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THROWING THE CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS: Keeping Visual Resources Positions Viable through the Digital Transition

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"THROWING THE CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS: …

"THROWING THE CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS:
Keeping Visual Resources Positions Viable through the Digital Transition" - opening remarks from Karen Kessel, Sonoma State University at VRA 27, San Diego.

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  • 1. THROWING THE CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS: Keeping Visual Resources Positions Viable through the Digital Transition Karen Kessel, Sonoma State University We have conceived our presentation as a sequel to the excellent session put together by our California colleagues in the University of California system, Maureen Burns and Vickie O’Riordan, for the VRA Conference in Baltimore in 2006, entitled, “Damned if We Do and Damned if We Don’t” that addressed the dramatic changes in our daily work. The participants in the 2006 panel made the points that our jobs now involve more participation in policy making as we work with administrators to plan for implementation and maintenance of classroom technology and image delivery systems. This requires leadership, business management, and educational technology skills as well as an understanding and knowledge of specialized software and standardized vocabularies. Digital images, unlike slides, need to be manipulated in order to be utilized. We now help people use the images in addition to finding them. The panel provided the suggestions that we avoid adopting a defensive posture, but instead learn how to help faculty, students and other patrons navigate online resources rather than try to compete with them, and build on our strengths, which are our specialized expertise, our collections that are tailored to our patrons’ needs, a commitment to sharing resources, and our role of providing local service for people’s spontaneous needs and demands. Most of us provide images within varying time constraints: for the user who needs them right now in a lecture, for the next semester, and for general development of collections. As we let go of the tasks of refiling slides, there should be more time to go back to records catalogued hastily and do them
  • 2. right. There may even be time to develop some more creative learning tools to present information more dynamically. The CSU is one of the largest university systems in the country. Since the Visual Resources position has shifted in different directions at several campuses in recent years, we thought that a snapshot of how the position is treated in our system would provide a vista of the future for our profession in higher education. Our example, I think, shows the importance of proving ourselves viable or facing extinction. This week, on the VRA-L discussion list, Greg Reser remarked that the more obstacles we throw at faculty regarding the use and cataloging of our collections, the more likely faculty will resort to finding images on their own. Our title comes from Dustin Wees, who, when we invited him to represent ARTStor on our panel, quoted a friend who suggested that inviting him would be like throwing the cat among the pigeons. For many years the Slide Curator was a fairly stable position in the CSU for those campuses that had this position. In both of the institutions for which I have worked, UNLV in Nevada, and SSU, faculty members with whom I worked claimed responsibility for having created the position 30 years ago in order to free the faculty from spending so much of their time having to find and prepare the images to illustrate their lectures. On campuses where our administrations have not provided support to develop digital image delivery systems, yet have installed projection equipment in the classrooms, faculty are taking it upon themselves to go out and find images themselves, surfing the net and buying their own scanners, thereby putting themselves back in the boat they were in thirty years ago and at the same time obviating our
  • 3. usefulness to them. Where administrations and faculty have supported digital initiatives, we have the opportunity to evolve with the technology. Our panel begins with a summary of the situations on the 13 of 23 campuses that still have Visual Resources Curators, where one curator with 28 years of experience was summarily laid off by her dean with 3 months notice, while at another campus the same position was elevated to the title of Information Technology Consultant at a 50% higher salary than we currently enjoy. Our second speaker, Dustin Wees, the cat of our title (or is he a pigeon in cat’s clothing?) will tell us how he migrated from being an art historian to a slide curator and then to being a pioneer with ARTStor. A representative from Gallery Systems, a company that specializes in designing software for art databases, will demonstrate how some of the skills we learn can evolve into careers if we do not limit ourselves, and alternatively, how those of us who remain in academia can outsource some of our tasks to contractors with computing skills as we are becoming coordinators and designers of image delivery systems. Finally, an education director for a museum will describe how she collaborated with specialists in technology to create innovative tools to describe objects from unfamiliar cultures for the museum audience to help them learn what these objects represent and how they are used. This can be a model for what we can do beyond Power Point presentations to enliven the study of art history in the classroom and the museum. One of the attractions for me twenty-five years ago when I entered this occupation, and I suspect for many others, was the opportunity to organize an independent collection tailored to the specific needs of its clientele. The need to tailor our collections to our users has not changed. It is what still
  • 4. makes us viable. But we no longer have the luxury of being autonomous. We do have the opportunity to tap into a richer realm of resources by making our collections shareable, integrating them with resources like ARTStor, and by exploring new methods of delivering information about the objects we document. Lilla Sweatt, the recently retired Visual Resources Specialist at our San Diego campus, was scheduled to present an overview of the Visual Resources position’s status in the CSU, but she is ill and cannot attend. Malka Helfmann will take her place. Malka Helfmann has been the Visual Resources Curator at the Hayward campus, which is now called CSU East Bay, for 10 years. She completed a Master’s degree at that campus in Multimedia Studies and will complete a MLIS degree at San Jose State University this spring. She will describe the results of a survey that Lilla Sweatt conducted to compare the current duties, description, and job titles of the Visual Resources Specialist positions at each of our 13 campuses that have the position. Dustin Wees is our next speaker. Looking at his resumé, it is no surprise that his career path has led him to ARTStor. He has experience not just in visual resources, but also in teaching art history, lecturing, organizing museum exhibitions, and co-authoring two exhibition catalogs. After teaching art history for four years at Skidmore College, he was the photograph and slide librarian at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute for 26 years, where he supervised five employees. He designed the collection’s first database and then revised its structure to enable the sharing of data with another slide collection and two museum databases. He
  • 5. represented the library in collaborative projects with the Williams College art department, the center for computing, and the Museum of Art. Since the 1990’s Dustin has served on and chaired the VRA’s Data Standards Committee and presented several papers on the committee’s work in developing the Core Categories. In 2000, he coordinated a special project for the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University’s Visual Resources Collection of a half million slides to redesign the collection’s database to make it more accessible and shareable with campus-wide initiatives. Robb Detlefs is the Director of Product Management for Gallery Systems, the company which designed TMS, the Museum System, a database management software which many museums utilize for their collections. They acquired and also distribute Embark, a database program for art images originally tested at our San Jose campus art department. Robb became fascinated by computer programming while majoring in Chinese studies as an undergraduate. His family had a historical consulting business. He developed a program to help keep track of the files, retrieve data, and back up their project files. He also wrote a book on local history. While attending library school, he became involved in the Embark database pilot project at San Jose State with Dr. Kathy Cohen, and eventually went to work with the company that produced it, Digital Arts and Sciences. He will tell you more about his experiences. Sheila Pressley is the Director of Education for the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. She holds a Master’s degree in Art History and has taught upper division classes at San Francisco State University. She has produced
  • 6. gallery guides and training materials for school teachers. She currently supervises twenty-seven different programs to serve museum visitors of all ages, reaching an audience of a quarter million people annually. Her subjects range from American painting to traditional African sculpture, ancient Egyptian art, and Teotihuacan murals of central Mexico. She specializes in interpreting non-Western art. She is active in community arts education projects and groups. She designed the educational spaces and programs for the new Herzog and de Meuron building in Golden Gate Park which opened in 2005. Her Collection Icons multimedia installation received an award from the American Association of Museums. She will describe this project. Sheryl Frisch has been the art department curator at the CSU’s San Luis Obispo campus for 15 years. For several years now the CSU curators have met together at least annually. We collaborated on a shared image database called CIELO. Sheryl is the chair of our group. She coordinates our listserv, organizes our meetings, and serves as liason between the CSU system and the curators. She will provide a response to our other speakers.