Special Issues in Art Librarianship: Developing Critical/Decolonial Praxis

Curator: Sam Regal, CalRBS Project Manager

Course Summary:

CalRBS Curated Course Special Issues in Art Librarianship: Developing Critical/Decolonial Praxis will be led by a series of art library, conservation, and related practitioners invested in antiracist praxis and critical approaches to the profession. Each instructor will leads a day-long session in their particular professional area.

The CalRBS Curated Courses welcome a range of speakers in one subject area. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about the course topic from a variety of expert professional perspectives.

Instructors and instructional session abstracts:

Simone Fujita (Getty Research Institute) – Critical and Creative Approaches to Collection Development


As library workers and patrons, we often take for granted that libraries will have ample print and e-resources to support research on every subject while in reality, this is often not the case. Due to factors such as the long shadow of white supremacy, the historic erasure and exclusion of BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities, and the lack of diversity within the LIS profession, many institutions are still struggling to build more equitable collections which represent the populations they serve. This session will push participants to deeply consider which voices we choose to include in our library collections while exploring creative, critical approaches to serving historically marginalized communities through collection development.

Drawing on her own expertise in the field, the instructor will candidly share challenges and strategies for thoughtfully expanding collection development efforts, approaching issues of equity in collection development through an intentional and actively antiracist (rather than passively neutral) lens. This course will celebrate the inspiring contributions of BIPOC and queer librarians, past and present, who have fought for the inclusion of underrepresented voices and histories. Additionally, guest speakers will join the class to contribute their expertise and share their visions for creating collections that engage their communities and expand access to lesser represented but important materials.

Kit Messick (Getty Research Institute) – Moi Égal à Toi : Inclusive Description in Art-Based Special Collections


Participants will be introduced to the activities of the Anti-Racist Description Working Group at the Getty Research Institute, will discuss the principles of inclusive description for special collections materials and the particular challenges in applying this work to art- and art history-based collections, and will learn strategies for scalable implementation of inclusive description and retrospective metadata review at their home institutions.

Participants will need a laptop for this session.

Lylliam Posadas (Autry Museum) – Repatriation in Practice: Confronting Institutional Histories and Designing Systemic Change


The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 established a process for museums to return cultural items to Native American tribes. After more than 30 years, there have been many successful repatriations, though significant challenges remain. Institutional bureaucracies, systemic inequities, logistical challenges, and the complexities of historical collections are among some of the hurdles repatriation practitioners and tribal representatives continue to face. 

Museum practices continue to be shaped by the relationships between museums and Indigenous communities that developed as a result of repatriation efforts. This session will focus on the practical implementation of NAGPRA within museums and the influence repatriation has had on building awareness of injustice and changing how cultural materials, archives, and digital content are managed and cared for. It will include an overview of NAGPRA and other relevant legislation, protocols, and guidelines. Institutional structures, histories, and the challenges of researching early anthropological collections, with an emphasis on California, will be reviewed. The importance of working interdepartmentally and of maintaining collaborative relationships with colleagues and tribal representatives will be highlighted. Discussion will consider issues of access and accessibility. Contemporary efforts to address inequities, gaps in professional training, and efforts to develop new models will also be discussed.

Participants are encouraged to read the recommended material for this session beforehand.

Hailey Loman (LACA) – Determining an Artist Archive


An artist’s ability to shape their own archive allows them to be in control of how their work is historicized or remembered. By using a collaborative role in archiving artistic materials, we can negate larger institutional agendas and frameworks of preservation. Determining an Artist Archive explores collaborative archival methods from both theoretical and practical bases. Attendees will gain skills and methods to integrate artistic methodologies into archiving.

The Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (LACA), an artist archive and artist book library, will be used as a case study in the duration of this course. LACA works closely with contributing artists, requiring donors to play an active role in determining what they find valuable enough to donate to the collection. Artists determine their own descriptive meta-data and shape their finding aids and the tagging of their object donations. This approach is not devoid of its own contradictions, which is a topic that this course will contemplate at length. We will also explore ephemeral art practices such as performance, land art, and temporal sculptures and how LACA works alongside artists to discover the best methods to index such “mediums.” Last, this class will introduce participants to debates that situate the archive within a broader political frame. How can art help facilitate entry points into knowledge-building for antiracist, antisexist, antihomophobic, class-conscious work. Can art archives focus on social justice issues and still center art? How can art help tell stories?

Participants will:

  1. Critically analyze various community library and nonprofit governance systems.
  2. Develop an art vocabulary list by examining various standards in contrast to the realities
    of an ever-changing language that shapes contemporary art.
  3. Design an artist contract and a certificate of authenticity and be able to discuss how these
    function in the art archive.
  4. Analyze various reappraisal methods and how an art archive plays a unique role in the art
  5. Make informed decisions on digitizing materials for content versus methods for digitizing
    an artwork. (For instance, we will ask each other the following: When the archivist
    stitches together an artwork does this make the archivist an author of the artwork as
  6. Discuss ways in which archiving art can potentially be performative and part of the
    artist’s practice.
  7. Participants will learn hands-on methods such as experimental approaches to gathering
    meta-data, assess value, tag objects, and develop an archival workflow for artists who
  8. Discuss case studies that draw attention to the limits of art preservation, thereby raising
    ethical concerns around its implementation. (For example, what is the best method for
    slowing down eroding art? What if the intention of the artist was for the material to not
    last? Does an artist’s wish take precedence over the archivists duty to protect materials in
    the archive? How can archive’s work with artists collaboratively to best care for
    conceptual items?)

Dan McCleary (Art Division)

Libraries store books, that much is agreed upon. But different libraries can serve different purposes. They can function as “cornerstones of civilization” (British Library, Bibliotheca Alexandrina) or reflect the idiosyncrasies of their founders (Tiny Free Libraries, Weapon of Mass Instruction). Artists’ libraries can also serve as a work of art (Edmund de Waal’s Library of Exile) or as a resource to a community (Theaster Gates’s Stony Island Arts Bank). 

Artist Dan McCleary created the library at Art Division, the art center he founded in 2010, as one of the latter. Inspired by IAGO, the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca, that artist Francisco Toledo (1940-2019) established in 1988, McCleary says, “I believe that looking at art and at images of art can change our lives. Something inexpressible happens to us when we fall in love with an image of a painting or a photograph. I have experienced that feeling time and time again—sometimes as much from seeing an image in a book as from seeing the actual work in person. Sometimes, in fact, my relationship with an image in a book is more intense because it is incredibly intimate. I can engage with the image, one-on-one, interrupted by no one and nothing…. It surprised me that books in a library absorb sound. I treasure the silence the library provides.”

During this course, we will discuss the varied roles of libraries in under-represented communities, the job of a librarian to curate the material within, and how to recreate such community art libraries using Art Division’s newly developed “tool box.” I will disseminate readings and facilitate discussions. We will visit the Art Division library at 2418 W. 6th Street, just off of MacArthur Park.