Degree: Master of Library Science, 2003
Career: Florence and Herbert Irving Associate Chief Librarian, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Mantra: The harder you work, the luckier you are.
A stroll through the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City features items spanning from ancient Egypt to the Middle Ages to the present day, and you can find the work of artisans from Asia to Africa to North and South America.
Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware? It’s at The Met. Van Gough’s Self-Portrait with Straw Hat? It’s there, too.
But as important as the collection of paintings and sculptures and couture and armor might be, the extensive libraries housing nearly one million volumes of books on art and art history bring something extra special to the museum.
And that library has a distinctive SoIC flavor.
Tony White, an ILS alumnus, is currently the Florence and Herbert Irving associate chief librarian at The Met. It’s the latest stop on an invigorating journey that has taken him from the Midwest to Manhattan.
“I was working in book and paper conservation at Yale University as a conservation tech, and I had decided that I didn’t want to go into conservation,” says White, who had already earned a Master’s of Fine Arts from the Art Institute of Chicago in print media. “I wanted to go into library science. I applied to a number of schools, including IU, and I applied mainly to IU because of their concentration on art librarianship and special collections.”
He focused on art librarianship in Bloomington and worked in the preservation lab at the Lilly Library, graduating in 2003 with a Master of Library Science in Art and Special Collections Librarianship. He found a job as the Art and Architecture Librarian at the Pratt Institute in New York, and there he would catch the break that would set him on this path to The Met.
“At the Pratt Institute, I was temporarily promoted to be head of reader services,” White says. “It was supposed to be a three-month appointment, but it turned into a 10-month position.”
Back in Bloomington, IU’s head of the Fine Arts Library, B.J. Irvine, had decided to retire, and White’s unexpected turn as a manager at Pratt gave him just the experience he needed to qualify as Irvine’s replacement. White took over in 2007 and served as the head of the Fine Arts Library at IU for nearly five years, but in 2012, he left to become the Director of the Decker Library at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He wanted to be a library director, and the pull of working intimately with artists and designers was too strong to pass up. Still, when the opportunity arose to move to The Met in the spring of 2015, he couldn’t say no.
“I had never thought about working in a museum library before,” White says. “The Met is well-known. It’s in a top 5 art history libraries in the world. One of the things they enticed me with is that they had never collected artists’ books before, and because I have a background in artists’ books research and scholarship for the past 15 years or so, they also suggested that I could start collecting artist books for the library for the first time.”
White calls his job “complex,” and he’s responsible for all the public services for the research library, the education library, the Costume Institute, and the Cloisters Library and archives. [He is also responsible for access services and stacks management of on and off site collections.] White doesn’t believe he has reached the pinnacle of his career. It’s just the next step in a winding path. After all, he once thought he was going to teach or maybe pursue book binding. Instead, he let his passion guide him, and he advises others to do the same.
“What I’ve always done is pursue my interests,” White says. “I’ve always sought out extra opportunities, often at my own expense, to create greater opportunities in the long run. What is really great about a library science degree is that it allows you to pursue a variety of job types that can be really interesting and exciting.”