The New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC): Towards Radical Collaboration


Librarians are natural collaborators—we share materials through interlibrary loan, data through cataloging cooperatives, and our subject and technical expertise on numerous listservs and professional committees—but moving beyond these traditional modes of collaboration is challenging. Collaboration is hard because it often requires an institutional shift; it is time-consuming and relies on effective communication, teamwork, consensus-building and a healthy dose of respect. Last week, Brooklyn Museum hosted a discussion on collaboration led by representatives from NYARC to talk about the future of art museum libraries and used the consortium’s activities as an example of how museum libraries are working together. Since the launch of Arcade in January, there has been a lot of buzz in the art libraries community regarding NYARC and this was a good session to demystify who we are (the libraries of the Brooklyn Museum, Frick, MoMA, and the Met), what we are doing (shared catalog aka Arcade and digitization projects) and where we are going (resource sharing, collection development and engage future partners).


Arcade launch party held in the Reading Room of the Frick Art Reference Library, February 24, 2009. From left to right: Ken Soehner, Arthur K Watson Chief Librarian at the Thomas J. Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Milan Hughston, Chief of Library and Museum Archives, Museum of Modern Art; Deirdre Lawrence, Principal Librarian, Brooklyn Museum; and Deborah Kempe, Chief of Collections Management & Access, Frick Art Reference Library.

The event brought a nice mix of graduate students and library professionals together to exchange ideas and ask questions of the panel, which included Ken Soehner (Met), Deborah Kempe (Frick), Milan Hughston (MoMA) and our own Deirdre Lawrence. Some of the key buzz words to come out of the discussion were that we have entered a period of “permanent beta” and “permanent whitewater”. I think these two phrases succinctly characterize today’s current environment given economic realities, the swift pace of technological advances and our users’ expectations of working and producing scholarship in an increasingly more dynamic environment. It is precisely due to the perfect storm of challenges facing us that collaboration is more necessary than ever.

Although I have been working with NYARC for the last few years, what I found really interesting during the discussion is the number of projects and sustained level of collaboration that the group has managed to realize… at times, it is difficult to see the forest for the trees and we need these events to focus on what has been accomplished and what remains to be done (a NYARC website coming soon!). None of us are fooled into thinking that we have achieved anything radical yet, but we certainly have the foundation and potential to make it happen. Stay tuned …