Back from ARLIS/NA 2018!

Time is flying by and we’re already past our halfway mark into the residency! I am writing this blog post after coming back from the 46th Annual Conference of the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) in New York City.

During ARLIS/NA, I presented in the following sessions:

Presenting with the fellow residents

In the first session, I presented with the NDSR Art cohort on the progress we’ve made in our residencies. We have very different projects and it was interesting to see the progress the others residents have made at their institutions. We all stressed how collaboration has been crucial to our projects and how developing soft skills, like communication, has been a big part of the residencies. We all agreed that NDSR Art has already helped us grow as professionals.

The NDSR Art crew

Discussing “fugitive” digital platforms

My second session focused on the “fugitive” digital platforms portion of my project. This means that I am exploring attitudes and strategies in libraries towards acquiring, cataloging, and preserving digital platforms for art such as apps, web-based projects, audio and video compositions, relational databases, and even video games. Digital content that is at risk because it is ephemeral.

I presented on the outcomes of the interviews I’ve conducted with the bibliographers, catalogers and acquisitions personnel at Penn and with creators of digital art platforms. The slide below contains some of the challenges to acquiring these types of platforms as identified by the library team:

I also discussed some of my initial findings based on the interviews with creators of digital art platforms.

I had made the assumption that all the content creators would look at preservation in a positive light. However, some of the interviewees, such as Kenneth Goldsmith, creator of ubuweb, stated that he intentionally had no preservation plan for his database. He stressed, “When it’s gone, it’s gone. If you love something, download it. The web is ephemeral.” Even though this was not the overwhelming attitude, it was still an important point.

App-based content has presented some of the most interesting findings.

The two interviewees that created app-based content were early adopters and created native apps during the early 2010s. According to the creator of DailyArt Pro during that time, “everyone was creating apps” and it was seen as a way to “reach people in their pockets,” extending the democratic mission of the internet.

Eight years later though, a certain disillusionment has crept into the app-creators’ world. According to the creator for Art Swipe, “I liked the idea of creating an app… but have realized how limiting that is because Apple [via the Apple Store] has so many rules. In many ways it is not the ideal place for such a project. My experience has been frustrating. While I feel I infiltrated the platform, the reach is limited.”

After talking with the creators of app-based works, I realized that there are many barriers to entry that I didn’t foresee at the beginning. Creators are at the mercy of an app store with changing algorithms that controls discovery. The frustrations presented by the content creators reminded me of the net-neutrality debate. App stores present a model of what a gate-keeping, revenue-oriented model around content looks like. This reality is especially frustrating for creators making free educational content that want more people to access their work. If they could go back, the two interviewees stated they would have created web apps. Even though it’s a small sample population, they are not alone in this sentiment.


The reception towards both of my presentations was very positive. It also proved to be beneficial to discuss my project midway through.

I had initially split my fugitive digital platform research into four themes: creator’s intent, access, discovery, and preservation. However, while talking with my fellow panelists, I realized that legitimacy is another important theme. Content found freely online and via our phone is still regarded with suspicion in library land. “Put it on a libguide” is a regular reply when discussing the inclusion of this content in our catalogs. Is acquisition only meant for material with a price tag? Does quality content only count when it’s found through a paywall? So far, that seems to be the attitude. As a fellow panelist mentioned to me, it is a hardened perspective on what a library is supposed to be.