bibliographic instruction for museum docents: the role of the museum library in museum education


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  • BIBLIOGRAPHIC INSTRUCTION FOR MUSEUM DOCENTS: THE ROLE OF THE MUSEUM LIBRARYIN MUSEUM EDUCATIONAuthor(s): Laurie ReeseSource: Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, Vol. 5,No. 4 (Winter 1986), pp. 153-155Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Art Libraries Society of NorthAmericaStable URL: .Accessed: 11/06/2014 03:45

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  • Art Documentation, Winter, 1986 153

    port their efforts to encourage student attendance. They enjoy bringing visitors to the library who are made to feel welcome, and this projects a positive image of the institu tion. Also, the project provides a non-routine task and a challenge for a resourceful staff member. Our staff who routinely attend lectures also found them to yield, beyond the stimulation of the presentation, collection development input and recognition as a peer by faculty and teaching assistants. This visibility of library staff is strongly encour aged by the library administration, which has been recep tive to the benefits of the new exhibition program.

    In such a short time, this collaborative activity has be come such an integral part of our services that I cannot conceive of its being discontinued. In spite of Coswell's claim that library exhibits are labor intensive and time con suming,7 for us, the returns are high for minimal prepara tion and staff time.

    There is no doubt that an administration less concerned with maintaining consistency of service throughout the li brary system would enable a librarian to develop more client-centered services. The instances listed above illus trate how branch librarians who are sensitive to the special nature of their patron community can initiate services

    which originate from an evaluation of the particular user population, its expressed or implicit needs, and respond to faculty input. None of these services represents a major expense, merely an alertness to using available resources to their full extent.

    The location of the branch library near the studio and classrooms assimilates the librarian and library staff into the climate of creative activity. Physical distance from the main library, although it may hamper communication, also enables the librarian to assume a different perspective on the services needed in the branch environment. ACRL's fifth standard for college libraries could alone justify the ser vices outlined here: "The library shall establish and main tain a range and quality of services that will promote the academic program of the institution and encourage optimal library use."8 The need to present, rationalize and defend proposed service changes to the library administration may place the branch librarian in a precarious position at times, and a strong conviction is needed to take the steps which will secure administrative approval. This conviction has to stem from a secure assessment of one's professional val ues, standards and philosophy. "Taking time to become conscious of what we believe and value about our work can give us the vision and the strength to render effective ser vice and create a social context that promotes the ideals we hold for our particular library."9

    Micheline Nilsen University of Pennsylvania

    (formerly Montana State University)

    FOOTNOTES ""Philip Pacey, "How Art Students Use Libraries," in A Reader in Art Librarian

    ship, ed. by Philip Pacey (New York: K. G. Saur, 1985), p. 53. 2|bid., p. 54.

    3|bid., p. 54

    ?Ibid., p. 54.

    5Lucy S. Caswell, "Building Strategy for Academic Library Exhibits," College and Research Libraries News 46:4 (April 1985): 165-68. 6Jane Kemp, "Creating Exhibits in the Smaller Academic Library," College and Research Libraries News 46:7 (July

    - August 1985): 344-46.

    7Caswell, op. cit., p. 165. 8Association of College and Research Libraries. College Library Standards Committee, College and Research Libraries News 47:3 (March 1986): 189

    - 200. 9Michael O. Engle, "Librarianship as Calling: The Philosophy of College Librarianship," The Journal of Academic Librarianship 12:1 (March 1986): 30-32.


    As information specialists, museum librarians anticipate and respond to the needs of individual user groups and promote learning within the museum. Their libraries have the potential to serve gli members of the museum staff involved with exhibition preparation and interpretation. Mu seums communicate information to visitors, and museum libraries communicate information to those representatives

    who go, in one way or another, before the public. This paper analyzes the informational needs of one such

    group of these representatives, the docents, and calls for the establishment of programs of bibliographic instruction by museum librarians in response to these needs. Imple mentation of such programs focuses on what docents need to know and what information they need to find rather than on determining what they do or do not know about locating information in libraries. The paper is concerned not only

    with what docents do, but with how they prepare to do what they do, and what role the museum library plays in this preparation. It is not a survey of current practices of museum library-docent activities across the country. Rather, it is a thought piece. It considers the museum li brary's relationship to the overall educational mission of the museum by investigating docent interaction with the museum library. What are the informational needs of do cents? What instructional strategies are most effective for docents in a museum library setting?


    Use of the museum library by non-curational personnel is a topic that receives little attention in either library or mu seum literature.1 Nor is there precedent for considering a museum library's role in bibliographic instruction for mu seum staff.2 Museum education research into the function and training of docents has failed to consider library use and the research activities of docents,3 or to argue that library training and the efficient searching of information

    are necessary to a docent's performance.4 Docents are all but absent from guides to the literature of art.5 When museum librarians undertake a literature review of instructional programs, they will come upon one important

    work, User Education in Art and Design: Theory into Practice, edited by Mike Avann and Kath Wood, which describes in structional services art librarians offer to a variety of user groups, such as architecture students and students of fash ion design.6 They will find articles dealing with academic libraries and their users, from chemistry and engineering students, to those of law, business, and medicine, but they will find they lack a model on which to develop unique

    instructional programs for their own users. Articles that go on at great length about the importance

    of museum education often fail to include even the briefest mention of the museum library.7 The time has come to remedy such an omission and broadcast the special ser vices we art librarians provide to our diverse user popula tions. The time has come to make explicit such important connections as that between the museum library and mu seum education, an issue which affects the larger consid eration of how the communication of information flows throughout a museum.

    THE INFORMATIONAL NEEDS OF DOCENTS Booth, Krockover, and Woods define a docent as an "inte

    gral part" of a museum's function. By sharing information, by functioning as teacher, facilitator, and interpreter, the docent attempts to make a particular exhibit more mean ingful to museum visitors.8 An important part of the do

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  • 154 Art Documentation, Winter, 1986

    cent's role is "to help the visitor critically examine and ana lyze museum objects and exhibitions for information."9 But

    where do docents go for information? How are they taught to evaluate works of art? How do they encourage museum visitors to evaluate objects in a museum's collection? How do they sharpen their own observational and analytical skills?

    Docents work with art; they also work with people. Their information needs fall into two categories: factual and in terpersonal. They need