Friday, 22 April 2011

Conference Review - ARLIS NA and VRA Joint Annual Conference

The second joint conference of the Visual Resources Association and The Art Libraries Society of North America, titled ‘Collaboration: Building Bridges in the 21st Century’, was held this year from 24th-28th March in Minneapolis. I had the opportunity to attend this conference thanks to the generous ‘Kathe Hicks Albrecht Travel Award’ which is presented to a first time attendee. The VRA offers a number of awards every year in various categories and is particularly keen to encourage international delegates. In fact this year saw a marked increase in those attending from abroad with delegates from the UK, Ireland, Australia, and Qatar, to name a few.

There were over 500 delegates in attendance and we had all registered for our events in advance, packing-out our 4 days using the fantastically designed schedule or SCHED, which can still be visited at The conference began on Thursday with practical workshops and tours of the twin cities Minneapolis, and St. Paul. This was a really great way to ease into the conference, by tasting the culture of the cities and getting some useful skills straight away. The workshops and tours were also a great way of getting to know fellow delegates at the start of the conference. I attended the morning workshop Bridging your online content to your users which provided techniques for improving use of the online resource ‘LibGuides’ ( LibGuides is a widely used resource in North America but is in the embryonic stages of introduction to the UK, currently only used by only a handful of universities and colleges, so this was a great opportunity to get a head start with a comparatively new tool. The Architectural Gems of St Paul tour in the afternoon encompassed ‘gems’ such as the astonishing art deco interior of the City Hall, the James J. Hill House and the State Capital building. The tours were very informative and conducted by knowledgeable guides from the Minnesota Historical Society. The first day finished with an opportunity to get dressed up and socialize at the Founders’ Féte Fund-Raising Event which was held at The Gale Mansion.

Friday morning began with a lavish breakfast at the First time attendees and new members breakfast - a friendly introduction to the association and a chance to meet others new to the conference experience. After this the conference sessions began in earnest with back-to-back talks, plenary, panel discussions and meetings, all of which were of an incredibly high standard. One of the highlights of Friday’s sessions was Inside Out: Examining Studio Artists’ Perceptions, Representations, consisting of two stand-out presentations. The first examined the way in which studio based art students use art libraries at different points in their program. After surveying 200 students the speaker, Anna Simon (Indiana University), was able to offer some practical and insightful suggestions on how to enhance artists’ use of our collections. The second presentation by Henry Pisciotta, (Pensylvania State University Libraries) was an original and thought provoking consideration of a selection of artists’ works from 1962 which challenge and critique the traditional role and image of libraries, and fostered some interesting discussions. Friday concluded with a Welcome Party and Ice-breaker, held in the spectacular Herzog & de Meuron extension of the Walker Art Center, which included lots of delicious food and drink, an opportunity to chat with the other delegates and visit the current exhibitions ‘Midnight Party’ and ‘Sol Lewitt: 2D+3D’.

Saturday and Sunday saw more presentations, many of which introduced innovative pedagogical techniques developed by librarians to assist faculty to use collections in teaching and students in learning. Up-and-coming technologies were of course another major theme, but there was also a lot of useful advice on how to better use the tools we are already familiar with. Engaging New Technologies was a fantastic 90 minute, fast-paced example of this, with ten speakers providing and overview of the shift to Web 3.0, and numerous emerging teaching, learning and research tools. Over the whole weekend there were so many events that you couldn’t possibly attend everything of interest to you, nevertheless the conference provided an amazing opportunity to broaden my view of the profession, develop my knowledge base and skills, and network with fellow professionals. I would definitely recommend it to any art librarian or visual resources professional, at any stage in their career.

It is undoubtedly expensive to attend this event but there are a number of bursaries and awards available for students, international delegates, part-time library professionals and those in other categories. Further information can be found on the VRA website:

For information on the 2011 VRA and ARLIS/NA conferences (which will be taking place separately) please visit their websites.
ARLIS/NA website:

Finally a report on the conference, including notes from each of the sessions will be appearing in a forthcoming edition of the VRA bulletin, further information can also be found on the VRA website.

No comments: