In October 2021, Watson Library was awarded a grant as part of the National Endowment for the Humanities American Rescue Plan: Humanities Organizations program to fund a yearlong project to assess, expand, and promote access to the library’s collection of publications by and about Indigenous American, Hispanic American/Latinx, and Asian American and Pacific Islander artists. Building upon experience gained from the African American Artist Project (AAAP), an eight-member project team—comprising three library associates, three research associate/bibliographers, and two cataloging and metadata associate librarians—was hired. Each team member works a part-time schedule of twenty hours per week and reports to Jared Ash, project director for the grant.
Research associates are responsible for identifying artists and compiling lists of related publications by and about these artists to be acquired for Watson. Library associates are tasked with acquiring these new materials and applying preservation treatments as necessary. Cataloging and metadata associate librarians catalog incoming items, enhance existing Watsonline records for works on or by artists already held by Watson, and create name authority records for artists not currently represented in the Library of Congress Name Authority File (NAF). One of the other main deliverables of this project will be the creation of public-facing indexes for each of these three groupings of artists along lines similar to Watson’s Index of African American Artists (IAAA).
Positions were advertised in early October; recruitment, interviews, and hiring occurred at an accelerated pace throughout the month and into early November. Team members came on board on a rolling basis, but by the second week of December our team was finally complete. It consists of Mia Ciallella, Raymond Lei, and Lo Traster-Lee (library associates); Amanda Dorval (bibliographer/research associate for Native American art), Anna Lee (research associate/bibliographer for Asian American and Pacific Islander art), and Louisa Raitt (research associate/bibliographer for Hispanic and Latinx art); and Helice Koffler and Kim Ross (cataloging and metadata associate librarians).
During this initial phase of the project, our focus has been on collection assessment and expansion. Following a few weeks of training in various policies and procedures, the first books selected by the bibliographers and ordered by the library associates started to roll in, and the catalogers began to catalog them. From that initial trickle, there is now a steady stream. By the end of February, the bibliographers had identified 2,346 artist names for inclusion and completed their research on 1,085 of those artists.
Using WorldCat, the bibliographers compiled lists of materials for the library associates to try to obtain. They also flagged titles already held by Watson for enhancements to existing catalog records. The library associates ordered 849 books by the end of February and received 657. During this period, the catalogers cumulatively completed work on 556 catalog records. Progress has remained consistent even as staff members shifted to more remote work than originally anticipated in the wake of the Omicron surge before the holiday season.
With team members working onsite or remotely on different days of the week, our entire team communicates (sometimes asynchronously) via our own Slack channel. We also get together for regular weekly meetings, either in person or on Microsoft Teams. During these meetings, we hear updates, discuss issues that have come up, suggest refinements to various workflows, and share handy tips (such as the best no-glare locations in the library to photograph new acquisitions). Recently, team members also have begun giving very brief informal presentations about the work they are doing or interesting discoveries they have made from books that they have selected, ordered, or cataloged. Some of the artists that team members have been inspired to research in more depth include Benjamin Harjo, Jr., Walasse Ting, and Yasuo Kuniyoshi.
Our team also has been active on social media, presenting weekly posts on Watson Instagram (#MetLibraryNEH) that provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into our ongoing work and a sneak peek of some of the exciting new books as they arrive. User response has been enthusiastic, generating more than four thousand interactions, which have included suggestions about additional artists and resources.
We are beginning to transition into the next phase of the project. While ongoing activities will continue, much work will also go into the preparation and launch of artist indexes, with the AAPI index the first on tap. In addition, we will be developing research guides, creating more blog posts, and participating in public programs, such as open houses or webinars to share information about the project’s methodology, discoveries we have made, and new resources acquired for Watson. We always welcome any recommendations about artists and books for inclusion. Please continue to put these on Instagram or email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Suggestions for improving catalog records already in Watsonline can be sent in directly by clicking on the final link (“suggest a change to this record”) in the list that appears to the right in the display of each individual record.