21 April 2009

Judy Hoffberg and the early days

There was a memorial tribute to Judith Hoffberg yesterday morning at the Membership Meeting at the Annual Conference of the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA). Judy was the founder of ARLIS/NA, inspired by ARLIS which had just been organized in the U.K. and Ireland. There had been a workshop on art librarianship in 1969, organized by Florence DaLuiso at SUNY Buffalo. Judy had been there along with the "first" generation of ARLIS/NA folks. There was a follow-up meeting during ALA in 1972. Though that first generation wasn't much older than I am, I don't consider myself part of that group. Though I was at College Art in New York City in 1973 when the first official annual conference of ARLIS/NA was held, I didn't know about it; I was at CAA applying for my first job. I had also applied for a job with Florence DaLuiso. Barbara Reed got that job and I got the one at the Frick Fine Arts Library at the University of Pittsburgh. Karen Muller and I applied for each other's first job and she got the one at Yale. Actually, we're not sure if I applied for her job at Yale or another art library one that was open at about the same time. Barbara (my age) and Karen (a couple years younger) were in my ARLIS/NA generation, the second one, if you will.

Judy was an inspiration to all of us but I can only speak for myself. She not only helped me get started in ARLIS/NA but also was a great person to talk about art with. She and I ran into each other several times over the years while we both were galleryhopping in New York City. She lived in Southern California but traveled a lot in pursuit of art, particularly her beloved mail and correspondence art, rubber stamps, and artist's books.

I had become a member of ARLIS/NA by the fall of 1973 and my first conference was the one in Detroit in 1974. In those days, we didn't get much travel support and I stayed at the YMCA across the plaza from the Conrad Hilton conference hotel. That is another story (of suppressed sexuality and all that).

Over the next couple years, I continued to read the ARLIS/NA newsletter and go to the conferences. Those were the days of the development of AACR2 and a much more closed Library of Congress. Nancy John was the representative from ARLIS/NA to the Cataloging Code Revision Committee (the predecessor of CC:DA).

After a meeting at the 1975 Washington conference, I was talking to Carol Mandel, Chris Huemer, and Nancy John, wondering if we needed a cataloging discussion group devoted to classification. They said "go for it" or whatever we said then. In those days, we actually had three Cataloging Problems Discussion Groups. Fair warning to those that think we have too many cataloging meetings. The groups were devoted to description, subjects, and classification (I think) and soon merged into one. Cataloging issues ARE interrelated. We tried to do a mail round robin but it usually got snagged in someone's mail inbox. We also did a notebook every year that had photocopies of any correspondence that folks had had with LC or other agencies. It served as a sort of predecessor of electronic lists, certainly not as timely but did allow you to share your responses with others.

A couple years later, I was asked to run for Treasurer and I won the election, against Janis Ekdahl who had just published her book on American sculpture. I teased her that she had done well to publish and I'd just gotten a bookkeeping job. Still, I'm very glad that I was treasurer when it was bookkeeping rather than development and major finance.

My term started at the Los Angeles conference in 1977 when I again stayed at the bargain hotel, a few blocks from the then Hilton at Seventh and Figueroa (now the Wilshire Grand). It was rather a fleabag and some other ARLISer that started out there moved to the Hilton. John Murchie was starting his term as Chairman and Nancy John was Vice Chairman. Though I was hardly the leading Young Turk, I was part of this group who served as officers when we began to mature and wanted to get past the Judy-centric society. I don't mean to downplay Judy's critical role in the founding of ARLIS/NA but, equally, I recognize that any group, like any person, has to find itself.

Without Judy to run the office, receive the mail, plan the conference, and all the other things that go into running an organization, it fell to us board members. Nancy took on the conference planning portion and I took on the membership records for the period of fall 1977 and spring 1978. Nancy and I teased each other that we had seen headquarters because she stopped at our house in Pittsburgh on her way from her National Gallery job to her new home in Chicago. My role meant that I was receiving and processing a couple dozen memberships every day, in an era when the mailing list was being maintained by typing the names on sheets of Avery labels and trying to keep them pretty much alphabetical. There were many trips to the bank to deposit membership checks.

The finances were so precarious in those days because our mission and membership were expanding quickly but most of our income came from memberships which mostly came in the months one side or the other of January 1st. That year, we asked members to lend us money, to be repaid as new memberships came in. Membership was expanding quickly then and the loans were easily repaid early in 1978. Mary Williamson of Toronto even said that she had made money because the Canadian exchange rate was beneficial then, and getting better.

Soon after that, we got a contract with Charlie Mundt as executive secretary. He represented some association management firm, the name of which I cannot remember. That relationship didn't last very long and we were back to an individual by 1980 when Pam Parry was selected in New Orleans. She was a strong and wise executive director for many years, very different years from the first few when Judy needed to be a mother, a mother who reluctantly had to let the kids go.

Just one Charlie Mundt story. At a reception at the Toronto conference in 1979, the snacks were skimpy and there was grumbling in the house that we weren't getting our money's worth. Charlie often seemed rather a bad fit for ARLIS/NA but he got a hearty round of laughter when he reminded us that the reception was a fundraiser.

Going into the 1979 conference, there was a decision that the terms for the secretary and treasurer should be staggered. Nancy or whoever told me that Karen Harvey, the secretary, had agreed to draw straws for who "got" to hold office for another year. I said that sounded fine and then found out that Karen had actually said "let Sherman do it." So my term as treasurer lasted three years. That's OK; I wouldn't trade that time for anything.

I was inspired to share this history by the memorial tribute to Judy yesterday morning. I was very fond of Judy and am very grateful for her leadership and for the love of art that she passed on to anyone who came nearby.


  1. Peter Blank12:46 PM

    Thank-you Sherman for reminding us that arlis is so very much about the personal relationships that develop over the years at conferences and other society events. Accomplishment in our profession is judged by a variety of benchmarks and metrics, but real success is often achieved only through the one-on-one relationships we develop through direct, human contact with our colleagues, peers, and patrons. There is no substitute. Thanks. Peter

  2. Anonymous6:40 PM

    Your memory is so vivid and detailed, thank you for sharing.