Graduate Student Spotlight: First-Year MA Student Charlie Coffey, National Gallery of Art Student Library Technician.

Graduate students in AU’s Art History Program are frequently provided fantastic professional opportunities within the department to contribute to their professional and educational success in the field of art history. However, it is a thrill to hear that so many of our graduate students are obtaining work and internship experiences outside of AU in museums, galleries, and non-profits across Washington, DC. 


Photo Courtesy of Charlie Coffey. 

One of these students is first-year MA student Charlie Coffey. Charlie currently works in the Department of Image Collections at the National Gallery of Art Library in Washington, DC as a student library technician, and is specifically assigned to the David Finn Archive, which comprises about 35,000 prints and over 100,000 negatives of sculptural photographs. In this role, Charlie supports the accessioning, cataloguing, digitizing, and organizing of the archive as more art institutions work to make their collections and holdings available to the public online. He mentions that he is the third or fourth student library technician in charge of this specific archive, and is “picking up where the last cataloguer left off.” Charlie was made aware of this opportunity after receiving an email circulated by an Art History faculty member about the NGA’s call for applications. Charlie submitted his academic CV to the curator, went in for an in-person interview, and participated in governmental screening (this is standard for all federal organizations, including the Smithsonian family of art institutions). Charlie says that his knowledge of sculptural history has increased due to his new position on the David Finn Archive, and points to the ways in which work experiences can support learning in the classroom.


Photo Courtesy of Charlie Coffey. 

Charlie’s day-to-day activities are pretty routine: upon arrival at the NGA, he goes into the library images collection department and picks up a box of the materials in the David Finn Archive, and goes to work: “First I organize each print by artwork (each artwork in the archive gets its own folder), and then I have to give each print an accession number. Once these steps are done, then I usually go to the digitization process, which involves selecting the best representative prints of the artwork, and then scanning them, putting them into the server (which is a long process), and then I’ll go into the actual cataloguing process.” These tasks are essential to the proper functioning of the museum and the archive itself. Although Charlie has previous experience with archival work and the digitization process, the NGA uses different programs and archival methods, which shows how archival work is specific to every institution. The cataloguing system that the NGA uses, Charlie says, is best suited for library books, which poses challenges when cataloguing works of art. 


Charlie’s work desk. Photo Courtesy of Charlie Coffey. 

Fortunately, Charlie’s position at the NGA has helped support his work in the AU Art History Department’s Visual Resources Center, where he has been cataloguing the departments image collection. His former positions in collections and libraries have been very beneficial to this position, as he believes that working in an archival position is one of the easiest ways to get hands-on access to material culture, visual culture, and artworks themselves. After his completion of this program at AU, he hopes to earn a PhD, and eventually go on to become a professor of art history, although he can still picture himself working in image collections and related fields along the way. Charlie says that the Art History Program at AU has greatly assisted his strategies of research in this position. He says, “oftentimes I am confronted with a box of prints of sculptures that I literally know nothing about, and there’s no documentation, and I have to find out who made the work, what the work is, and be able to write a note that will help researchers access that digitized bibliographic record. So, it does require some rudimentary research in art history.” Charlie would recommend any students interested in archival work in the future to pursue this opportunity, and believes that it is beneficial to many facets of art historical work. 


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