You are on page 1of 5

Rafael Baylor LIS 651-01 Assignment 2 11/08/2011

Library Observation and Interview of an Information Professional: Frick Reference Library I chose to observe the Frick Reference Library1 because of my interest in art history. I am currently in the dual degree program at Pratt Institute for Art History and Library Science. My areas of scholarly interest include the art of the French Revolution and, in general, European Art from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Frick Reference Librarys collection covers art objects created between the fourth and mid-twentieth centuries by European and American artists. Their strengths are text and image documents that aid in the identification of artists, attributions, portraits, iconography, technical analysis, and location of works of art and their reproductions.2 I made a request through e-mail for an interview with someone in the reference or conservation department. I received a response in about a day from Suz Massen, Chief of Public Services, saying she would be happy to meet with me. I was pleasantly surprised by the quick response time and that the chief librarian someone who is undoubtedly busy would make some time to meet with me personally. We set an appointment for three in the afternoon and had made a plan to arrive there at noon to observe the library before talking with Ms. Massen. I had not been to the library before and was excited to see how a museum library operated.
1 2

I would like to thank the Frick Reference Library for the time and information they freely provided. http://frick.org/library/index.htm

The library is located in the upper east side of Manhattan on 10 East 71st Street. Finding the general area posed no problems but finding the exact location was a little difficult. I went up and down 71st Street for about five minutes knowing I had the right block but could not find the library. This is primarily because the address numbers on the building are fairly inconspicuous but also due to inadequate signage of the librarys building. The facility is located in a beautiful and large grey building and has a rather small brass sign announcing that the Frick Reference Library is located inside. The aesthetic is rather nice and, since this library functions primarily assist art professionals and postbachelor scholars in their research, I understand that there might not be a need or desire to attract the general public inside. I walked into a small foyer where I announced myself to a receptionist and checked my bag. The Frick is a closed stack collection and so, to deter theft and damage of the librarys objects, the patron is limited to what they are allowed to take into the reading room. I made my way up, by elevator, to the third floor reading room, the only floor the public is allowed to access, and sat in the room. The room contained five long wooden tables that held large reading lamps. There were large windows on the west and north sides of the room and the light emitted through them made the need for these lamps unnecessary at that time of the day. The other patrons varied widely in age and type. Some seemed like professionals with ties and coats while others wore more casual clothing and, others still, wore rather fashionable styles of dress. They all seemed to be focusing their attention onto their tasks and the room itself was rather quiet.

My initial impression of the Frick Reference library was that of a serious research facility. As noted earlier the outside of the building does not call attention to itself, the way public libraries sometime do to attract visitors, because it does not need to. The library is open to the public and, unlike most museum libraries, there is no need to make an appointment; which offers a certain amount of flexibility for the user. However, the library functions for research purposes, meaning their facilities are created to serve the goal of research. To have just anyone walking in to browse (which they cannot do) or read casually disrupts this purpose. In other words, those patrons that need the library know where to find it and those who could be better served by more casual service do not necessary need to enter making any type of large signage irrelevant. This explains the choice to announce the building in a simplistic and aesthetically pleasing manner. This impression that this library has relevance only to the serious art researcher was reaffirmed inside the library. Having to announce oneself, check in bags, limit what one can bring in confirms this air of serious inquiry. If this is the goal of the library than the reading room act as a testament to its success. The room is a place of friendly yet quiet study. I could not pick out a general type of patron by age, gender, clothing, or social-economic means. Rather, the thing they had in common was a focused attention to their individual work broken only when necessary, such as obtaining permission to photograph a page in a book. A strong working knowledge of the Frick catalog, known as FRESCO, is imperative because items need to be brought up by a page; offsite items require one or two

working days to retrieve. This serves to ensure that their collections are protected and filters out the casual patron from their group of users. The interview with Suz Massen was informative on a professional and theoretical level. Ms. Massen is the Chief of Public Services in the Frick Reference Library and is responsible for collection development, patron experience, and education programs in regards to the library. In addition she interacts with other departments in the library like, for example, the digital preservation department; the reading room is the only part open to the public to ensure that these areas are receiving the information they need from the collection. She is also responsible for hiring employees for the reference area. I was excited to know I was to interview someone who plays such a large part in this library. The interview was casual and the flow of the conversation went quite naturally. We discussed what she looks for in a potential employee and the future of the librarian profession. I was surprised to learn about how many applications she receives without the basic information like a cover letter. She wished that degree-granting programs would teach basic job skills. Our conversation changed when we discussed the future of librarianship. She was very optimistic about librarianship in the next ten years and said that one needs to be comfortable with the changing pace of technologies. In regards to public education programs she stressed that failure was a necessary part of the vetting process. It is necessary to be flexible in order to see what can work and what does not and, if a program wants to be innovative, then one needs to proceed knowing that failure is an option. Art librarianship, she commented, is slow to

adapt to newer technologies because there is not this sense of urgency that other areas of study, like science, have in regards to keeping up with the pace of innovations. Ms. Massen was extremely helpful and I left knowing that if there is anything else I needed to follow up she would be happy to respond. She expressed the need to share with the upcoming generation of librarian professionals the knowledge she has gained in her position. I believe the Frick Reference Library is an example of how a good museum library functions with regards to its patrons. Most libraries of this sort require an appointment - which limits the researchers flexibility and creates a stodgy air about the library that may turn away some novice students but the Frick Library allows researchers to come whenever the need arises. However, that does not mean the library is casual in nature, rather, the idea that this is still a serious research facility, not meant for the casual user, persist in the aesthetic and functional aspects of the library.