Fashion Librarians and the Costume Society of America Symposium

I just got back  from the Costume Society of America (CSA) 2016 Symposium.  CSA is for professionals who study dress: academics, theater costumers, textile historians, curators, design students — and yes, fashion librarians.

I think there is great value in attending conventions in one’s field. The perspective of practicing professionals beats back  naivete, if nothing else.  We weren’t talking  about how to research  fashion, but hearing papers on new discoveries in costume.  When students talk to me about the jobs they may go into after college, I have a much clearer picture of that world.

Librarians at CSA

And, there were a few librarians.  As I learned at ARLIS last year, museums have librarians, too!  Especially interesting to me was a discussion one evening about the need for an authority list for costume terms.  It seems small costume collections are where small libraries were 20 years ago:  creating digital catalogs. This is complicated by the Internety expectation that each item have high quality images and metadata to go along withit, and few small museums can do all those things.  Nor is the museum costume world settled on  metadata standards. Software platforms abound, and so do “controlled” vocabularies.  This has the potential to be a huge and important project, and librarians have skills and experience to offer.

Also, we have a small study collection here at Ohio University that is at the same stage as everyone else’s small collection, and I hope to be involved somehow in making it more accessible when it moves to a new home next year.  Between ARLIS and CSA  I have a much clearer idea what skills I can offer.


Curators Trina Gannon and Dr. Skye Cone present items form the Doxsee Collection of Historic Costume of Ohio University to a class of retail students.



The other reason CSA is useful to fashion librarians is connections.   I returned with questions and discussions ongoing through e-mail that help me in my day to day work. Notably the vocabulary project and more ideas about using collections in the classroom...

…for which I facilitated a panel. Sadly, CSA doesn’t publish proceedings, but here is a paragraph on my blog about it.  The discussion afterward was about preservation vs. use, and how we might choose to “sacrifice” some artifacts to learn from them.  The archivisits in my library have a similar idea; they keep a shelf of broken and damaged old books so students can see how they are put together.

Another unique offering is the Juried Design Exhibition. This collection of 25 new fashion pieces offers costume for art, theater, reenacting, and runway design.  We don’t have a fashion design program, so this was exhibition was a new thing for me, showing me fashion can be  many different things.

Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of my 3-part report (I learned a lot!).

So I can recommend the CSA Symposium as useful for fashion librarians – plus they hold a silent auction fund raiser with great deals on books and textiles!


Did you know “The Full Cleveland” meant white shoes and belt with my leisure suit in the 1970’s?













Sherri Saines, Ohio University

Author: Sherri B. Saines

Reference Librarian Ohio University Athens, Ohio

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