia University, for my first real position as an art and architecture librarian, yay! After ten years there, I was recruited to a management position at the Frick Art Reference Library, where I stayed for an astonishing twenty-five years until last year at my retirement, and wow, did those years go by quickly. I joined ARLIS/NA as soon as I moved to New York and can honestly say that each career move was enabled to some degree by this organization.
I love this year’s conference theme of creativity and collaboration, and if I may be allowed to brag a bit, I often feel that maybe the members of our society have a higher average of both compared to some other groups. Certainly both of these concepts have been key to my own career and I hope they will be for all of yours. It has been my greatest reward to work collaboratively with supremely talented and creative people, including the entrepreneurial team at the Avery Index,
the fabulous leaders of the New York Art Resources Consortium,
and the brilliant and supportive staff and colleagues at The Frick.
But contacts through ARLIS/NA have also been instrumental and just as rewarding, allowing me to learn and grow and be active beyond the immediate concerns of my daily work. I found mentors early on through ARLIS and knew it was important to become a mentor to others in return. Serving on committees and the Executive Board not only helped further the society; it gave me valuable leadership opportunities that ultimately helped me progress in my career. I encourage each of you to take up those challenges. You won’t regret it. Service has its rewards in many ways.
Even when growing up on the farm, I was always interested in the larger world beyond. It must have been all those National Geographic magazines. The desire for a global perspective drove my activity in strengthening international relations for ARLIS/NA. The professional kinships we hold should have no borders, and technology has facilitated easier communications. That said, it takes reaching out to create those common bonds, and now, with the library field seeing some profound reductions and consolidation that affect specialists like us, it is more important than ever to work together globally to support our work. I’m proud of the work I did with ARLIS/NA and its international affiliates to facilitate exchanges both virtual and actual. Working with members of the International Relations Committee over the years to plan study tours and to increase ties with colleagues around the world was tremendous fun.
Bringing in a record number of international participants to the 2013 conference when I was president was one of my proudest moments. Let’s continue to support this important commitment to global concerns.
Now that I’m retired, what remains beyond the memories and milestones are the many good friendships I made through ARLIS/NA. It’s been a great source for kindred spirits and I will always treasure this. At one point I think I personally knew just about every member of ARLIS. This is less the case now, but that’s not a bad thing, because it means our membership base is evolving as new people join. I wish we could all go out now and mingle with a drink in hand and glam it up in the beautiful Montreal spring, but since that’s not possible, I promise I’ll make every effort to see you next year in Chicago for the real thing.
Receiving this award is a wonderful honor for me, and again, I thank everyone involved for making it possible. May ARLIS/NA continue to inspire and nurture those in our profession for many years to come.
Thank you! Merci!
An active member of ARLIS/NA and ARLIS/NA New York, Chantal has been a librarian at Bard Graduate Center in New York City since 2016. She began at Bard as reference and collections librarian and is currently the acquisitions librarian. From 2014-2018, she served as adjunct faculty cataloger and assistant metadata curator at New York University Libraries Knowledge Access and Resource Management Services Department. Following the completion of her degree of master of science in library and information science at Pratt Institute in 2015, she held professional positions in New York at the Museum of Modern Art Library, Morgan Library & Museum, and the Center for Book Arts. While pursuing her master’s degree, she held numerous internships in the city and received two awards from Pratt Institute.
An active member of ARLIS/NA, Lauren has been a librarian at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, since 2016, and was promoted from Assistant Librarian to Librarian in October 2017. She received the M.A., Library and Information Studies with Art Librarianship Emphasis from The iSchool, University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2014.
2018 ARLIS/NA DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD Acceptance Speech by Janis Ekdahl; DSA ceremony held at the Grand Ballroom of The Grand America Hotel, March 28, 2019
Thank you, Chantal, for your lovely introduction. And thank you ARLIS/NA for bestowing this incredible honor on me. To be recognized by one’s peers is truly the best compliment one can receive. I am proud to have my name added to those of past Distinguished Service Award recipients—many of whom I’ve known and worked with during my long career.
Since learning of this award I’ve spent a great deal of time reviewing my career and I have become keenly aware that the accomplishments for which I’m being celebrated today are, in large measure, the result of the generous mentoring, tutoring and professional support I’ve received from a host of ARLIS friends and colleagues. I would like tell you about each of these individuals but, in hopes of getting to the reception on time, I’ll mention only a few as I briefly outline my career.
It all began in 1967, after my junior year of college, when the Topeka Public Library hired me as a summer intern to fill-in for vacationing staff members. I was introduced to the library’s various services by spending time in each department: the bookmobile, the children’s room, the circulation desk, special collections, the reference desk and, finally, the fine arts department. I thoroughly enjoyed all aspectsof the work but most especially my time in fine arts. This is when it occurred to me I might be able to put my undergraduate art history degree to some use if I pursued a Master's degree in Library Science.
Columbia University’s MLS program was my first choice because—one, it was in New York City—and two, it offered a Fine Arts Literature course taught by the librarian of the Museum of Modern Art, Bernard Karpel. This turned out, however, not to be a conventional “literature” course with standard bibliographies, reference books and encyclopedias. Instead, Mr. Karpel casually tossed rare Dada and Futurist manifestos and broadsides onto the table alongside piles of current exhibition announcements and brochures. His point, of course, was that we—librarians—must pay attention the ephemera of today's artworld since it would become ourresponsibility to collect, organize and preserve this elusive material for the future.
In 1971, after two years at the Brooklyn Public Library, I was hired by Vassar College to be their Art Librarian. It seems the art department’s first-choice candidate had decided, at the last minute, to accept another job so—with the semester about to begin—they took a chance with this very young novice. I was panicked, though, when I realized I knew nothing about running a library—let alone, an art library—and I didn’t know anyone who could advise me or show me the ropes!
You can imagine my excitement then, the following year, when I learned about a new organization—the Art Libraries Society of North America. I devoured the organization’s inaugural Newsletterand was thrilled to read that this new group, ARLIS, would be holding a one-day conference at Columbia during the College Art Association meetings in January 1973. I could hardly wait. I was finally going to meet colleagues who would understand my problems and challenges.I still remember how immensely relieved I was that day to confirm that, yes, my problems were not unique; other, more seasoned, librarians faced exactly the same challenges.
Of course, the most consequential outcome of that first ARLIS conference was connecting with a communityof art librarians. I will always remember with great fondness the warm, gracious welcome extended by Bill Walker and Wolfgang Freitag. Both of these distinguished gentlemen treated me as a colleague; they seemed confident I could contribute something of value to ARLIS—even as a novice librarian. Indeed, I soon joined a committee and, in 1976, ran to become the Society’s Treasurer.
An election, I’m happy to report, which I lost to my friend Sherman Clarke!
ARLIS—the larger North American organization and the local New York chapter—became my primary professional association. I relied on the annual conferences and the quarterly Newsletterto regularly re-charge my batteries. And I networked with ARLIS colleagues—near and far—when I needed advice about problems I wasn’t able to solve by myself.
After 10 good years at Vassar, though, I was ready for a change and was thrilled when I was hired by the Museum of Modern Art as Special Collections librarian. Through ARLIS, I already knew Clive Phillpot, the Head Librarian, and Daniel Starr, Chief Cataloger. I had a high regard for them both so the prospect of joining them in the Museum Library to work with curators and scholarly researchers was extremely attractive. I was also eager to return to the City where an exciting contemporary artworld beckoned. My weekends soon included gallery crawls and museum visits–-all of which made for lively discussions in the library the following Monday and, of course, lots of additional ephemerafor MoMA’s artist file!
When Clive departed for London in 1994, the Museum promoted Daniel Starr and me— simultaneously—to the position of Chief Librarian—he for Technical Services, me for Administration. It was an arrangement that could have resulted in a struggle for power but, instead, we each were able to play to our strength. At this juncture, I also became de facto curator of the MoMA Artist Book Collection and found myself newly inspired and energized by interactions with creative book artists.
I have especially fond memories of the Library’s talented, congenial staff—professional and paraprofessional—with whom I had the privilege of working during the years I was at MoMA. There isn’t time to list them all, but a few names will be familiar to this ARLIS audience: Danny Fermon, Eumie Imm, Hikmet Loe, Michael Carter, Abby Bridge, Jenny Tobias, Milan Hughston and, of course, Daniel Starr.
It was also during these years—with the support of the Museum—that I become moredeeply involved in ARLIS—serving on the Executive Board twice—once as Eastern Regional Representative and once as President. In between, there were conferences to plan, committees to chair, and sessions to organize. It was all enormouslyenriching—professionally and personally—but I have to admit the details and timeline of this period are a bit of a blur—a result, no doubt, of burning the candle at both ends.
When I accepted MoMA’s early retirement offer in 2002, the only thing I knew for certain was that I was ready for a change. It was serendipitous, then, when the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts contacted me about a temporary job as the interim Head Librarian. It was fun for me to again work with students and faculty although the academic information landscape had changed radically since my days at Vassar. So, once again, I found myself turning to ARLIS—colleagues, conferences and publications— for guidance and help. After a year I handed over the leadership of the library to Heather Topcik, who continues to ably oversee its steady growth. I, then, switched to a part-time schedule and worked at the BGC for another terrific 14 years—assisting with reference and overseeing collection development—until last August when I retired for a second—and final—time.
I want to close by thanking Liv Valmestad and the Distinguished Service Award Committee for recommending my name to the Executive Board. I also want to extend my deep personal appreciation to Chantal who orchestrated this nomination from start to finish. Chantal managed to locate colleagues from all parts of my long career. And—to those colleagues—I want to express my gratitude for their letters in support of my nomination. It’s been a humblingexperience to read these letters—-remembering the many wonderful ARLIS relationships that have so enriched my professional life.
Finally, though, it is to all of ARLIS—past and present—that I am indebted. The Distinguished Service Award istheperfectcapstone to a fulfilling and satisfying career. I am honored and I thank you.
2017 ARLIS/NA DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD Acceptance Speech by Kathryn Wayne; DSA ceremony held at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, February 28, 2018
In the beginning, I was born at Resurrection Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. I grew up in Bensenville, a suburb near O’Hare airport. My mother was an artist and lay teacher at St. Alexis Catholic school, my father was an electrician and glass blower. In second grade, after my First Holy Communion, I decided to become a nun. The following week, my teacher, Sr. Dominia, went running to my mother’s classroom and said there was a serious issue she needed to discuss. “Your daughter wants to become a nun!” My mother’s face lit up until Sister said “She wants to become a nun and marry the Pope!” As you can see, I set my sights high from the beginning, and way Out of Bounds. Shortly after that, my parents took me to see the movie The Music Man because I loved books and libraries so much. Watching Harold Hill and Marian the Librarian sing and dance in the River City Public Library made it crystal clear--I was definitely going to be a librarian.
But at the same time, I was also confronted with another dilemma—my love of comedy. Anyone from Chicago has, at one point in their life, believed they could be a stand up comic—I went back and forth, struggling with the choice between comedian and librarian until it dawned on me that I could just be…a funny librarian.
In third grade, shocked that none existed, I established the first circulation system for the library in my classroom. After that, the nuns were always sure to use me as a consultant whenever library-related issues arose. Skipping to 7th and 8th grade, I worked in my junior high school library, and, as I was about to enter high school, the librarian, Mr. Gunlaw, suggested I apply at the Helen M. Plum Public Library. Interviewed by the very serious Ms. Roloff, I was excited to be hired as a Page at 14. I shelved books, shifted shelves, processed books, and always made sure the 700s were in perfect order.
At 17, I went to Illinois State University majoring in studio art and museum studies, and minored in library science with a goal to be an art librarian. This is when my nickname “Chuck” was coined as a result of entering a dorm-sponsored talent contest my Freshman year. I performed a stand up comedy routine where I talked to an invisible man named Chuck and won First Place and ice cream for my entire dorm floor. And the next day-- keeping things even--I interviewed with Art Librarian Steve Meckstroth who hired me to work in the art section of Milner Library. An inspiring mentor, he introduced me to ARLIS/NA and communicated the importance of connecting to others interested in the field of art librarianship.
At 23, I received my Masters in Library Science from the University of Arizona and was fortunate enough to obtain my first professional position as the Head Librarian at the College of Architecture Library. Ten years later, I assumed the position of Architecture/ Landscape Architecture Librarian at the University of California Berkeley, and then worked as Fine Arts Librarian and Head of the Art History/Classics Library for 19 years until my retirement in 2016. I loved every single minute of my 38-year professional career. What a luxury it was to be able to work in an academic library every single day, surrounded by students and faculty –in a stimulating, challenging, and gratifying environment.
I want to thank Gregg Most for spearheading this effort, along with other colleagues who supported my nomination – Andy Cahan, Jane Carlin, Lamia Doumato, Holly Hathaway, Milan Hughston, Debbie Kempe, Sheila Klos, Professor Margaretta Lovell, mentees Barbara Rominski and Alex Watkins–and several of my colleagues in the Northern California Chapter, led by Abby Bridge. Throughout the years, all of you have made an enormous impact on my professional career. I enjoyed every collaboration I had with you and I thank you for your advice, trust, patience, and help with achieving my goals. I’d like to thank all of the many colleagues I’ve worked with in ARLIS/NA over several decades—there are too many to name but you all know who you are and know how appreciative I am to have had the honor of working with you.
I would also like to thank the many art publishers and antiquarian book dealers that have supported our members and conferences for so many years—I have learned so much from you and the Fine Arts Collections at Berkeley are stronger because of that relationship. Finally, my accomplishments could not have been realized without the encouragement of my supervisors, the unending patience of my staff, the unconditional love and support of both of my parents, and my husband, Gary Nelson.
I would also like to thank Awards Committee Chair, Karyn Hinkle and Distinguished Service Award Committee Chair, Rachel Resnick and their committees for their tireless efforts and recommendation for my nomination. And, to theARLIS/NA Executive Board for its final approval.
I am greatly humbled and honored to accept the Distinguished Service Award, however, most of my goals were accomplished through collaborations with my librarian colleagues, publishers, students, faculty, architects, and artists. So, I share this award with all of you and encourage you to find a potential collaborator that may lead to an exciting new achievement in your own career. Consider putting your name forward to be a Chapter Chair, Committee Chair, or to serve on the Executive Board. I can assure you that experience will be life changing.
And before I ride into the sunset, a quote from Coco Chanel “if you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing.”
This award means so much to me. Thank you.
2019 ARLIS/NA DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD Acceptance Speech by Milan Hughston; DSA ceremony held online, April 22, 2020
Thank you, Mark, for that wonderful introduction, and to Carole Ann & Jon for helping you put the nomination together. And I also send my warm thanks to Maria Oldal and Laura Schwartz for coordinating the nomination, and to all of those who wrote in support of it. I am deeply honored and touched to be receiving this award.
The fact that my comments are being delivered virtually rather than at the conference doesn’t diminish the joy I have in being this year’s recipient, and it has given me a chance to reflect back on my 40-plus years as an art information professional.
ARLIS has been an important part of my life, both professionally and personally, since I entered the profession in the late 70s.
As we all know, there are no strangers in ARLIS; once you join you just become a new member of the family. ARLIS played key roles in both of the institutions I was lucky enough to work in during the last 40 or so years.
First, as a librarian in Fort Worth at the Amon Carter Museum, both the state chapter and the national organization provided a kind of lifeline to those of us in smaller institutions which were spread out across a wide geographical region. And even though the Texas chapter has always been one of the more active ones, that sense of belonging made one realize that no, you’re not crazy when a director or curator does something you don’t agree with. The annual meetings, especially in the pre-internet days, were essential in learning and sharing what we all did in good and bad times.
When I accepted the job at MoMA over 20 years ago, many people said “Aren’t you nervous about moving to New York?” My reply was “not at all” since ARLIS had already given me the opportunity to meet and engage with librarians from MoMA, the Met, the Frick, Columbia—all who I knew would help ease the transition to the City both professionally and personally—they are dear friends for life. I will always be grateful to ARLIS for that.
I have had the good fortune in both my jobs to be able to work with outstanding people to promote the collections and missions of the library within the institutions’ missions. Therefore it seemed natural to turn those efforts into raising money to promote ARLIS as the most logical organization that supports all we do at the local level. Frankly, it was not always that hard, since our legacy donors and the ones we approached on the local level for conference support always had deep respect for the librarians, archivists, and visual resource curators who are members of ARLIS. And besides that, it was fun!
If there is some joy missing in our lives right now, I urge you to take solace in the fact that what we do as art information professionals is a service, indeed a ‘distinguished service’, and there is nothing more satisfying than providing help to people who need information. That’s always been true, and always will be. I know you join me in being proud of what we do for the world, even if it’s a small corner of it, in good times and bad.
My father liked to say: “Never back up if you can move forward”—a very appropriate adage for someone who sold automobile insurance. But I have found it useful to think about during my career, and applicable today: I can’t wait to see how we all move forward.
Many thanks to you all, keep sane and healthy, and I look forward to seeing you in Montreal.