Staff ID - Meet Barbara Polowy

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Learn more about the Hillyer Art Librarian and yoga instructor.

Barbara Polowy, Hillyer Art Librarian
(413) 585-2941,


Barbara is the head of the Hillyer Art Library, one of Smith’s three branch libraries and the only fine arts library in the Five Colleges. The Hillyer staff of three and 20 student assistants provide a full range of library services to the Smith and Five College communities. She works with faculty to develop and present research instruction to support the curriculum in art, landscape studies, and related courses in other disciplines. She also coordinates collection development for the art library, selecting new books, journals, and electronic resources to add to our holdings.

Barbara's subject specialties are in the visual arts generally, and design history is her particular area of interest. She is the department liaison to the Art Department, Landscape Studies, and Archaeology.

Barbara has been with Smith for 17 years. She started her career as an art librarian at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, NY., went on to be the head of the library at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, and then served for many years as the art and photography librarian at Rochester Institute of Technology.

We asked Barbara to tell us a little more about herself.

What is the best part of your job?

Research and reference assistance. I enjoy working with students in the classroom and one-on-one. I’m endlessly impressed by the creativity and resourcefulness of Smith students. Smith has a broad, deep curriculum in the arts, and over my many years here I’ve expanded my own knowledge by helping students with their research projects. I love a research challenge.

Which library resource do you most like to tell people about?

The Smith College Libraries have an extensive collection of American popular magazines dating from the mid-19th through the mid-20th centuries. Looking through some of my favorites -- Harper’s Bazaar, The Ladies’ Home Journal, Life, Fortune, Esquire, Holiday -- and such other resources as the Sears-Roebuck catalogs is like time traveling. They give us an unfiltered picture of our visual culture and unparalleled documentation of daily life as it was and as it aspired to be.

What is your favorite getaway, near or far?

The King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vermont.

What do you like to do the most when you are not at work?

I practice and teach yoga, and bake, especially bread. I have a sourdough starter that’s nearly as old as the average first-year student!

Is there something about you that others would be surprised to learn?

I have a soft spot for classic country music – I went to graduate school in Nashville and it stuck with me.

What is currently in your iPod/DVD Drive/DVR/Netflix queue?

On my iPod: A little George Jones, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash, as you might guess. I have pretty eclectic taste in music, though, so there’s also Ella Fitzgerald, mid-career Sinatra, Cassandra Wilson, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, YoYo Ma playing Bach, Springsteen, Dylan, Bootsy Collins, Aretha, Bessie Smith …

What is the most rewarding thing that has happened to you recently?

I was an “embedded librarian” for Activism by Design (LSS220) during the during the 2012 fall semester. I worked with the faculty member, Nina Antonetti, to develop research assignments and related instruction, attended classes, participated in discussions about student presentations, worked with individual students on their research, and read their papers. Librarians rarely get a chance to spend more than an hour or two in the classroom, so it was wonderful to get to know the students, watch their work develop, and respond to their research needs as they unfolded over the course of a whole semester.

Please stop by the Hillyer Art Library Monday-Friday, 9:00-5:00, and say "hello" to Barbara!