One of my key takeaways from attending ARLIS/NA was that we librarians from either side of the pond are not so different. I attended feeling unsure of how I, as a bantamweight UK art librarian might stack up against our heavyweight US colleagues, and yes there are definitely differences in how organisations are structured and where ‘librarians’ fit within that, but we face the same challenges and share many of the same aims in what we are looking to build on professionally. However. In one key area we remain poles apart. There is no tea provided at ARLIS/NA. There is no coffee or cake. Forget about lunch, there’s a shopping centre next door for that.
Once this had truly sunk in I realised I would need to maximise my networking potential at the evening receptions. Aside from liking the consumption element of our multitudinous ARLIS/UK refreshments breaks, there is one thing you can be sure will happen when librarians mill around with caffeine, cake and lunch; they will talk and connections will be made.
Thankfully, though, the conference organisers put on a series of fantastic evening receptions; beginning with wine and canapes on the Hilton terrace for international guests and first-time attendees, continuing with a gathering at the New Orleans Museum of Art (featuring the amazing Dr. Michael White’s jazz quartet), and concluding with a fantastic reception at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
I had also booked a place on the tour of the Backstreet Cultural Museum, delivered by its founder Sylvester Francis. The museum was founded to preserve the heritage of African American culture in New Orleans and encompasses collections on the Mardi Gras Indians, the social aid and pleasure clubs and the quintessential jazz funerals. Sylvester introduced us to all of the above, regaling us with tales of the prettiest Big Chiefs from days gone by.
Having elected to stay on a few extra days in order to more seriously contemplate the rigors of art librarianship I was lucky enough to still be in New Orleans when Mardi Gras officially started, on 11 February. This meant taking in the fabulous Krewe de Vieux parade; with political satire and adult themes at the forefront it was an incredibly entertaining event, and remains the only Mardi Gras parade to march through the French Quarter. It felt wonderfully topical as you can imagine. For those of you interested in any more of the non-conference related happenings in NOLA I’ll post up a photo gallery imminently.
In the mean time, I’d like to again express my thanks to those behind the amazing Kress Awards and their selection panel, and encourage any of you out there reading this to consider applying for the ARLIS/NA 2018 conference.
Alexandra Duncan, London College of Fashion/ Central Saint Martins (UAL)