Caitlin Smits, a current Master of Information student who’s completing the program online from her home in Minnesota, has been on a journey to find a career that’s the right fit. She’s seeking challenging and rewarding work that will allow her to apply her passion for art history to research and information literacy. It turns out librarianship fits the bill. Having just concluded her first semester in the program, Caitlin reflects on her progress with SC&I.
SC&I: Tell us how your path led you around the globe and eventually to SC&I.
CS: As a kid, I always enjoyed reading, art, and history. Summers growing up were filled with almost daily bike rides to the local library and picking out as many books as I could fit into my backpack. I was (and still am) an inquisitive individual, seeking out information and learning new things. I graduated from Calvin University (formerly Calvin College) in 2016 with a BFA in Art History and Fine Art. I fully intended to do the traditional art historian route of a master’s degree and then a Ph.D., so I took time to apply to programs after graduation. I was accepted into the University of Leicester’s art history graduate program, graduating with honors in January 2019. Afterward, I applied to various programs in England, France, and the U.S., but the pandemic hit the year after, and my plans changed.
I began to consider what field would allow me to use my skills in research and tap into my passion for art history. I started by looking at collection management or museum studies certificates, but it didn’t quite feel like the right fit regarding my interests and passions. I started having long discussions with friends and mentors from my undergrad days. One of them, a current MLIS student at the University of Denver, gave me an article written by Megan Lotts, an art librarian at Rutgers University. That’s when it clicked that librarianship would be an excellent fit for me. I’ve always had an interest in a wide variety of topics within the field of art history, and on top of that, I have a knack for finding resources related to my topics, no matter how obscure.
SC&I: Describe how your studies at SC&I are preparing you for the career you hope to have.
CS: I wrapped up my first semester at SC&I, and it was both challenging and fascinating. I discovered cataloging and different classification systems. In Manuscripts and Archives, I learned how much nuance is involved with working in an archive. I really enjoyed instructor Kris Helge’s class on academic librarianship. Learning so much about the many facets of academic librarianship makes me even more excited about the prospect of working in academic libraries. For the final project, we collaborated with a librarian on a project they were working on for their library, and I was lucky enough to assist a dean of a library in developing training and onboarding curriculum for new staff. It was an inspiring experience, and I learned a lot about what I would want when starting a new library position.
I still hope to do my Ph.D. in Art History following this program, but ideally, I would love to work in an art museum library, pulling books for curators and working with them on their research for exhibitions. Currently, I am a volunteer at the Walker Art Center library in Minneapolis, MN, cataloging and processing a donation of books from an artist, Siah Armajani, who had a close personal relationship with the museum. I connected with the art librarian at the University of Minnesota to discuss her role at the school and how to best prepare for a position in art librarianship, and I will be assisting her with reference services and teaching research skills either in the spring or fall.
SC&I: What advice would you like to share with future students?
CS: My mom has this great saying when it comes to applying for any sort of opportunity where she says the answer is already a no, so why not just go for it? Taking this advice led to me applying to grad school and moving abroad, applying for grad school again, changing jobs, and sending in applications for positions that I really wanted. My advice is to take advantage of specialty groups! I’ve connected with several art librarians through the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA). And I’ve started to reach out to other art librarians not only in my own community here in Minnesota but also at Rutgers to build a network of mentors. Making connections has already opened many doors for me in just my first semester!