An interview featuring Daniel Payne

Tell us about some of the research that you completed already.

My interests definitely lay in the domain of finding access to information, making sense of that research process, and ultimately using it as a jumping off point. From that vantage point, which really isn’t surprising (I’m a librarian, that’s kind of what I do all day long), I am really interested in what pathways students take in creative research. Along those lines I am able to present at conferences and also publish in the Art Libraries Journal. These articles look at pathways that have been established for academic research in general. I’m trying to match that onto structures that are used to understand creative research and trying to find commonalities between the two.

In the last four years, the American Library Association has put together a framework for information literacy. This rubric is being used to expand upon traditional information literacy principles about finding efficient ways to find information, knowing how to evaluate information and knowing how to use information ethically and legally. It should be common sense approaches, but what they are trying to do now is to give more of a sense of a reflective process in making sense of information. They’ve come out with these rubrics that look at information as having value, scholarship as conversation, authority as constructed and contextual, searching as strategic exploration, information creation as a process, and finally research as inquiry. These frameworks are really powerful. We have found here in the OCAD library that they match really well with the learning outcomes that are often used in studio-based courses.

One of my other interests is trying to match these creative research processes with indigenous ways of knowing. I’m of Irish background. There is something that I have been reading on indigenous knowledge systems, based on needs to support the curriculum here at OCAD. It sort of set off sparks in my mind. Some of the frameworks and philosophies are so powerful and so relevant to this day and age. I’m in the initial stages of trying to understand. Can these models and indigenous stories be used to help activate information literacy? I was able to present at a conference in Washington D.C. and Seattle about this topic. I think its an area that can really energize the librarianship overall.

What sparked your research to write this document?

It was partially for professional reasons. As a librarian in the professional world, sometimes people find it hard to place us. They’re not quite sure of what we do. The stereotype about librarians is spending their days reading and putting books on the shelves is still very powerful in this day and age. My publications have been about trying to demonstrate that we are engaged in this scholarly dialogue. If I were working in another university, I would be considered a faculty member. Here at OCAD we are not within the faculty association as librarians. Yet, despite that, we’re functioning as if we were by publishing and doing research.

Another reason would be out of my own personal interests. I do think that there has not been a lot published on information literacy in regards to the studio-based learning environment. It’s an area that we need to start expanding upon. About four or five years ago, with the publication of the Information Literacy Framework through the American Library Association, it has lead to an explosion of articles being published in library journals.

Third reason, my interest in indigenous knowledge systems must come directly from the truth and reconciliation commission. It is a responsibility for each one of us in Canada, as part of the whole treaty process, to start rectifying the whole situation and really honouring the principles of these treaty documents. And if I can do my small little part in helping people do research in an academic environment, it is part of this mosaic that needs to be happening across the country.

What did you find most controversial while researching about libraries in relation to art and design curriculums?

The one that comes up most frequently is the concept of creative research. It is so personal that you almost can’t put a frame around it.  So if you approach research that way, where are the models? How can you guide students through research processes? I don’t think creative research is this indescribable intangible sort of process. There are definite stages that students will go through. I’ve been quite interested in the writings of Keith Sawyer and doing scientific research in creative processes. He sees a four-step approach to creative research.

There are preparatory stages where you learn all the techniques you need in order to become a painter or a photographer. You need to learn how to prime a canvas, how a palette knife works, oils, watercolours and all these technical things. The library is great for that step because we have all sorts of practical guides in creating art in our library collections.

The next stage after mastering all that preparation is you enter into the stage of free-form openness. This is a unique process for creative research. What you need is a barrage of different stimuli: images, text… and it doesn’t make immediate sense. It is through that chaotic process that you find two random ideas that seem disassociated, but through that creative ideation you put them together. The library is great for that. When you’re walking through the aisles, browsing the collection, you’re barraged with ideas from all different times and countries around the world.

Our library is just one floor, every academic subject from A-Z is in it. Using the Library of Congress, call numbers are available on one floor. From social sciences to philosophy, to indigenous cultures, to netherlandish painting within the 16th century. All are available to you within one floor.

The third stage in creativity is that a-ha! moment where you put those two random ideas together. That’s up to the student or faculty member’s moment of inspiration.

The fourth stage is you have this amazing moment of inspiration for a creative idea, now what are you going to do with it? You have to go back to that confiding stage with oil paints, or shutter speed on your camera.

This indicates where the library can interact with that creative process. I should also note that in library literature, in the the old days there was a lot of consternation about art students and how they didn’t want to use the catalogue and just wander through the stacks of the library. Librarians would wring their heads saying, “This is not an effective way of accessing the collection.” But when you think about the moment proposed by Keith Sawyer, wandering the stacks is a very powerful way of enacting creative research.

The concept of browsing the collection in the digital age may have changed slightly. Students may have realised that the printed copies we have out there are really a digital collection waiting to happen. Everyone has mobile devices and all you really need to do is open up a book, start snapping shots, and you’re building your own digital library. And I almost guarantee that all those images you are taking from the printed books are not going to be available online.

Were there any specific issues that you found that may have affected OCAD’s development? Tell us about several that you found.

First of all I should say personally, as a librarian, the fact that all the librarians at OCAD don’t have faculty status is confusing to me. There are great concerns about the faculty to student ratio here at OCAD. Currently we have about seven librarians who are functioning as full faculty-status librarians. Being able to then have them as part of the Faculty Association would bump up the ratio automatically. All of us could potentially be engaged in teaching courses. I’m doing a lot of information literacy independently in the classroom, sort of what we call one-off information literacy sessions that address particular assignments in classrooms or particular research needs. If we were able to engage more meaningfully as instructors I think it would be more beneficial for everyone involved, especially the students, faculty and librarians.

I’ve done research into the history of the school from 1876 to present. I put together a book that I am working on now. My approach was to look at how the library responded to different curricular philosophies in studio education, starting out with the academic tradition, particularly what they call the Kensington Model based on what was to become the Royal College of Art in London. It’s an academic tradition matched with industrial revolution technology, adding design with art. Moving on to the arts and crafts tradition, in each phase, the library has been seen as a support, but I think that in each case they haven’t fully understood how powerfully the library can provide a formation to the creative research process. I find this particularly evident in the Bauhaus philosophy. The Bauhaus really emphasised clearing away all your old preconceived aesthetic notions and starting with the blank slate. From there you can access a primal creativity in your own character. I do think that the Bauhaus may have distrusted academic research because they felt that it would lead to art and design that seemed too academic and laboured, where that natural creativity just can’t show through. We moved on from Bauhaus, but I can tell you most of the instructors here at this school are instructing and learned within the Bauhaus learning environment. The bauhaus, in a way, would have taken place immediately after the war, so 1945 to about the late 1970s. So many of the instructors here would have been trained within that time period, or their instructors when they were at school would have been trained in the Bauhaus tradition. I think that skepticism about academic research confining creative inspiration does kind of factor into our current day and age. That’s why I think the library is not being used as meaningfully in supporting the curriculum, especially the studio based curriculum.

Although having said that I should say that the Learning Zone is really showing the way of what a library can be in what I call a postcolonial environment. It’s a resoundingly successful example of what the library can do with the space and some money. We’re given the ability to have librarians support the creative research process. On that note, I’ll mention Marta Chudolinska, our Learning Zone librarian who coordinates an entire team that carefully curates that space. You may walk in and think that it is a free-for-all, but it’s not. Everything behind the scenes is carefully organized.

How can one find archival documents? Do students have access to these?

You certainly have access to them through our OCAD Institutional Archive. It is at 340 Richmond on the 8th floor. Definitely students, staff and faculty are able to book an appointment and view documents from the archival collection. Unfortunately we don’t have a finding aid for the collection online but if you book an appointment with our archivist, Ariella Elema, you would be able to then see these primary documents from the history of our school, running from about 1876 to present. It’s a really amazingly rich collection, so potentially meaningful for our students. But because people don’t know about it, it becomes inaccessible.

As part of the initiative to improve awareness of it, we have scanned many of the documents and uploaded them to internet archives, archive.org. We have about 300 publications, fully available through this portal. Our student publications from 1927-1950 are uploaded there, and our course calendars, which at the time were called prospectuses are available in full text from 1912 to 1950. We’re just getting ready to publish a web page using our web publication platform called ‘libguides’.

Is it possible for you to share some of your footnotes with us? When will your book be available?

I received some funding for it two years through a professional organization that I am involved in, the Art Library Society of North America. The goal was to produce e-books online profiling the history of Canadian Art libraries. It started off as a 20 page paper and as I started doing more research it grew and grew and now it is about 120 pages and 200 footnotes. At that point I was thinking, “This is something that could be a book.” I approached a few publishers on it but haven’t had any luck. What I plan on doing is spending the next couple of months reformatting it and publishing it online through the OCAD institutional repository. It’s a unique document. It combines a history of the school with a history of curricular pedagogies and how libraries have responded to both of those.  

In what direction do you predict OCAD’s development will go in the future?  

It’s interesting that the school is moving more and more meaningfully into digital future initiatives, really quite exciting. Financially, it makes sense, too, because if you’re going to receive government funding or funding from private mentors, this is the kind of research that they are going to be supporting. I do hope that we don’t lose sight of the studio-based experience. The school has been really good at bridging that into this digital futures initiative. I do hope that the firm grounding in that studio learning experience is celebrated. It’s difficult, because supporting a student sitting in a studio is expensive. For example, equipment in a woodshop, or supervision. A student sitting in a classroom is not that expensive. They’re using a laptop that they bought themselves. I hope we maintain that tradition of building knowledge through making things directly in a very tactile way. Instead we’re turning it into an institution that theorizes about the process of making without having students get their hands dirty. When you look at the trajectory of the school essentially since 1876, that’s a long time. Every ten years there’s some drama or some crisis. As I was doing research on the school, every article seemed to start with the phrase “The recent drama at OCAD/OCA has abided and we’re looking to a new direction….” so there has been this tradition of drama and scandal. That keeps us all on our toes and we’ve been able to move ahead and make this school a meaningful place for unpacking a visual culture. I’m kind of optimistic, and I would love if the library could be more meaningfully engaged in this whole endeavor.

Interview and transcription by the one and only, Zoe Roiati.